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The Apotheosis - 83%

BassLord, July 15th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, 2CD, Shadow Kingdom Records (Remastered)

It’s one thing to stand out but there is such a thing as standing out a little too much. Sometimes people are confused by ideas that seem unique or strange to them and are more comfortable with things they are already familiar with. Such a concept could certainly apply to apply to the release at hand, Angel of Mercy’s debut and only album to date, “The Avatar.” With one foot planted firmly in the past and the other touching ground in an uncertain future, AoM didn’t seem to fit into any niche of a rapidly expanding 80’s metal spectrum. Unable to stir up much interest in the Las Vegas music scene the band opted to self release their own record, with original copies going on to sell for extremely high premiums on the album market. After the group’s disappearance “The Avatar” would obtain an almost mythic stature as one of metal’s rarest vinyl slabs. But how does the music actually stack up against the legend?

The band’s style is pretty odd to say the least, especially on first listen. A bizarre brew of proggy hard rock and aggressive old school metal which had me scratching my head upon my initial examination. It doesn’t quite help that the tracks are arranged in the strangest possible order, opening with it’s weirdest track and closing with the most straightforward song in the collection. The appropriately titled “In the Beginning” probably seemed like a natural opener but truthfully gets things off to questionable start. The track kicks in with an atmospheric and heavy barrage of tom drums and guitar, but upon the first note of bass we are greeted with the clarion call of the song’s titular line. The guitar however disappears for the remainder of the song, and instead we have a drum and bass jam with the vocalist somewhat cheesily telling the tale of Adam and Eve, even shrieking as the tempting serpent himself. It's all interesting but overly self indulgent and leaves you seriously wondering what you have gotten yourself into, especially when the female narration comes in.

When the second track began as an extension of the opener I didn’t hold out too much hope. About a minute in a guitar chord finally rings out among a sea of pummeling rhythms and suddenly the band transforms into something totally different. The effect is pretty jarring at first, being lulled by prog rock only to be suddenly hit in the head by a beefed up Priest/Sabbath hybrid with the headlong gallop of Maiden. Another curve ball is thrown in the form “Chained to a World.” While I think its a good track it does occasionally recall the sound of Tenacious D, especially with lines like “Come with me my sex is free.” I guess whether or not this is a bad thing is up to your personal taste, but there is a level of character in the vocal that rival’s Jack Black, and every chord rings out so triumphantly you can almost see the self satisfaction on the band member’s faces.

Speaking of the individual members, if there is one thing these guys have in abundance it's chops! The trio is extremely well rehearsed, each giving a performance that is flashy yet with purpose. The rhythm section of bassist Kaign Seveson and drummer Deniz Derya Gallegos is particularly hard to ignore. Check out the sick drum intro to “Metamorphosis”, which is itself achieves a thrash like instrumental attack. The grooves are often so busy yet so thick that much of the band’s heaviness comes from the thunderous rhythms as opposed to the actual riffing, which is often filled in with the spaced out guitar of lead vocalist David St. James. James himself has a huge clean voice and an almost black metal-ish scream that he isn’t shy about using. Again this factor can make much of the material sound more extreme than it really is.

The album carries on in its own strange fashion for most of its duration, songs with intricate yet concise arrangements and narrative vocal interplay. The songs however get better and more aggressive as the tracks flow into one another. “Break Away” has a bouncy tempo with some surprisingly heavy unison riffing and an drilling solo to go with it’s shrieking vocals. The title track has another storyline driven lyric with an eerie intro/outro that soon gives way to more frantic metal riffing. “Victim of the Change” is a personal favorite, a seriously catchy up tempo gallop with a deceptively simple arrangement and a huge hammering chorus. The final tracks see a lot of clean guitar passages being added to the formula, that is until we arrive at “The Succubus,” a Dio-era Sabbath styled monster of a track with a rockin’ verse and a truly sinister chorus complete with more hellish shrieking. As I said before, this is easily the most straightforward metal track to be found anywhere, but serves as a memorable closer which made me hungry for repeated listenings.

The Production is excellent for a self released metal album of its era, hell its better than what a lot of metal bands achieved in the studio at the time. It’s got that huge booming sound you associate with 80’s metal which particularly brings out the drums and bass, while the slightly thinner guitar buzzes over the top. The vocals is full, rich, and seriously commands your attention, but the oddest thing about the production the near lack of any real overdubs! Given the eccentricity of the band’s style it’s amazing they perform this music pretty much as is and mostly unadorned. there isn’t even a rhythm guitar during any of the solos, not that it’s necessary as the bass is more than sufficiently heavy.

The 2cd version on Shadow Kingdom which dropped earlier this year adds a bonus disk culled from different sessions from as far back as 83’ and as recent as 2015. Unfortunately, aside from a couple abandoned intro tracks there are no songs which aren’t already on the debut. The alternate versions are not without their charms however and I particularly like the rawness of the 83’ sessions. Clearly the band was confident in the songs which made up this strange concept album to re-do them so many times over the years, though who knows what the band may have achieved with some different material. The packaging is also quite pleasing aesthetically and I love the blue lettering and logos all over it. For a band so cloaked in mystery the liner notes are pretty bare however, just some photocopied pages of the lyrics and a couple band pics but not much else. Perhaps those involved just wanted the music to speak for itself without the mythology and that it certainly does. If obscure metal albums are your thing this is about as obscure as it gets, though finally some light has been shed after all these years. Some of the only real comparisons I could make would be Manilla Road for the generally “Epic Metal” nature of the compositions, and also Cirith Ungol for the rawness of the screaming vocals and fantastical nature. It’s a truly unique and interesting release in its own right, just don’t expect it to sink in on the first listen. Still I can’t help but wonder would these guys would have done with a little less theatricality and a little more brutality.