Irkallian Oracle's second album was one of those records that some of us, followers of the most obscure sounds within the Metal realm, expected the most out of 2016's release vault. And it is because of the impression the first album of the Swedes left on us just three years ago. Although beating 'Grave Ekstasis' seemed like a pretty hard task for this young combo, given the perfection acomplished on their personal view of the darkest and heaviest paths of (ritualistic) Death Metal.
And, if I had to stick to the first time I listened to 'Apollyon', I would define it as a complete failure in comparison to their debut record. Thus this was more due to the fact that I chose the wrong format to do it, as this record is definitely not done to be listened to on digital format. Why? Because of it's heavily bass driven production, which is one of the big changes and maybe the major surprise when one goes through it for the first time. Once you adapt your ears to their sub-sonic tones and the incredibly suffocating atmosphere this generates (after getting the goddamn vinyl), then you start discovering and enjoying the record bit by bit. But rest assured, production is not the only different/interesting point you will find over these fifty seven minutes in comparison to their previous recording. It is simply the one that stands out the most because it has been pushed to the limit, I would dare to say on the fringe of going over it, and the one that has the biggest fault to make it as hard to listen to as it may be.
Although that claustrophobic and highly entrancing result on the technical part of the recording is simply the means to an end, this being represented by six new songs which bring Irkallian Oracle to a whole new level too in terms of ambiance/feeling or, as they would definitely prefer to say it, ritual. They actually come closer to other recent Death Metal bands who have been exploring the magic possibilities of mixing the old paths and forms of the genre in terms of obscurity and brutality (which they already brilliantly captured on their debut) with a more modern approach on both the writing and production of their tracks, and an absolutely incredible evilness that festers from its beginning to its end. That's why I can understand they have been compared a lot more this time to bands such as Portal, Grave Upheaval or Vassafor, especially on the production side, although Irkallian Oracle remain a unique entity due to their exploration of much deeper and atmospheric forms. In fact, despite the form still ties them strongly to Death Metal, I would say they are quite far from the usual violent and hateful forms the style offers, if it wasn't for those inexorable walls of drumming which from time to time make you come back from the other plane and smash you to bits with their ferocity.
'Apollyon' is actually a very slow progressing record, not in a Doom vibe, but more in an Ambient/ceremonial fashion (not to mention again the ritualistic adjective), with very monotonous and trance inducing guitar patterns and all the necessary spaces on the percussion they need not to get into too much groove or aggressiveness; the drums in fact stop playing very frequently, and this creates an amazing effect in terms of atmosphere, apart of distinguishing them from other bands of the same type. But when they do play, they actually use a lot of double bass to increase the sense of repetition on a mid-pace, and it works very efectively. This doesn't mean either that all the record evolves around slow or mid tempos, as one can find such brutal and assaulting parts as the beginning of 'Elemental Crucifixion (Or, "The Instantiation Of Death")', with hyper-fast blastbeats, very twisted guitars and a massive vocal delivery, which help a lot to better draw the flow of such a drowning and devouring sea of shadows.
But, if one looks at the bigger picture from the distance, going back to that slow progression I mentioned above, no matter those bursts of diabolical energy, despite any detail or arrangement I could mention here and there, what really makes this record stand out is how in the end everything is so brilliantlly tied out in order to draw a monumental piece of art that perfectly represents the bottomless pit it receives its name from. Which is finalised by the monumental and nineteen plus minuted 'Unto the Graveyard of Gods', gathering all the trance-like void the record may have and representing the summum of what 'Apollyon' strives for, with a very absorbing pace where looping guitar undertones play a crucial role by hypnotizing the listener, while drums drive the rite with a martial tempo and the growling vocals mantra gets repeated by a far from negligible part of reverb. This picture develops in an almost imperceptible manner until it suddenly ends up in pure ambient layers for several minutes. So when the needle drops from the vinyl, you are abruptedly forced to come back to your mortal shell.
If records like 'Obsidian Codex', 'Transient', 'Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence' or 'Through the Cervix of Hawaah' are the kind of Death Metal you look for to travel out of this plane of existence onto the darkest pits, you definitely need to experience (and not just listen to) 'Apollyon' and be blessed by Irkallian Oracle. Open the gates and walk into the sonic shadows.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.