APOCRYFAL: Crushing Black Death
Release year: 2019
Label: Mara Productions
With an title such as Crushing Black Death, it’s impossible not to harbour quite a lot of expectations as to what an album should sound like. You’d expect black metal and death metal, and pretty crushing stuff, right? Well, in the case of Finnish Apocryfal and their debut album, you’d only get two thirds right.
Death metal this certainly is. Black metal too. But crushing? I don’t know what that word means to you, but for me crushing in the context of death metal would be something with incredibly heavy sound, monumentally crushing riffs and guttural vocals that sound like echoes from a drainpipe in Hell. In the context of black metal, perhaps extremely vicious, buzzsaw-shredding riffage, thunderously blasting drums and vocals that sound like a demon from the depths of the pit.
Apocryfal really don’t deliver on that adjective.
Let me get one thing straight from the go: the fact that I claim Apocryfal don’t sound “crushing” doesn’t mean I hate the album. Because I don’t. It’s quite nice, in fact. It’s a well-crafted blend of black and death metal with a very strong modern, death-doom bent. There’s a kinship with acts such as Kuolemanlaakso and even Swallow The Sun at their least romantic, but the black metal elements take Apocryfal in a darker, more sinister direction. By varying how much of each there is in each song, Apocryfal ensure the album never gets too samey or cut from one cloth.
I guess the reason why I don’t feel the album is “crushing” is because the sound. It’s quite clean and polished – there’s not much dirt here, and from time to time it feels like the production actually detracts from the songwriting. I feel a grittier, heavier sound would emphasize the heaviness of the death-doom elements, the fury of the blasting black metal sections and the brutality of the death metal. As it stands, the sound is passable, but not ideal. To be sure, Apocryfal aren’t alone in this: I feel a lot of modern extreme metal bands suffer from this very same issue.
Apart from the sound, Apocryfal have managed to create a solid debut album – perhaps not surprising, considering the band have been together for ten years already! The writing is solid and coherent, despite the variation and the three strands of extreme metal their music is built of. The vocals, somewhere between gruff shouting and typical death metal growls, sound good. The riffs, drawing from the wells of classic black and death metal, modern death-doom and, to a lesser extent, also from more modern, discordant extreme metal, are also adequate. Despite this, few of the songs stand out as particularly memorable – perhaps the other slight flaw of the album, but not one that renders the album bad.
As it stands, Crushing Black Death is a worthwhile release, especially for fans of a more modern, doom-laden style of blackened death metal. There is still room for improvement, but the foundation is healthy. As such, Apocryfal certainly make my list of bands to keep an eye on.