RETRO TUESDAYS: Apophis – Down In The Valley (1996)

With the January 2018 announcement that Apophis were indeed in pre-production for a new album after thirteen years of silence I began to revisit this 30 year old death metal project’s long forgotten discography. It’d been at least 6-7 years since I’d dug through my copies of their stuff and it’d been easy to forget what an interesting contribution they made to melodic death metal of the day. Of their four full-lengths (plus one as melodic black/death project Dawn of Dreams) ‘Down in the Valley’ is admittedly their cheapest sounding record as they largely self-produced it and released it with minimal mastering. It is also the sole release on their Contraption Records label. I’m not interested in swirling at the top-of-the-pops of any heavy metal sub-genre incessantly so revisiting well-known and the popular releases that are already so wildly fellated ad infinitum is dull. So, ‘Down in the Valley’ might represent a traipse into mediocrity for some, but the honest and sloppy ‘second child’ of Apophis shows an old school death metal band struggling towards melodic death metal on their own terms, with their own hands, and admirably on their own dime.

The jangly echo of the intro track does nothing to prepare you for the snake-hissed gasps, barking vocals, and odd jank of “Sleep In My Eyes” as Apophis seem to be aiming for ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’ and instead get ‘Arsenal of Glory’ demo era Arghoslent riffs. Nothing about the song gels beyond the guitar work that begins to stretch their sound out towards the Eucharist and A Canorous Quintet school of tremolo picked wayfarers. The trouble with this eager change of style towards melodic death metal is that they hadn’t earnestly written proper riff transitions and a lot of it feels like demo tracked melodeath riff salad. The sloppiness of the lead guitars only really shines through on a few tracks but it is in stark contrast to Roger Kirchner‘s typically brilliant lead work. They absolutely stumbled into this album in terms of arrangement and otherwise standout tracks such as “The Enlightenment”, with it’s Loudblast ‘Sublime Dementia’-esque riffing, highlight a need for direction and refined structuring. All would be fixed on their next release ‘Heliopolis’ but it still stings a bit when so many of these songs are actually very good.

The deeper barked vocals a la early Cannibal Corpse don’t work well here, but the additional rasped tones are fittingly hollow for melodic death metal of the time. Apophis had lost a huge part of their progressive death metal past with the exit of bassist Christoph Bittner, who lent an enormously satisfying bass presence to their wildly underrated 1993 debut ‘Gateway to the Underworld‘. If you were to play their discography back to back it’d almost sound like ‘Down in the Valley’ was a demo for an entirely different band and their 1998 follow-up ‘Heliopolis’ was the refinement of that sound. As a piece of Apophis‘ history it is compelling for both it’s flaws and many successes. Bands like this are vital to old school death metal fans who never saw the brutality of death metal correlating with the oddly flowery quality of groups like Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. Albums like ‘Down in the Valley’ offer a small glimpse of the actual stylistic transition many bands went through in their garages as they discovered the rhythms of melodic death metal.

The half-formed musical voice of Apophis‘ second album is an excellent rarity, and a document worth preserving within the bands history. It represents a true old school death metal band evolving towards greater variation and melodic sensibility without emulating any other band in the process. There is absolutely no good reason that the band’s back catalog isn’t on vinyl or reissued in collections, particularly ‘Gateway to the Underworld’ and ‘Heliopolis’, instead of sitting on random YouTube channels waiting to be re-discovered. Give it a shot if you’re up for a little jank, sloppy and abrupt riff transitions, and some odd vocal moments. I guarantee if you make it past the first song you’ll find something to like afterwards.

Artist Apophis
Type Album
Released 1996
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Materialization of hostile forms. 3.5/5.0

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