Atmospheric black metal isn’t anyone’s game. It’s not just that black metal is an unwieldy beast that has a certain patina built in, adding atmosphere to it takes some doing. Well, how does Loth’s sophomore effort, Apocryphe fare, you ask? Let’s see.
Loth is a French a two-man atmospheric black metal project and one of these men is not Neige. Apocryphe is their second full-length release, released just one year after their debut. Their music is grounded in black metal, so you have your tremolo riffs, blast beats and a wall-of-sound approach (insofar as a wall can be constructed from lo-fi bricks, that is.) The album consists of four tracks and clocks just under forty minutes with two central tracks exceeding twelve minutes.
First and foremost, Apocryphe lives up to the “atmospheric” label. Loth have absolutely triumphed on that front. The album has a pastoral, twilight air aura about it, a feeling like the moist air growing colder around you and chilling you to the bone before rain falls. The overall feel of the album is bleak, chilly and somewhat melancholic, so kudos on that. But that is not the greatest strength of Loth, no. It is that despite their baser inclinations, Loth manage to create tracks that move, that breathe and walk. Their approach to songwriting is somewhat block-based, transitioning between parts meaning a total switch from one passage to the next. This keeps things interesting for the most part and creates a very nice flow to the songs, which, apart from a softer bridge section in Mourir à Metz, gradually advance by shifts in riffing and rhythm. That is also a very good thing when you have songs that easily approach or exceed ten minutes in length.
That said, Apocryphe also has its pitfalls. First off, the production doesn’t really do the denser parts of the album any favors. Despite an adequate mix, the end result is muddy and uneven. Don’t get me wrong, you hear everything, but the drums sound like they were recorded in the next room over from the equipment. Tom attacks in particular sound hollow. Now, if it were just the drums, I could be stretched to roll with it, but the production is such that the entire goddamn sound is neutered: it sounds muffled, as if struggling for breath. It’d be one thing if this was a constant throughout the album, but no, the songs sound uneven in themselves. It all tends to rise and fall within a somewhat-brickwall range and while this contributes to the ebb and flow of songs, it does disrupt the experience somewhat.
Speaking of, the album flow is likewise skewed. The fact that this album opens with a rendition of the 14th century folk song, Douce Dame Jolie, before suddenly switching gears into a full-on ABM assault is quite jarring. Would love to have been in the room when that particular decision was made.
Another weakness, albeit a less significant one, is in the songwriting. These songs are long, but when I say that they are, I don’t mean they are lengthy, they are just longer than necessary. It is true that for the most part, Loth knows how to carry a song. But the end product could’ve been tighter if a couple of minutes had been shaved off the tail end of the longer songs, Mourir à Metz and Malmoth. The title track suffers from this a bit more than the rest, however: as the closer, it just sort of drags on, outstays its welcome and then devolves into a complete non-sequitur by the very end.
When all is said and done, Loth deliver a decent album that has enough thrills to keep you interested, a bleak atmosphere and skillful musicianship. Recommended for those who dig atmospheric black metal; as for others, you might want to take a listen, as well.
Loth (not Neige) – music
F.S. (also not Neige) – vocals
01. Douce Dame Jolie
02. Mourir à Metz