With The Far Star, Apotheus have created a fascinating and original concept album that cuts across the progressive, progressive metal and melodic death genres.
Put your hand up please if your favourite band is from Portugal. No takers there, I suspect, unless you happen to be a big fan of the Fado. OK, put your hand up then if you can at least even name one famous Portuguese rock band. Maybe one or two hands, perhaps, but I suspect most of us would be scratching our heads at that question. This reflects the sad fact that Portugal has barely been a blip on the rock radar so it’s great to see an up and coming band emerging that might well change that.
The band in question is Apotheus. They’ve been around for the best part of a decade although this is only their second full-length release. 2013’s When Hope And Despair Collide was a mix between pure metal and death metal and received some good reviews at the time, even if to my ears it did not offer any great originality. There have been changes of personnel in the meantime, with only Miguel Andrade on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Albano von Hammer on drums (I suspect that is not his real name!) remaining from that first album.
I put on this album to discover what the change of personnel and passing of time meant for the band’s sound and my first reaction was that I’d made a mistake and was listening to Pink Floyd’s Meddle! The Prelude opens with the same distinctive repeating single keyboard note as Echoes before concluding rather oddly with a spoken section – a quote from the Isaac Asimov book Robot Dreams, apparently (more on that Science Fiction link later).
After that, something closer to normal Apotheus service seems to return with Caves Of Steel firing out of the blocks with furiously fast guitars and growling vocals. But then there’s an abrupt change as the chorus comes in with a pleasant almost pop-sounding melodic hook. The song sums up the direction of the band – the raw death metal edge have been smoothed out lightly and we are more in the territory of melodic death metal here with a progressive twist thrown in. Imagine a slightly mellower version of Amon Amrath and you won’t be far wrong.
The next few tracks continue in the same vein with some irresistible riffs coupled with memorable choruses. Andrade’s ability to change his singing style is remarkable and he pulls off both the growling and melodic vocal sections in great style. New guitarist Luis Gold Monkey fits in well, unifying with Andrade in fierce riffing during the verses and then often cleverly intertwining his licks with the vocal phrases in the choruses. The danger of course in this type of music is that it can be repetitive. This is headed off by some good atmospheric touches along the way with the keyboards (uncredited, by the way) such as the effective use of the piano in the introduction of The Pull of Plexeus. The slow burning ballad, The Brightest Sun, also brings variety to the material. By the time the album climaxes in A New Beginning, I found it hard to believe that 40 minutes or more had passed by.
Lyrically, the album is tremendously interesting too. No, we don’t have the usual Neanderthal stories of violence and revenge so popular in this genre, but instead we get a Science Fiction concept album! The band has written a short story, also called The Far Star, which tells the tale of a flight from a dystopian world to colonise a new planet. The colonisation eventually fails but the material is sown to generate future life in what we discover at the end is our own Earth. It’s a neat sory and the album lyrics synthesize it perfectly. The full story is available in the Special Edition box set version of the album.
With The Far Star, Apotheus have created a fascinating and original concept album that cuts across the progressive, progressive metal and melodic death genres. Well done to them!