Aephanemer – A Dream of Wilderness

French symphonic metal quartet, Aephanemer, created an underground buzz with 2019’s Prokopton and now have the backing of Napalm Records for their third album. Started as the solo project of multi-instrumentalist, Martin Hamiche, people know them these days as the group fronted by charismatic female vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Marion Bascoul. Many, including this reviewer, discovered the band on YouTube through their breakthrough video, ‘The Sovereign’. Expectations could not be higher for A Dream of Wilderness yet repeat listens prove underwhelming. What is it that’s missing from this studio effort?

The album starts off with great promise. Bascoul’s death metal snarl is as strong as ever on this record. One listen to ‘Antigone’ is enough to convince you that her growls can carry the songs like a mythical trojan horse leading soldiers over the walls of a fortress. The colour palette is bright with a flurry of dramatic string arrangements powering the music and giving way to a black metal bridge when things are becoming too grandiose. Hamiche’s neo-classical shredding stands out like an aggrandising general promising great riches to his conscripts. His riffs are not bad, either. ‘Of Volition’ pulsates like Wilderun running through the mid sections of the Carcass back catalogue. Listen to the majestic symphonic thrash of ‘Le Radeau de La Méduse’ and ask if Therion could still produce something as ferocious and untamed.

Aephanemer have the momentum and the purpose in the first quarter or A Dream of Wilderness, yet they struggle to maintain it in the critical parts of the album. ‘Roots and Leaves’ starts with epic choir harmonies but stumbles into a blunted audio mix where the guitars can only keep up with a neo-classical extravaganza of harmonising scale patterns. We need an uglier and thicker wall of low-end distortion to match the rapacity of Bascoul’s voice. Instead, you might feel like you’ve wandered into CS Lewis’ magical kingdom of Narnia. The double-kick drums and hair-raising string flourishes give ‘Strider’ the adrenaline and tempo it demands, but the guitars stay buried underneath the snow. This is unfortunate because the lyrical imagery of magnificent waterfalls and ice-cold streams match the aesthetic of the music in ‘Phanta Rei’. Few artists can be so descriptive with the ebb and flow of their instrumentation, and Aephanemer deserve credit for the way they conjure up a winter wonderland of metallic pomp throughout this record. But that’s the main problem – we want Wagner, yet they give us the splendour of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. Why strip melodic death metal of its menace and malevolence and replace it with a colourful spring canvass?

The closing title track is superior to anything in the second and third quarters of this record, and you wish they could produce more songs of this calibre. How can you not admire the spectacular angelic projection of the female choir at the beginning? Haniche’s guitar playing is more hostile and venomous in the mix here. This is the Aephanemer of Prokopton that we all enjoyed when they burst onto the scene two years ago. Unfortunately, the flash of brilliance on display is too late to save the album from the posturing of a standard Nightwish release.

Aephanemer could create something unique with louder guitars and more emphasis on the death metal element. Instead, the orchestral dramatics take centre stage and displace the metallic edge of the music. A Dream of Wilderness is intriguing and has enough enjoyable moments to keep you engaged, but it will disappoint those expecting an all-conquering masterpiece.



Release Date: 19/11/2021

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: Antigone, Of Volition, A Dream of Wilderness

Suggested Further Listening: Therion – Secret of the Runes (2001), Hand of Kalliach – Samhainn (2021), Wilderun – Vein of Imagination (2019)