Prokopton by Aephanemer

Release date: March 22, 2019
Label: Primeval Records

One aspect of heavy music – or music in general – that is often overlooked is that it is supposed to be fun. Not in a cheesy, novelty ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic or Spinal Tap kind of way, but as escapism, a break from the mundane or a release valve on, y’know, bad stuff.

Fans frequently forget it. Bands definitely forget it. And, yes, music publications forget it as well. But then comes along a band like Aephanemer, with their rousing, upbeat take on melodic death metal – one that straddles the heavy sub-genres of power and folk – and you remember just how much fun this stuff can be.

I must point out that the heyday of melodic death metal in the 1990s completely passed me by. At the time, NoFX and Pennywise were far more suitable soundtracks to my life.

So I cannot compare this triumphant-sounding second album from Aephanemer to, say Dark Tranquillity, or Children of Bodom, or In Flames or any other proponent of the genre. All three bands have been mentioned in relation to the French quartet’s previous output, as it happens.

What I can say is that Prokopton (a follower on the path to stoicism) is a highly enjoyable record, if you like your heavy music to be a little on the bombastic side, with anthemic, soaring choruses and uplifting key changes that demand the listener to raise their fist, wave an imaginary sword and summon their steed for the ride across the steppes.

It begins with a grand entrance, with the title track fading in with an orchestral sweep – a motif that runs through the entire album – and a regal riff. Then Marion Bascoul comes in with a malevolent, throaty rasp, which offsets the stirring melody nicely. In the background, behind a wall of pummeling metal, an almost Celtic sounding orchestral refrain whirls and reels, transporting the listener to ancient battlefields, where dragons fly, flags wave, horses gallop and… you get the picture. Take it as read that the music is very evocative. And also mightily heavy.

Other highlights include ‘Snowblind’ which is not a Black Sabbath cover, but is an atmospheric, cinematic piece of metal, complete with a brooding breakdown in which Bascoul takes centre stage with a clean vocal.

‘The Sovereign’ and ‘Dissonance Within’ battle for the crown of heaviest song on the album (the former’s slow-fast-slow drum work is especially impressive), while the instrumental interlude ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ harks back to when the outfit was lead guitarist Martin Hamiche’s one-man band – and provides some relative calm amid the maelstrom.

The nine-minute final track, ‘If I Should Die’ is the ideal way to close the album, as the band whips itself into a frenzy with an increasingly invigorating melody, again complemented by the same kind of stirring orchestral phrases that Beethoven used to employ to drop jaws in the 18th century.

It is neighbour-annoyingly noisy, heavy, melodic and great fun, like the rest of the album – and it all provides a timely reminder of what music should be like.

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