Atræ Bilis – Apexapian


Vancouver death metal quartet, Atræ Bilis, might have an unpronounceable name, but it’s one that piqued the interest of the underground last year when they released their debut EP on Transcending Obscurity Records. Now with their first full-length ready and a deal with 20 Buck Spin to support them, the future looks bright for these Canadians. The chances are you’ll love their music if dissonant metal played with the concentration and focus of an air traffic controller is your thing.

The death metal genre is always evolving, but it also churns out a lot of sterile material each year from artists that sound identical. Atræ Bilis are not one of these saturators on the evidence of opener, ‘Theta’, which starts with a crushing staccato passage of guitar and drums and settles into a chunky rhythm of double-kicks and heavy down-picking techniques. Your first thought is how exhilarating this will sound live. David Stepanavicius’ riffs have a thrash-groove presence among the (obligatory) use of dissonant chords and give the drums and bass plenty of space to breathe. ‘Lore Beyond Bone’ is a vicious barrage of blast beats and bloodthirsty baritone vocals armed with the menacing bite of unorthodox chord shapes. This is what the latest Cognizance album should have sounded like – technical yet enchanting with contrasting tempos and heavy bass distortion.

Apexapien might underwhelm on first listen, but it’s one of the few death metal albums this year that gets better with each analysis. Stream it while you’re doing household chores or browsing through eBay, and it’ll sound monotonous. But you’ll find much to admire if you give the artist the respect they deserve and sit down with the record in chronological order. ‘Open the Effigy’ demonstrates exquisite footwork from drummer, Luka Govednik, but the chugging guitars and syncopated rhythms are just as impressive. Morbid Angel should listen to this before they write their next album. Closing track, ‘To Entomb the Aether World’, blends the sorrowful rhythms of atmospheric black metal into the technical death metal puzzles as if the two were obvious bedfellows. They’re not shy of bringing the breakdown riffs for the mosh pit, either. This is a record that takes pride in its sonic devastation.

No one can accuse Atræ Bilis of hiding behind the impenetrable complexity of tech death here. It’s true that a couple of the cuts like ‘Bacterium Abloom’ and ‘Hymn of the Flies’ suffer from the time-old problem of sounding like every other song on the LP, but the use of Gregorian harmonies on the latter shows they’re not afraid to experiment. Brendan Campbell’s bass style is also worth examining on its own – his instrument mangles through the guitar distortion like a bolt cutter prizing a steel lock apart. The popping technique at the beginning of ‘By the Hierophant’s Maw’ creates the impression that he’s talking to the guitars.

Only one thing holds back Atræ Bilis, and that’s the over reliance on the low guttural vocals. Jordan Berglund has a powerful set of pipes, but he chooses not to expand his range at the moments when the songs most need them. Perhaps a wider use of the Gregorian harmonies on the next album can rebalance this aspect of the music.

As a debut record, Apexapien shows great promise, but the band’s best albums are ahead of them. This is only the beginning, and it’s a strong one at that.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 08/10/2021

Record Label: 20 Buck Spin

Standout tracks: Lore Beyond Bone, By the Hierophant’s Maw, Into the Sea of Sepsis

Suggested Further Listening: Cognizance – Upheaval (2021), Godhead Machinery – Masquerade Among Gods EP (2021), Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Nightmare Withdrawals (2021)