Prokopton. The path of the stoic. I kinda like that in context with Aephanemer. Already their 2016 piece Memento Mori showed the advanced skills of this band and – for sure – of lead guitarist Martin Hamiche. The latter record indeed was already a pretty good album in itself, but it did have its moments. And certainly a lot of air still to fill.
Now, here I find these French metallers stoically walking down that path of their own making with their newest record.
And in truth, Prokopton really and powerfully reaffirms the status quo. You won’t find any fundamentally new concept. No changes in approach that will totally amaze you with its musical prowess. Instead, Aephanemer continue down their well traveled road, with a style firmly ensconced in Melodic and Symphonic Death Metal. Like some dark and energized version of Ensiferum. Or a funky reincarnation of Arch Enemy, with a penchant for adapted symphony.
And make no mistake, the lead guitar is still very present all over the record. And so it should be, this is Aephanemer after all. Yet, not going new places is a fine strategy for a sophomore album. And the band probably understood that as well.
However and compared to Memento Mori, the song writing kicked itself up a bunch of notches. There’s nothing anymore of the scratchy and sadly worn delivery, thrown at the public in a somewhat shaky and totally overwhelming fashion. I am truly impressed by this, and it is visible right from the first note played on this record.
Right off the bat Prokopton gets you that sense of grandeur, of soaring melodies and wide-open soundscapes. This is what their last record already attempted, but never quite achieved. The tracks all display this breathless urgency, but again without being oppressive. I detect a certain need for speed that I find invigorating in a way. This keeps the album fresh and never boring. And – indeed – the delivery never goes over board to some fantasy land, but stays within the confines of this record.
This time Martin Hamiche‘s guitar work integrates much better into the overall theme. And this is a very good thing. Not that his trademark riffs and solos went missing in action. You’ll still find a lot of the ever-present lead guitar in Prokopton. But all of that goodness now integrates much better into the fold of the band’s overall work.
It also seems that the band decided to give the strings a bit (much) more room to breathe, which is great. And for sure a helluva lot of space to an energized Marion Bascoul that really took my breath away. Watch it, Alissa White-Gluz, you got some wolfish competition. From France of all places.
If you would like to get a sense of the essence of Prokopton, I would suggest you give Bloodline a jolly good listen. This track perfectly demonstrates this delicate balance of all these elements that make up the brand Aephanemer is made of.
Then follow this up with the 9-minute epic If I Should Die. The way the band balanced strings with the rough growling and the guitars really is very well executed. In a way, this is how Epica would sound, should they ever change to the other side of the metallic multiverse. After all they claim that they like ‘heavy’, but never quite get there.
But finally, I have to admit that the record totally threw me.
Aephanemer went from 0-60 mph in about two milliseconds. On song writing and a much more mature delivery than was ever present before. And by finding this delicate balance between the need for power and speed, and the art to avoid pounding the audience into the dust with your mighty metal hammer.
When Hamiche contacted the blog for another review, I was a tad surprised. Because the last one we did was not all that favorable after all. But methinks that the band had high hopes for Prokopton, and rightly so.
I can hardly find fault with this new record. This is a kind of an exponential increase in savoir-faire and pretty stellar delivery that even the involvement of Dan Swanö cannot explain.
So, by Loki, well done, band. We thoroughly enjoyed reviewing this record. And may Aephanemer follow up with more such goodness in the future.
[And congratulations – the record successfully made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome IX!]