Offering just five songs in sixty minutes, you can kind of tell that Aphonic Threnody are not interested in offering an easy ride. With band members spread over four different countries the six piece like to refer to themselves as a ‘a doom collective’ and on this debut album, the band unleash an epic, mournful sound that combines the best of vintage Paradise Lost and My dying bride to offer up a heavy, cathartic listening experience that has weight and depth in spades. It is not an easy listen, for sure, but the band use the time and space they have afforded each song to develop grand soundscapes that take in everything from crushing metal to gothic rock via classical composition and even hymns. The sort of music that conjures up images of vast decaying churches and a splendour once faded, ‘when death comes’ is a doom masterpiece that deserves to take its place amongst the likes of Thergothon and My dying bride in terms of sheer epic scope.
Opening track ‘the ghost’s song’ sets the scene perfectly. Vocalist Rob Mura deals in a deathly growl from the outset, but with vast, unseen choirs and clean vocal passages this is more than just another band stabbing away at a death/doom hybrid. There’s a genuine vision at the heart of the song that sees the music expand and evolve over its lengthy run time, always interesting and always thick as molasses. Monstrously heavy and yet with a strong sense of melody, ‘the ghost’s song’ has the same sense of ambition that powered the early Katatonia releases, and the result is a brutal yet deeply affecting opening track that draws the listener into a dark world filled with candles, darkness and the scent of freshly dug graves. ‘Death obsession’ opens in a swirl of synth and slowly grows with dark strings and echoing percussion slowly helping the track to build to the eventual hammer blow percussion and droning guitar chords. Stately and filled with funereal resonance, the fifteen minute ‘death obsession’ is a masterful piece of doom metal that succeeds in placing the band’s own stamp on a difficult and unyielding genre. The deathly vocals, more reminiscent of Nick Holmes in the days of ‘Gothic’ also add much to the atmosphere of death and decay, as if the band have tapped into that same thread of misanthropic dread that lies at the heart of the Havisham household in Dickens’ ‘Great expectations’. It gives the music a dry, dusty, desiccated feel that will appeal to those who like their music to offer both depth and atmosphere. Slightly shorter, at just under twelve minutes, ‘dementia’ wastes no time building an atmosphere of rancid decay, opening with huge drone chords and a beat that barely registers a pulse. After the unbelievably wonderful ‘death obsession’ it is a simpler track, but its huge, aching chords and deathly vocals are still incredibly powerful, and there’s a subtle melody woven through the track that is both haunting and memorable in equal measure showcasing the depth of song-writing on offer here. Better still the track finishes with a huge riff that gets the adrenalin flowing before the band head off and explore rather more experimental pastures.
The final two tracks of the album still manage to make up twenty-three minutes of the album’s run time. ‘The children’s sleep’ showcases a hitherto unheard Cure influence with shimmering guitars and subtle atmospherics dominating the opening minutes, and it takes time for the track to build up a suitably brutal head of steam. Still delivered at a snail’s pace, the music is monolithic and the band patiently sculpt their decaying castles in the sky with epic riffs and corpse-like vocals. Like its predecessor the song builds to some truly stunning riffs that offer real bite, and as doom gives way to death metal, so the song becomes increasingly vital despite its slow pace. Such surging riffs don’t last, however, and the track slowly devolves into an atmospheric, almost progressive outro. The album finishes with ‘our way to the ground’, a song that opens with sombre piano before the guitars once more haul themselves from the earth for one final trawl through humanity’s darkest moments. It is a fittingly grandiloquent conclusion to the album and one that leaves the listener enervated and drained after so obsidian a journey.
Aphonic Threnody are not an easy listen. This is doom metal at its most impenetrable with deathly vocals and little concession to faster tempos. There are moments of stunning beauty buried in the album’s midst, but they must be sought out and nurtured as they are surrounded on all sides by darkness and despair. For doom fans this is essential listening, but for the uninitiated a less oppressive act may be a better starting point. An acquired taste, then, but worth the effort, ‘when death comes’ is a dark hearted voyage to the depths of despair and for hardened doom lovers its air of decay is nigh on essential.