Back to the middle ages we go!
Swedish quintet Apocalypse Orchestra have been building a nice little buzz about themselves for a couple of years now, the culmination of which is this, the appearance of their debut full-length album for the always-eclectic Despotz label; And, whilst it’s not quite the earthshattering statement of intent they might have wished for (half the album has already been released in one form or another, so those in the know knew in part at least what to expect) it’s still a pretty damn fine first effort!
For those not in the know, Apocalypse Orchestra’s ‘thing’ is the use of medieval instruments to give their metal a point of difference. It’s been done before, of course, but AO do at least do it well, and with a stylish panache that makes the odd appearance of a hurdy gurdy seem perfectly natural rather than a bit twee or gimmicky. There’s a fine line to tread here, and Apocalypse Orchestra are pretty much bang on target every time.
Although there are no real weak links to be found (the instrumental track To Embark isn’t quite as good as the rest, but it isn’t actively ‘weak’) everything seems to work best on the excellent The Great Mortality. A doomy, almost mordant leviathan of a song, replete with otherworldly choirs, stately walls of powerchords and the croonsome vocal presence of Erik Larsson (one thing metal fans may stumble over are Larsson’s vocals, which do lack a bit of oomph in places), this track really showcases the best of everything in the Apocalypse Orchestra’s arsenal.
Similarly impressive is Flagellant’s Song, which is ushered in by a ghostly plain chant before easing into a loping, hurdy gurdy-driven monster of a piece, the ancient instrument bolstered by adamantine bursts of rifferama from Larsson and six string buddy Jonas Lindh. At times redolent of (old) Candlemass yet always retaining its own flavour and identity, this is solid, dependable doom of the very highest order.
So there you have it – there’s a slight air of seventies prog in evidence too – I’m sure mellotrons or some such equipment have been used on tracks like Exhale – and if a timeless, swirly kaleidoscope of heavy sounds and moods appeals to your musical self then there’s a lot of fun to be had with The End is Nigh.
The End is Nigh is out now on Despotz Records