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In most metalheads' minds, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Triptykon are a continuum. From the early blackened, grimy metal of Hellhammer, through the dirty black thrash of early Celtic Frost and the avant-garde experiments, to the colossal rudeness of Monotheist and its logical continuation as Triptykon's Epistera Daimones and Shatter, the only misstep on the way seems to be Cold Lake. Yes, anything Tom G lays his hands on seems to be successful on some level, and it always gets some kind of audience completely enthralled.
But what about Apollyon Sun? Where exactly does this weird band fit in the procession of a quarter of a century? Or does it? And is Sub a worthy addition to the canonized history, or is it equal to Brian Lumley's awkward contributions to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, an angular piece in a jigsaw made purely with curved lines, the odd thing among the masterpieces?
Yes. And no. It depends on the point of view.
As far as the focus is on the chronological order of things, Apollyon Sun is simply the band between the first time the mighty Celtic Frost split up and their eventual reformation. There was nothing else there, and nature abhors a vacuum. In that sense, yes, it is a part of the chronicles.
But in other ways, it's not a part of the grand scheme of things. A lot of true metalheads with credible opinions and knowledge on Celtic Frost and the two bands framing it on both sides have no idea of the band's existence, and even fewer seem to have heard Sub or any of the other releases. And even fewer still really care. The music has virtually nothing to do with the other bands, and while Celtic Frost and Triptykon have always had their share of desolate despair in the music, Apollyon Sun's repulsive industrial soundscape has little in common with that.
And repulsive it is, indeed! The music is depressingly flat industrial metal with traces of industrial ambient and even primitive techno in it, and it's damn difficult to listen, and even more difficult to enjoy. The first five tracks even have two remixes among them, and the artificially bloated drum sounds and generally monotonous thumping offers little reward to anyone thick-skinned enough to wade through it all. There are ideas in them, sure, but they seem almost like the band has gone through extraordinary effort to bury the fragments of creativity in "Messiah (Second Coming)" and "Feeder", for example, as deep as they could.
But suddenly, from out of nowhere, the sixth track, "Slender", turns the whole thing upside down. It resembles the oasis-like softer, ethereal spots on Monotheist, and wouldn't be out of place if it trailed the title track on Shatter. There are nice female vocals, the industrial sounds are forgotten for a wonderful five minutes, and the atmospheric soft song takes over and offers the listener a moment to catch his breath before the album again dives into the muddy, toxic depths next to a factory and becomes an asphyxiating industrial piece of art again. It is a tranquil pool, a place to rest before the taxing daily grind begins again. Scattered spots on "Mother Misplaced" offer something similar, but that's the best this album has to offer.
Somehow, the good things about most albums with Tom G on them are discarded on Sub, and the objective has been to make the album as bleak and flat as possible. The sound is mostly thin, almost skinny, and has an annoying electronic pulse in it, covered with disinterested vocals by Mr Fischer. And the vocals are the worst part. Because anyone familiar with Celtic Frost and the other bands in the relevant main history have heard the force of his expression, even if the voice of The Man has always been gnarly, unpleasant and croaking. But here, he sounds fed up, as if he had lost his interest, in the same way various bands crossbreeding industrial and gothic rock have done, or many commercially suicidally depressed grunge vocalists sought to sound back in the 90s. It may... nah, it must be an artistic choice. But it's an unfortunate and lamentable choice, just like most of the choices Apollyon Sun made when they recorded this.
The truly strange thing about the album is the way it works on replay. Be brave, pop it into the player, and face the 45-minute storm of rusty nuts and coal dust all the way through, and enjoy the two good songs on the latter half of the album. Then let it start over again, and pay as little attention to it as possible, and it will start to sound... ...tolerable. Do that a few times, and suddenly, there's something... ...enjoyable in the sound. It changes, but since the music on the CD can't change, it must be the listener, or the relation between the music and the listener that changes. Subtle tweaks in the brain, a few rewirings, a few parameters set to new values, and suddenly there's something to like in the bleak and repulsive sound. Yes, it does things to your mind, so once again, caveat emptor. Maybe Tom was on the verge of a breakthrough on subconscious messages, mindcontrol and reprogramming the human mind on Sub. It's a scary thought, but not something to put beyond his potential.
In the final analysis, Sub is not an abomination. Far from it. But it is wasted effort, a pitiful sidetrack in the course of a wonderful career, and something worth forgetting. Indeed, it's worse than Cold Lake, because it fails even at being offensively bad... it gets forgotten. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a poetically just fate for this album. It's not worth much attention, and it's better to think that Tom spent the years mixing Giger's paints or drinking Pina Coladas on the Maldives than to assume he poured his creative juices into the mold that produced this.