Album Review: Epitaphe – II

A gentle acoustic guitar leads into a three-minute song which conjures up visions of summer breezes, warm, hazy days and the echoes of those carefree moments that pass as fleetingly as clouds in the blue skies. It’s a mesmerising start to the sophomore album by French progressive death-doom metal act Epitaphe. Called “Sycomore”, it is the calm before the storm which is brewing on the rest of this album.

I’d not heard of Epitaphe before taking an interest in their press pack. Sometimes a quick punt can cause untold challenges for the mortal reviewer. On this occasion, that curiosity has been rewarded with an album of complexity, a phenomenally contrasting release of light and darkness, of melancholic passages and crushing death metal. With three tracks each close to 20 minutes in length, this is no easy, throw away record but a complex, intricate and rewarding piece of work.

The longest song on the record, “Celestial” follows “Sycomore”. A kaleidoscope of blackened death and doom, the initial funereal feel gives way almost immediately to a raging cacophony of blast beats and tremolo riffing, primordial in its approach with rasping vocals that fit neatly. The track evolves into a harmonious, melodic passage which lightens the atmosphere before returning to more crushing, yet melodious interplay.

“Melancholia” is next, which begins with a maniacal intro of rolling drums, downtuned riffs and an aural onslaught which leads to some of the harshest and fiercest moments on the album. It’s beautifully balanced with further delicately composed passages which are stripped back, allowing a breather between the incredible sonic assaults. Swathes of layered synths add texture, don’t swamp, and provide elegant additions alongside clean vocals that allow you to drift. It’s very Floydian in these parts, enigmatic and subtle, whilst maintaining the progressive feel without overshadowing any of the other parts.  The closing section drifts into further funeral doom, herculean riffs slowing the tempo right down, and bringing another element of the soundscapes that Epitaphe harvest with great effect.

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The penultimate song “Insignificant” is the third lengthy track, once again combining ethereal passages of play with more punishing death metal elements. Despite the gentle intro, an air of sinister intent lingers, slowly building in extraordinary fashion, swirling menacingly before thick riffs crash in and the track develops into more demonic passages once more. It’s slightly jarring and uncomfortable in parts, but I guess that this is a key aspect in a band with this type of approach. Everything comes to a pleasingly gentle conclusion with the finale, “Merging with Nothingness” being an atmospheric short piece that provides the perfect outro to an album that is at times nothing short of breath-taking.

II is an album that needs to be experienced in one sitting. This may be difficult for many, and the right atmosphere is necessary to fully absorb the dramatic time changes which instantly increase tempo and flavours. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons with the likes of Opeth, such is the juxtaposition between growling malevolence and those lighter passages, but this is no homage, a pure work of quality that deserves wide recognition.

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II is out on 11th April

Check out all the bands we review in 2022 on our Spotify and YouTube playlists!

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