APOKATASTASIS – The Consecratory Secretion (2023)REVIEW

A corpse stuffed into a castle wall does little to reinforce a freshly built kingdom as it rots within. The wronged, irrational curse of the dead is all that escapes dissolve over time unto a brittle pocket of desiccation, haunting its structural integrity with inevitable topple if we consider how many hundreds or thousands of bodies might’ve been buried beneath slurry and stone to craft any empire. In the case of Phoenix, Arizona-based melodic blackened brutal death metal project Apokatastasis‘ debut full-length album we find the structure of their music strangely reinforced by the haunting corpse-touch of black metal rather than weakened by its ghastly haunt, pulling considerable attention away from the imposing and guttural facade of United States death metal it presents as imposing-yet-pocked defensive structure. From a morbid perspective ‘The Consecratory Secretion‘ insists the cursed magickry which seeps from the cracks of every brick lain in the fortress of man rests an additive weight to spurn on their coming divine retribution, that all will be breached and impaled by brimstone and fire soon enough. Alas, it is all for the sake of the mad deathcult of Christ that we consider ye Old Testament armageddon as the artist warns the listener of the coming wrath of divinity, a rapture to kick off endtimes long overdue.

Apokatastasis formed sometime prior to or during 2022 by way of Malus (Disheaded) wherein a flood of creative output rifled through a curious foray, irregular spurts of formative work. Though the artist hadn’t yet shown any signs of the usual Bandcamp-spouted idea diarrhea he’d been appreciably prolific last year with two demos and an mLP released in gauge of this first full-length’s direction. The first demo (‘Fated to Reprobation‘, 2022) showcased the musician’s well-trained understanding of both modern and second generation brutal death metal battery through likely programmed drums. Were it 2002 or so that style would have set nicely next to groups like Excommunion or Agiel during an age of quickly drying brutal death metal ideas and the true uprising of ‘technical’ black metal shapeshifting, all of the underground trembling under the impact of ‘Unholy Cult‘ in various ways. That demo wasn’t all that surprising, an Immolation-esque furor at a decent enough standard with some light tonal juxtapositions and stylistic meld in mind but it’ll have to be the most structural feat in our gathering of precedence.

The real curveball on this trajectory was the ‘Remnants‘ (2022) mLP wherein two songs explored the swerving rhythms of black metal disembodied from any conscious purpose, a point of experimental falter in my opinion which seemed to indecisive between melodic black metal and dissonant chord wrangling. From there the ‘Divine Restituance‘ (2022) demo gets a bit closer to the inevitable crossover between brutal death and lite black metal influences, not quite as brutal as early Anima Damnata and nowhere near as tuneful as the first two Benighted albums (see: ‘Psychose‘) yet nearing a stylistic concept in reasonable union. Little of that yearlong exploration seems to have amounted to more than preparatory drafting for the actual statement that ‘The Consecratory Secretion‘ became but it is well worth experiencing said development before stepping into the far more worthy debut LP.

The divine ekstasis, wroth in every swing of their judgement. — In plainest terms this roughly ~45 minute blackened death metal record presents the logical outcome when parsing all available avenues that might intersect between melodic black/death metal of the 90’s, Immolation‘s damning register/rhythmic press, and some emulation of the physicality of early 2000’s brutal death metal. To be fair this’d been a more common type of thing twenty years ago wherein French, North American, and some Swedish groups worked with similar elemental values, typically leaning towards melodic death rather than the steadier flow of Sacramentum or the long-form stretches of Dawn. Here we find interesting enough use of keyboards to round out the black metal adjacent melodicism which Apokatastasis features atop irregular and occasionally challenging rhythms. The modern feature of their sound injects a slamming bravado which clashes against the more earnest melodic development surrounding it making for a surreal, ugly yet striking listening experience. So, “melodic blackened brutal death metal” is just about the right idea heading into their lair with the caveat that this is not a cloying wiggle into he arms of ‘God Was Created‘ but perhaps something closer to the stranger insanity of early Kataklysm when taken in holistically. We are never quite that far from the basal influences suggested and not all of its inherent mash-up works but ‘The Consecratory Secretion‘ does manage to be a righteous ceremony of oppositional forces when parsed of its many details.

