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Aphonic Threnody : Of Loss and Grief

Aphonic Threnody take a slightly different direction, with excellent results.

It's been a while since we heard from the international collaboration of Aphonic Threnody, but the tail end of 2017 saw Terror From Hell Records put out a tidy CD release of this, their sophomore full-length. Actually, it's almost a surprise to realise it is just the sophomore: despite a reasonably lengthy discography, much of it is in the form of splits, plus the debut EP. As a general point, it could be argued that AT have shone brightest with material in these shorter formats, so it's an interesting proposition to see how well they navigate this wider space.

Much as with 'When Death Comes', it's clear that presentation and detail is an important part of the package: the distorted blue-tinted pictures of the band and guests are an eerie and effective backdrop to the lyrics and information, all thematically matched to the disturbingly sensuous cover. Very much a positive, in my book: those are the sort of details that appeal to my inner pedantic obsessive nature. And, speaking of guests, if the band's extensive and well-established pedigree isn't enough, then appearances from members of Mournful Congregation, Alunah, Worship, My Shameful, and others should leave no doubt that this is a top-flight release in terms of representing Doom's upper echelons. It's pleasing, also, to see Vacant Eyes, a younger band I very much rate, getting involved again.

I had a bit of an inside line on the album - co-founder Riccardo Veronese being one of our staff reviewers - and heard the early versions some while ago. They marked Ricc's first venture into handling the mixing and mastering, and for an initial effort, the results were good. They've been tightened up and improved since then, bringing a certain subtlety to the production which complements the music better than the blunt heaviness of prior outings. It remains crisp and punchy within the body of the tracks and the additional ornamentation now in place adds a final polish. I can't really fault it at all - the overall result is a clarity and spaciousness that brings out all the diverse elements yet also pulls them together into a consistently immersive soundscape.

Which, really, is one of Aphonic Threnody's strengths. Despite working in a genre that thrives on - indeed, primarily exists for - repetition and incremental change, Aphonic Threnody manage to both play by the rules and subvert them to include some sweeping guitar melodies, as well as more exotic elements like the cello/guitar/piano combination leading in 'Lies' and the '70s rock guitar intro to 'A Thousand Years Sleep'. Early-Pantheist-like, they touch on some kind of "progressive" borderline, yet still keep at least one foot solidly in the "genuine" Funeral/Death Doom camp at all times.

Don't be fooled into thinking that makes it any less of a harrowing and - yes, funereal - experience, however. Contributions like Riccardo's shifting guitar lines, Juan Escobar's clean vocals and keyboards, and the lovely semi-acoustic and choral inputs along the way may contrast against the darker and more cavernous passages, but they venture no further toward the light than a sense of abiding melancholy and grief. Sadly, this album also marks the end of Rob Mura's time with the band. I don't know if he knew this would be a swansong at the time of recording, but regardless, it's a real high note to end on. Or, more accurately, a low one: his deep and bitter growls give 'Of Loss...' a real bite and conviction. A hard act to replace, without doubt, but that's for the future - here, he's just about perfect. And, for me, the multi-layered vocals on 'All I've Loved', including a beautiful clean performance from Sophie Day, are a simply sublime album highlight.

With a 73-odd minute run time, and tracks spinning out as far as twenty minutes, it is a lengthy journey, though the diversity of passages means it carries that quite well and there's little that seems to drag or significantly overstay (you may wish to caveat that point over some of the clean male vocals, depending on taste, but even if that's not a personal preference, they're an apposite fit to the music). But, taken end-to-end, this is an extensive canvas, driven by veteran and perfectionist musicianship. It's traded some of the rawness and tumult of 'When Death Comes' for a certain degree of softer-edged complexity, leaving both albums clearly out of the same stable but with distinctly different character. For me, 'Of Loss And Grief' comes in ahead on both technical grounds and adventurousness, and the bolder direction gives it the most intriguing and individual character of any recent AT outing. I'd call it a return to earliest form, and the potential shown by the original 2013 'First Funeral' EP, but now on a somewhat different trajectory. If you're still looking for Aphonic Threnody to deliver a souped-up version of that first material, you won't find it here; if you're more interested in how that could evolve and develop into something more diversified and less anchored to genre fundamentals, then you're in the right place. And therein lies the rub, since that's pretty much on the dividing line between 'of interest' and 'essential'. I'm going with the latter, though.

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Reviewer's rating: 8.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Despondency
2. Life Stabbed Me Once Again
3. All I've Loved
4. Lies
5. Red Spirits In The Water
6. A Thousand Years Sleep

Duration : Approx. 73 minutes

Visit the Aphonic Threnody bandpage.

Reviewed on 2018-03-19 by Mike Liassides
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