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A new beginning - 85%

kluseba, April 18th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, Digital, Independent

Apocalyptica has always been a diversified yet unique band. In the past five years, the band has released a video game soundtrack, recorded a commercially successful regular album and gone back to its classical roots inspired by Richard Wagner for a couple of sophisticated concerts that were recorded for a great live release. “Shadowmaker” also tries out something new as the line-up includes a regular singer for the very first time in Apocalyptica’s career. Franky Perez has a powerful and versatile voice even though he isn’t the most charismatic and impressive singer. Still, his continuous presence on the record adds a coherent flow and Apocalyptica sounds like a real band rather than a project that invites a couple of random guest singers as it was the case on the previous efforts. Another thing that keeps the album together is its atmosphere somewhere between melancholy and mystery.

Fear not, old fans, for the band still includes a couple of great instrumentals on the album plus a few epic songs where the instrumental passages add much more to the listening experience than the vocals. The menacing bonus song “Reign of Fear” would be a perfect tune for a horror movie. In the beginning, the track sounds disturbing, heavy and slow and by the end it sounds dramatic, epic and fast. This is the best instrumental track the band has done in a while. “Riot Lights” is another outstanding instrumental track based on hypnotizing and rather fast cello sounds but it features an elevated amount of electronic samples and some weird background noises that give the song a quite unique identity. This is definitely the most courageous track on the new album. Those who want to hear some calmer and purely classically inspired material should appreciate the epic album closers “’Til Death Do Us Part” and “Dead Man’s Eyes” even though the latter one has some noticeable lengths and fails to end the album with a bang.

In general, the useless short opener and the unfocused closer are the weakest parts of the album and fail to kick the record off on a high note and end it in a glorious way. The only other track that I don’t appreciate on a personal level is “House of Chains” which sounds a little bit like a commercial metalcore song on cellos that could also come from Bullet For My Valentine or Trivium. I know a couple of great metalcore bands but the mixture of classical music and this kind of modern metal just sounds odd and reminds me of the track “Repressed” from Apocalyptica’s greatest hits record. The track feels alien on this album.

All other songs with vocals work quite well. “Cold Blood” is really catchy and features great cello riffs, intriguing background noises and truly soulful vocals. The song has the most promising commercial potential along with the compact bonus track “Come Back Down” which sounds a little bit out of context on the album but that convinces with an experimental drum play and a chorus that I would describe as chaotic beauty. The gloomy title song “Shadowmaker” goes in a very different direction as it sounds really epic and mysterious. I immediately liked this courageous first single choice that never falls off despite a challenging length of eight minutes. “Slow Burn” is another really melancholic song that could have found its righteous place on Apocalyptica’s amazing self-titled effort ten years ago. “Sea Song (You Waded Out)” has a similar approach but has a more elegiac yet hopeful tone that should please to those who liked Apocalyptica’s “Reflections” release twelve years ago. It’s not just because of the title that the song sounds like Apocalyptica’s own take on Rammstein’s melancholic ballad “Seemann”.

The great thing about this release is that almost all tracks have grown on me after four or five spins. At first contact, I wasn’t all that impressed and missed Apocalyptica’s old classical and emotional style. This album is still not as consistent and profound as “Cult” or “Apocalyptica” but the record has convinced me with a balanced mixture of Apocalyptica’s old classical style and more recent commercial efforts, a fusion of a clear guiding line in form of a mostly melancholic and mysterious atmosphere and an elevated number of short experiments, a potpourri of extended instrumental parts and solid vocal performances by the same versatile singer. My first advice to fully enjoy this effort is to buy the limited edition of this release and to always listen to the record as a whole. My second advice is to give the album time to grow on you. Don’t give up after one or even two tries. Let the album work on you in different situations. I’m sure you will get rewarded for your patience at a certain point. It’s great to see that Apocalyptica has shifted away from more accessible music and delivered it most profound studio record in ten years. This album can be seen as a new beginning for the band and I’m curious to see where the band goes from here.