The most coherently stated feature of this initially not-so odd juxtaposition comes by way of the first three pieces (excluding the brief intro) on the album, starting with the haunted cathedral-esque key spiked “Divine Hypocrisy” and its gothic, nigh Scandinavian doomed buildup. Before we plummet into the fray we get a glimpse of the artist’s taste for extended folken melodic arc up front (~50 seconds in) before the full screen widens into view, here we find the already intelligent design of this opening piece foreshadowing the big reveal of the song as the ~3:49 minute mark reveals the complete melodic thought in its memorable glory. Of course we are glancing over three minutes of irrationally packed riff n’ rhythm work which impresses to no end but the greater tact of the piece lies within this specific reprisal, a glorious return which is naturally hymnal despite the serpentine meter of the piece. “Subject of Retribution” is essentially a melodic death metal song given a bit of shake at its brain stem, running through dual guitar rants which appear to choose the ‘wrong’ notes for a consistently left-turn out of nowhere to keep the mind entertained. At some point Malus hits a few inhales in order to go the extra mile as the song keeps the attentive listener guessing as they anticipate the return of the major melody, there is a tension applied here which is both indicative of symphonic excessum circa the early 2000’s yet the verse riffs have a more ancient, romanticist quality to their cadence which is unlike anything we’d found on formative releases from Apokatastasis. It bears mention just how much detail the composer has writ into every second of these pieces, that they dance about in mind rather than manage a form or two before fizzling.

Of course the actual showpiece and obvious representative single here is “There Was No King in Israel” since we get Malus‘ best Ross Dolan circa ‘Failures For Gods‘ up front before we begin digging into the propulsive technical/melodic death riff runs, blasts and slamming murmurs which let us know this is a 2023 record, it ain’t 1993 or even 2003 by the time we’ve reached this key point in our travels. For some this’ll work for how off-kilter it feels, a natural hit of janking aggression for folks who survived the experimental, brutal and technical side of the 2000’s wondering if extreme metal would ever reclaim its soul. At this point we’ll inevitably hit an impasse for folks who do not appreciate (again) Immolation and their influence upon all types of black/death metal over the years since the structure of the experience, its riffs and its many moods arisen in descending reveal takes a more prominent role as the album shifts between full-on brutal death metal feature and elaborate transitions (see: “Deblooded”). Again, “There Was No King in Israel” does a good job of letting you know just how brutal-tech they’ll go with certain pieces but no further.

Satan rules this world, bro. — The only portion of the album which doesn’t seem to make any sense in this progression is arguably “Dejected Core of Earth” where those elements of ‘Remnants‘ found their place on the album and the identity of the album blurred out of focus. On the other hand “Angel of Gore” and its two part structure key us into just how effective Apokatastasis can be when separating each side of their proverbial coin, particularly striking a prime note on the brutal death-blasted and ree-ree‘ing, nuclear bass dropping, gurgled part two. The only saving grace for any cohesion as we near the end of the full listen is that “God Save Us” reprises the structure and tonality of earlier pieces, though it does seem like ‘The Consecratory Secretion‘ loses its deeply focused intensity as the album burns on. The first half of the album is so fine in its detail crammed songcraft and core thesis of forms that its second half feels like a descending ladder into less honed and related ideas.

While I will insist that this album could’ve used another pass for the sake of perfectionism it’d make sense to relent that it is a spectacular, inspired debut full-length nonetheless. Though the combination of melodic black metal and brutal death metal is not entirely unheard of it is rare enough that Apokatastasis have just breached an avenue well worth forging as their own, the potential is not only there but the results already impress with a possessed grasp of classic avant-garde death metal forms and their yet malleable state. In this case I’d rather not suggest that ‘The Consecratory Secretion‘ calls for reigning it in but instead that they continue to morph beyond the outrageous strand of possibilities already manifested. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:The Consecratory Secretion
LABEL(S):Hessian Firm
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

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