Apes – Penitence


Québécois grindcore sextet, Apes, progressed through the Canadian underground the old school way by releasing demos and EPs in the first five years of their career. They unleashed their debut album, Lightless, in 2017, and another EP followed in 2022 in preparation for their sophomore effort. That day is here, and Penitence is the sound of a band re-energised by new influences and ideas. It might be only twenty-four minutes in length, but they make every second count.

Apes recognise that grindcore can present the paradox of a comfort zone. Listeners have less time to grow tired of the music because it pounces into the action like a commando force and disappears before anyone can question what happened. Adding a new flavour is almost impossible without rethinking the textures of the rhythmic operations, which may explain why the group see promise in black metal as a unique angle. Opener, ‘Coffin’, gets under your fingernails in a high-reverb noise assault with death metal tremolos and drums that struggle to assert their presence in the mix. It’s Napalm Death playing death metal – nothing new in this regard. But the guitar tone grows on you after a minute. Listen to the ferocity of the screaming vocals. You can hear the drummer’s purpose when he flies into the blast beats, yet a surprise slam metal breakdown at 01:25 is just as effective.

If anything, Apes externalise their fears that this type of music might be too one-dimensional. You can feel their anxiety in the use of the ritual tom drum patterns in the intro to ‘The Great Fire’ as the guitars feel their way into the mix with mid-range distortions a la Godflesh. The band let the chunky mid-tempo riffing provide the muscle here – hostility comes natural to this group. Observe how the switch to black metal at 01:25 is abrupt and lo-fi in contrast to the section that precedes it. Alexandre Goulet’s vocals move between masculine grunts and agonising screams with minimal disruption. Black metal elements underpin most of the action on side A. It’s evident in the extreme dissonance and rapid tremolo hand of the three guitarists in the intro to ‘Shadow Walker’. Is the idea here to create a feeling of self-obliteration or obliteration of others? This song finishes in the blink of an eye, which is quite impressive for something longer than three minutes.

Modern black metal would be listenable if it sounded like this – masculine, given to spasms of crunchy riff patterns, and disdainful of simple song structures dominated by blast beats. A grindcore take on the genre is most welcome to these ears when done in the spirit of ‘Closure’ and ‘Bottom Feeder’, the latter of which creates a kind of atmospheric slam metal injected with cartridges of black metal ugliness. Hark how the guitars in closing track, ‘Pillars’, conjure images of leaking boiler pipes in a factory ripe for decommissioning. Then, watch how the drums take over at 02:20 with complex rotations built around the rack toms. It allows the band to plan the outro like a beatdown hardcore outfit. You feel like you’re in the presence of a metal band rather than an evil group of would-be necrophiles who prefer to let their image and off-stage antics do the talking rather than the music.

Few of these songs aim to hook you in with repetition. Apes keep you guessing, and they expect you to be an active participant in their chaos.


Verdict


Release Date: 14/06/2024

Record Label: Secret Swarm Records

Standout tracks: The Great Fire, Shadow Walker, Bottom Feeder

Suggested Further Listening: Massive Charge – For Those We Hate (2021), Vomit Forth – Seething Malevolence (2022), Tithe – Inverse Rapture (2023)