The sheer volume of truly exceptional death metal to have been released so far this year is nothing short of staggering. Top tier releases from Rivers of Nihil, Slugdge, Alterbeast and Karpathian Relict, among others, are making for fierce competition for a podium spot on the 2018 Top 10 lists... and we're barely into the 2nd quarter! With impending releases from Sun Speaker, Inferi and (hopefully) The Ritual Aura, the room's only going to get more crowded.
You know who couldn't care less? Æpoch. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, the band is set to drop a guided freaking missile of technical/progressive death on us all come April 13th with their debut LP, 'Awakening Inception'. An album that embraces not only the foundations of death metal- with riffs and song structures inspired by Death and Mercyful Fate- but one that points to a brutal new world of technical destruction through inspired rhythmic and vocal chaos.
The album opens on 'Time:Perspective / Ouroboros Reborn', a track grounded on a riff that Chuck Schuldiner would have eventually written. A flood of blast beats and maniacal fretting ensues, with vocalist and bassist Brett MacIntosh's spitfire vocal delivery taking center stage and reminding me again why I fell in love with Archspire. It's a straight-forward punch to my pretty face and it establishes 'Awakening Inception' as an album that balances extraordinarily well both the old and the new
'Delirium of Negation' follows and, after another Hanneman/Mustaine/Schuldiner monster lead, we get our first real taste of MacIntosh's fretless bass. A hallmark of Æpoch's sound, the instrument and Brett's outrageous skill at playing it will either leave you begging for more or wishing it hadn't been included at all. Because of its weight and presence in the mix there is no middle ground. Also on full display here are Kyle Edissi's and Taylor Wroblewski's work on the skinny strings. An extended instrumental passage is crowned with a solo that sounds like Slash got in touch with his inner Dimebag Darrell. Edissi's and Wroblewski's guitars positively sing here and it makes me glad that there are no clean vocals on 'Awakening Inception'; they would have taken something away from the beauty of the leads and solos, I think.
And in terms of beauty, those luscious licks are about all of that you're going to find here. 'Awakening Inception' is an "anti-human" album according to MacIntosh. Though he explained that there is "no single concept to it," the musical and lyrical tone of this album is undeniably dark. The lead on 'Burn Them At The Stakes,' a song that MacIntosh says deals with misanthropy, is the direct descendant of the best Slayer and King Diamond had to offer. The title track is a demented and unnerving ride into psychedelic prog death bliss where MacIntosh's bass works in harmony with the lead guitars in one measure, and then bolsters one of several other-worldly percussion performances by Greg Carvalho in the next. Carvalho's playing is absolutely heroic on this record and, since the band will be going on tour with Bloodshot Dawn later this month, I very much look forward to seeing all 8 of his arms in action live.
The strength of an album is always measured by how rewarding successive listens are. Since getting my review copy of 'Awakening Inception' several days ago, I've listened to little else. It's not enough, sometimes, to say that an album impresses you; this is a record that caught me completely off guard and has left me in awe. Like the great prog records of the 70's, this is an album to both jam with your friends (the ones who have taste), and to drop the needle on, pop on some headphones, grab the lyric sheet, and immerse yourself into the listening experience. 'Awakening Inception' is a frenetic record that, thanks to super human playing ability and expansive song structures, rewards again and again the truly engaged listener.
If this release portends what the rest of this years holds we're in for a heck of a ride.