Life is crazy for me right now, so I have a short little review coming at you for a short little release, but one that is no less impressive or worthy of talking about. A…Tech Byte, if you will (TRADEMARK PENDING). Ontario tech/prog death foursome Æpoch are following up their well-received 2020 EP The Scryer with another bite-sized offering, Hiraeth, this time looking ahead to the future instead of wistfully recalling the past and showcasing both new blood and a new outlook on their brand of metal. And boy, what a gruesome future it is they see…
Where The Scryer was made up of older, previously unreleased songs, Hiraeth is a series of brand-new songs that serve as an introduction for the band’s two new guitarists, Marcus Arar and Nicholas Luck. As you might imagine, having both of your guitarists be brand new to the project usually signifies some amount of change to the overall sound of the band, and in this case, Æpoch chose to incorporate more refined, progressive elements as well as a healthy dose of dissonance into their lightning-fast tech-death approach. Still, all the elements of their past remain intact, like machine-precise drumming, fretless bass (I know, I’m surprised it took me this long to mention it too) and wild, fret-burning riffs that twist and turn at sharp angles. The overall sound is much more rounded out though: the progressive elements serve to temper the wild aggression with a really delicate sense of melody and more grooves that allow the songs to breathe.
It should also be noted that Hiraeth is a concept album that tells a buck-wild story that is not easily summed up concisely. Basically, it follows the amnesiac survivor of an apocalyptic event who is wandering through a wasteland with no food or clean water. Eventually, he becomes so sick he starts to hallucinate, and he runs into what he believes to be a fertile oasis surrounding a shrine. As he approaches the totem, he realizes that what he thought was lush vegetation was actually rotting human flesh, and this shrine is to “the god of rot,” who forces him to sacrifice himself and become part of the fleshy undergrowth. How they managed to fit a whole sci-fi/horror movie into about twenty minutes of music is beyond me, but it clearly shows that Æpoch are working on an unparalleled level of creativity and execution.
From a technical standpoint, Hiraeth shines brightest in the moments where everything drops back from a frantic, breakneck pace and settles into a groove. While there aren’t a lot of the traditionally “prog” instruments (read: no saxophone), Luck and Arar add plenty of progressive notes, pun intended, in their singing melodies and electric leads. Arguably the centerpiece of the EP, “The Flesh Totem” best encapsulates the shift in sound by supplementing normal technical fare with groovy drums and layered melodies that flow much more than they pummel. “Overwrought” serves to also show off the band’s incorporation of dissonance into their sound, albeit in a way that is still pretty melodic and musical. If you’re looking for something that is on the heavy side, Æpoch has got you as well. “Amnesia” is a full-on tech fest of riffs on riffs on riffs and soaring leads, as well as guest vocals by Jerry Martin of Alustrium. And of course, I have to shout out the outstanding fretless bass work of singer Brett MacIntosh, particularly the break on the title track, which is a blistering workout of a line. Overall, this is a release that simultaneously satisfies and leaves you wanting more.
So I guess this didn’t end up so short after all; sue me. While Hiraeth debuts some new tricks in Æpoch’s bag, the band themselves admit that there is no telling what the future holds for them. Their next release might not sound like anything you would expect, and I for one am psyched to hear that. I’m always a big fan of big ideas when it’s backed up by big execution, and Hiraeth executes in spades. Whatever comes next, sign me up.
Hiraeth will be available September 10 on Æpoch’s Bandcamp page. For more information on Æpoch, visit their Facebook page.