REVIEW: ALLEGAEON – “Apoptosis”
When Allegaeon were in Calgary with Ne Obliviscaris in 2017, vocalist Riley McShane told me they were working on a new album which will feature a song about Tardigrades; the microscopic galactic travelers that can survive anywhere, from the impossible vacuum of space to withstanding immense pressure at the bottom of the ocean. Given Allegaeon’s history of all things science, this wasn’t a surprise to hear. It was, however, extremely exciting.
Fast forward to two weeks ago when I received Allegaeon’s finished product, their new album ‘Apoptosis.’ I volunteered myself for this review thinking it’d be an easy one to push out for team Metal Wani but I have struggled to find the words to do this album justice. This review has been deleted and rewritten more than once, in an attempt to showcase just how exceptional ‘Apoptosis’ is and why it’s such a big deal.
‘Apoptosis’ is defined as “the programmed death of some of an organism’s cells as part of its natural growth and development.” Quite the metaphor for the band, whose own growth and development have progressed from the loss of band members and additions of new, leveling out the current line up with the latest member, Brandon Michael who replaced longtime member Cory Archuleta on bass.
The science lesson begins with the instrumental introduction to Apoptosis, “Parthenogenisis.” Immediately hit a wave of complicated bass from Brandon Michael and some cymbals from Brandon Park. Enter the guitars of Greg Burgess and Michael Stancel, and in the two minutes-fourteen seconds of this track, it ticks almost all the musical Allegaeon boxes: technical, complicated, intelligently composed music, handled by extremely talented musicians.
Track three on the record, ”Extremeophiles(B)” is the second single released from the album and the “Tardigrade” song. Water bears rejoice! This is the first track of the album that had me clutching my head wondering how they were able to pack so much into one track!
“Extremophiles(B)” begins a dramatic introduction, an infectious riff and completed by vocalist McShane’s death growl intro with the first line: “I am exposed/to elements known to/in excess, destroy and dethrone.” The harmonizing guitar moments between Burgess and Stancel at the chorus are reminiscent of Brendon Small’s Galaktikon. (and suddenly realized how desperately this world needs an Allegaeon/Brendon Small collaboration to happen.) McShane’s vocals are all over the shop in this track, showing an exceptional (but not unsurprising) range from death growls to gutturals to delicate clean vocal moment three quarters in. It’s a right treat.
Add the insane bass from B Michael, time changes from B Park and we have a six-minute song that is so full of so many small, intentional and complex moments that it could be its own death metal film score.
“I survive/Immortality Realized” in the chorus reminds us of the resiliency of the tardigrade that has survived millions of years, multiple mass extinctions and other global cataclysms. It’s a remarkable song.
”Metaphobia” is another highlight on the album. A short, distorted synth intro and suddenly a frantic tidal wave of drums and guitars. Musically and lyrically this is an angry song. The lyrics in the show a clear frustration with the current state of our world, but also a hope that humanity could collectively come around to a newer attitude towards reason, growth and maybe even an overall emotional maturation of the human race.
There’s “Tsunami and Submergence,” which begins with a symphony of strings and piano that sounds like a Hollywood level film score. Time jumps, an acoustic and distorted guitar, balanced by an orchestral background that is perfectly done. Enter McShane’s beautiful, intimate clean vocals in the first verse, immediately countered by his death growls. The song gets heavier as it progresses, with signature Stancel/Burgess solos, and interesting time changes from Park. Another complicated, robust, well-thought out track.
Finally, the title track “Apoptosis.” Ten minutes of a call to humanity to be better, Allegaeon style. The first ninety seconds really set the pace for the rest of the track. Holy sh*t. What a song! A slow guitar, McShane’s first words of the verse, “Mourning the loss/Of what we thought we would become….As we were once…” And all hell breaks loose. Every chaotic piece fits perfectly with the other. Each musical element of this song is heard individually and collectively at the same time and it is overwhelming.
“Apoptosis” continues as a plea for humanity to get out of its own way and progress towards a better world. With lyrics like “changes in our behavior/age of darkness, erasure/and failure to stay above the rising flood/and breathe in the air that stings our lungs”- it’s more than a plea, it’s a call to action.
There’s so much more to ‘Apoptosis’ than these highlights. Each song on this album is carefully crafted, adding more elements to the beaker of the Allegaeon experiment; the beautiful instrumental, “Colors of the Currents,” the first single and extraordinary “Stellar Tidal Disruption,” and the rage-fueled “The Secular Age.” Each track adds more to the album as it progresses from start to end.
I had a physical reaction when I first listened to this record. Sweating hands, inability to concentrate and completely overwhelmed by the intelligent, thoughtful, intricate album I was experiencing.
Allegaeon have created a complete album with ‘Apoptosis.’ It’s not an album you just listen to. This record needs your full attention and it needs to be felt. It’s a complete experience that yields an emotional and physical reaction that can’t be unfelt. An incredible piece of art with an important message.