When it comes to the kind of emotive, traditional doom in which Indianapolis, Indiana, four-piece Apostle of Solitude traffic, an album like their 2008 full-length debut, Sincerest Misery, is a hard one to top. The record was a triumph of precisely what the title suggested, and each song carried a drama with it that was neither over-the-top nor silly, but felt remarkably human and real to the listener. The guitar and vocal work of Chuck Brown (ex-The Gates of Slumber) was essential to this process; his voice in particular heralding the doom of yore with an urgency not often heard in their genre.
So if Apostle of Solitude had anything post-Sincerest Misery, it was their work cut out for them. It is, therefore, all the more satisfying to say that Last Sunrise, the band’s label debut for Profound Lore, more than lives up to its predecessor on every level. From the massive, slow bleed that closes “December Drives Me to Tears” or the visceral emptiness that makes up the whole of “Letting Go of the Wheel” — a rare song that feels too short at nine minutes — Apostle of Solitude the nigh-impossible balance between progress and staying true to what’s already been established as their sound. Five of the nine non-bonus cuts on Last Sunrise are over the seven-minute mark, the closing trio of “Sister Cruel,” “Frontiers of Pain” (huge) and “Coldest Love” (ditto) hitting in succession following the aforementioned “December Drives Me to Tears.”
But it’s somehow cheap to talk about song lengths when even the shorter material, songs like “Hunter Sick Rapture” (a paltry 4:45), pack so much weight as well. Based around a traditionally NWOBHM galloping riff, the song is no less forlorn than its more spread out musical compatriots. If anything, the band sounds all the more desperate for the extra energy. The opening title track, “Last Sunrise (Requiem)” is little more than an intro, albeit one whose slow unfolding is even more of a setup for the album to come than the song itself. Perhaps Apostle of Solitude wanted to start Last Sunrise with the more straightforward, rocking material up front, because both “Acknowledging the Demon” and “Other Voices” are under four minutes. Brown and guitarist Justin Avery lead the charge, making “Acknowledging the Demon” an immediately memorable affair, but the rhythm section of drummer Corey Webb and Brent McClellan do an excellent job of grounding the songs, whether the atmosphere’s oppression is coming from the outward heaviness of a given track or its naked minimalism.
The transition between “Acknowledging the Demon” and “Other Voices” is seamless and so fluid they could almost be the same song. This, as well as the progression evident in the structure and playing of the band, shows the growth Apostle of Solitude have undertaken since Sincerest Misery. For being instrumental, “Other Voices” is no less lyrical than any of its surrounding cuts, and “Letting Go of the Wheel” — my immediate favorite for the sheer wretchedness of its ambience — comes as easily out of “Other Voices” as “Other Voices” did from “Acknowledging the Demon.” The flow of the album is flawless and remains so throughout.
There are varying bonus tracks depending on which release is purchased, be it double-LP vinyl (which includes everything), North American or European CD issue. The version of Last Sunrise I was given for review was the former CD, which boasts covers of The Obsessed, Born Against and Misfits, and though I might have enjoyed hearing Brown sing Celtic Frost’s “Procreation of the Wicked” on the Euro version, the fidelity they show to Misfits while maintaining their own thickness of tone made “Astro Zombies” a late album highlight. “Streetside” felt appropriate, linking Apostle of Solitude right to The Obsessed’s fertile doom lineage, and Born Against was a surprise choice, but also ably done. As they took on Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” to close out Sincerest Misery, with Last Sunrise, they seem to have just taken the idea and run with it. Kudos.
On an aesthetic level, what’s perhaps most interesting about Apostle of Solitude is how uniquely American their sound is, despite being somehow universal within the genre. I don’t know if it’s some kind of self-determinism built into their riffs, the Indiana countryside bleeding into their sound on an unconscious level or what, but the feel is unmistakable. Perhaps it’s the lack of schooling that seems evident. Apostle of Solitude — while talented musicians; please don’t think I’m saying otherwise — have an immediacy in their music that sounds the way colonial portraiture was painted before there were any art schools in the country. The rawness of the emotions present and of the presentation of those emotions stands toe to toe with the songcraft, and is as much a focus of Last Sunrise as any given riff or solo.
Given the amount of quality albums that have come out so far, it’s hard to believe we’re only into the beginning of February, 2010, but Apostle of Solitude’s second outing is perhaps foremost in an increasingly growing line of necessities this nascent decade has produced. For doom heads, it is absolutely not to be missed. And hell, for non-doom heads too. Maybe the Hoosiers can win over some converts.Apostle of Solitude, Indiana, Profound Lore