Canadians Atræ Bilis add weird, futuristic mind jolts to death metal with alien-like ‘Apexapien’

Photo by Derek Carr

I would say 100 percent of the music we cover here is created by artists who live on the Earth, which probably isn’t a very big stretch. But I like to think about what kind of strange metal might exist beyond this planet and what that might sound like. Do you think they have edge lords? Anyhow, it’s fun when I get something that makes me question all this Earthbound stuff because the art is that bizarre.

When it comes to death metal, there aren’t many bands making it as spindly, crushing, and confounding as Canadian beasts Atræ Bilis, whose debut full-length “Apexapien” is sure to make more than a few brains go up in smoke after experiencing this thing. Over eight tracks and about 32 minutes, this alien-like band—vocalist Jordan Berglund, guitarist David Stepanavicius, bassist Brendan Campbell, drummer Luka Govednik—tangle you in their bizarre tech-minded death metal web and keep spinning you until you’re utterly disoriented. And yes, there are moments when this record makes me wonder just how human they really are and if we haven’t been visited by advanced beings that have figured out how to bend this stuff in perverse new ways.

“Theta” is an instrumental opener connected with tangling guitars and mashing, technical wizardry, preparing you for the journey ahead and heading toward “Lore Beyond Bone” that immediately challenges your mind. Berglund’s growls, that can sound alien-like on parts of this record, squishes your mind as the band unleashes a fury that’s astonishingly well played and emotionally engaging. Some clean “ahh” calls surprise before the gears chew you up again, the guitars slice, and your sanity is shellacked. “By the Hierophant’s Maw” brings churning guitars and drums that drub, with the shrieks amplifying the intensity. Guttural growls dig into the abdomen as the things get muddier, and the bass twists up your brain wrinkles. “Open the Effigy” basks in bending guitars and gross growls that make it feel like your stomach acid is revolting. The playing is trudging and menacing, destroying you and forcing your face into soot as the rubbery finish leaves burn marks.

“Bacterium Abloom” heads deep into proggy waters, which feel pretty adventurous, and then the playing rampages with the guitars racing and the drums splattering. A dreamy haze suddenly takes hold, making you see colors you never before imagined, cutting into exploratory carnage that has an unsettling sense of warmth. “Into the Seas of Sepsis” explodes with gnarly growls and an animalistic assault that sets fire it never intends to control. There are jolts of atmosphere as the guitars allow you to breathe amid the smoke blankets, ending in a total spiral. “Hymn of the Flies” brings a super-fast pace as the growls bring corrosion and the drums hammer. Later, the guitars spit out a jerky tempo that shakes your bones, and then strange mechanical effects on the vocals turn in more of that outer space vibe, with the track dissolving into the machine. “To Entomb the Aetherworld” is the closer, bringing instant brutality and even nastier vocals, letting devastation reign. It feels like the band has opened your skull and started mixing your brains with a spoon as they deal vicious thrashing and a hammering finish that gives the record a proper volcanic exclamation point.

Death metal’s expansion over the past decade or so continues to be exciting to behold, and bands such as Atræ Bilis are the ones that will keep pushing its borders so that new ideas can continue to flourish. “Apexapien” is one you likely will have to visit a few times before it really sinks in its hooks, but once it does, you will continue to understand the machination even better. This is a record that will challenge you mentally, and that always makes for listening that’s a little more exciting than usual, especially for what we’ve come to expect from fellow Earth folk.  

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