Nick Vasallo – Apophany


Nick Vasallo is a founding member of deathcore pioneers, Antagony, and vocalist and bassist of the technical death metal band, Oblivion. He’s also a music professor and award-winning composer in his native San Francisco, where he started work on Apophany ten years ago. It will not disappoint fans of his earlier works as a follow up to 2012’s Monuments Emerge, but will it scare away the uninitiated with its one hour and nineteen minutes of running time?

Those of us unfamiliar with avant-garde classical music have every reason to be intimidated by Apophany, but the nerve-shredding tuba multiphonics of opener, ‘Ein Sof’, should be enough to ground you in awe. It’s like the submarine warfare film you dread to watch when you know an enemy strike is imminent. Listen how the brass section bends up with slow deliberation to make a chord as the screeching violins flutter in the background. It’s no exaggeration to say this will rumble your bowels as you sit in a permanent state of raised eyebrows for the seven minutes and twenty-five seconds of its alluring existence. You never hear the extreme dynamic contrasts between near silence and pre-launch detonation in rock and metal. Here, Vasallo reminds you how important it is to chamber music. He wants to leave you on edge and subservient to his caprices.

The dark minimalism of ‘When War Began’ and ‘The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time’ will glue your eyes open like a traumatic memory you thought you’d buried long ago. Paranoia is the dominant mood of the former, but the brass and woodwind offer glimpses of self-discovery through self-awareness of the human ego. Parts of this composition will remind you of the macabre moments in the disturbing 2018 film, Hereditary. Think of the musical equivalent of fingernails scratching against a blackboard but replicated in a horn section playing out-of-key. Discordance is the aim here – the discordance inside the mind of a person experiencing an uncomfortable flashback. The ear-piercing shrill of the cellos go beyond conventional music theory, like Stravinsky.

Eighty minutes of intense avant-garde art is never an easy ride, and the ten-minute high opera of ‘The Prophecy’ (performed by the Washington State University Concert Choir) demands more than the usual amount of patience and willingness to learn. Likewise, the thirteen minutes and twenty seconds of ‘Atum’ threaten to turn into an audio conjuring of trapped souls in purgatory. Here, the tuba is the oppressive authority, but the introduction of piano trills and melodious woodwind calm your imagination when your mind can only envisage the birth of a monster from the devastation and misery. You’ll hear phantom cymbal crashes among the green shoots of optimism, but the brooding brass section strangles the brief interlude of light like an inevitable law of nature.

It’s somewhat surprising that Vasallo allows an intrusion of electric guitar at track seven. You’re making sense of your unfamiliar yet insecure terrain when the barbarism of doom metal rears its head on ‘Ozymandias’. The passages of neo-classical thrash you’d expect to emerge from here never materialises, but the violins take on the frantic shredding role instead. Album closer, ‘Black Swan Events’, goes one better and chooses chunky metal guitars as its main thrust, including a neo-classical piece that touches upon Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ for inspiration. The wayward swerve of violins produces a vertiginous effect on your senses like earwax infringing on your vagus nerve. You dare not allow your mind to wander at any time.

Vasallo shows here that his talent knows no bounds. The uneasy darkness at the core of our being finds its musical expression in the brooding contemplation of heavy brass and bowed strings. Apophany is the cautious operation of the mind as it ponders the dangers ahead and tries to settle your fears.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 18/03/2022

Record Label: Neuma Records

Standout tracks: Ein Sof; The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time; Black Swan Events

Suggested Further Listening: Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest – Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) (2020), Clara Engel – Their Invisible Hands (2022), 30 Immolated; 16 Returned – The Burial of the Dead (2021)