UK prog metal is stronger than ever with the likes of Tesseract, Conjurer, Haken, Urne and Dvne leading the way, but the underground also has an abundance of bands waiting for their break. Norwich quintet, Apollo Stands, are one of those artists with enough song writing potential and sublime musical skill to contemplate a future next to the big hitters, yet their sophomore LP is another independent release. Why this band has no record deal is a curious question that may have more to do with choice than bad luck.
Apollo Stands take Karnivool as their main inspiration but incorporate a wide range of sub-genres into their prog metal landscape. It may take you a good ten minutes to adjust to their sound until you realise that Interstellar could be one of the few prog albums in the last decade that contains no djent polyrhythms and yields no overreliance on low-tuned guitars for its heavy impact. In fact, Apollo Stands approach this album like a band that listened to no metal or rock music after the MTV emergence of Tool and Rage Against the Machine except for a few nu metal groups in the years that followed. Even their electronic elements look to 1990s’ innovators like Orbital and Enigma. Perhaps standout track, ‘Insolarus’, encapsulates this best in the way it broods like a gothic version of Haken and builds around the charismatic voice of Ry Hase. Placebo’s Brian Molko always wanted to sing like this – muscular and phonated with a tenor range capable of sweeping everything before it.
Ry Hase is an exceptional vocalist who might wish he was in a more conventional rock band so he could dominate the mix. But there’s no chance of that happening in a colourful and imaginative prog metal ensemble. Apollo Stands don’t need their singer to carry them, even though he remains the obvious focal point of the music. Listen to the synthwave-meets-groove metal hub of ‘Synthetic’ and see if you can count the number of layers in the composition. The chorus to ‘Pick Up’ will bury itself in your head like a recovered memory. When was the last time a metal band utilised this type of soulful rock voice that could slip into a falsetto as easily as it draws from the recesses of the stomach?
Without doubt, there’s much to enjoy at all stages of this album. ‘Hive’ is a pleasure to dissect once you get beyond the bass and drum groove. And these songs love the piercing crunch of a metal riff. ‘Insolarus’ and ‘Please Wait’ are not afraid to go berserk when you think they’re settling down into a comfortable Lollapalooza nostalgia. Yes, it’s alternative metal as much as prog.
Unfortunately, Apollo Stands’ preoccupation with the 1990s also brings the risk of contamination from metal’s least edifying trends of that era. The intro to ‘Pick Up’ will make you cringe in the same way a Drowning Pool or Papa Roach video forces you to wince at the contrived teenage angst two decades later. It’s unclear if Hase or co-vocalist Alexei Swatman is responsible for the Jonathan Davis impression at the beginning, but it’ll concern you how easy the Norwich quintet could charm the audience at a Disturbed stadium concert. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief when you hear the heroic fifty-seven seconds of shredding rock guitar on ‘The Arbiter’. Apollo Stands are not nu metal, but they don’t disavow it, either.
Interstellar is a short record for a prog album, clocking in at only twenty-eight minutes. Yet it demonstrates a high level of ability and melody, not to mention a penchant for heavy groove riffing and intricate electronic embroidery underneath the distortion and power. It may have its flaws, but it also rocks and never wanders too far away from its core purpose of delivering a dynamic metal experience.
Release Date: 05/11/2021
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Insolarus, Hive, The Arbiter
Suggested Further Listening: Aeons – Consequences (2021), Karnivool – Awake (2009), Haken – Vector (2018)