Review Summary: An overlooked symphonic black metal gem.
Back in the 90's, many black metal bands were beginning to come into their own and fully mature as sophisticated, talented and creative groups. Some notables include: Emperor, Immortal, Burzum, Darkthrone and Bathory (though they were a full force in the 80's) who began releasing many of the most classic black metal albums to date, albums which always get mentioned by black metal fanatics and even newcomers to the genre. In the small Republic of Malta, one individual who was influenced greatly by this grim, intense sound was a man simply calling himself Sauron (I should add he loved Tolkien...obviously).
Sauron, a competent keyboard player, wanted to create a hybrid of electronic and black metal music. He essentially wanted to use keyboards as a driving force in his own black metal compositions which would create an almost epic and awe inspiring atmosphere. Forming Apotheosis in 1993, and armed with very primitive equipment, he set about working on this idea, releasing a demo and in '95 being featured in many magazines which saw great potential in his work. His following demos were sold out within months and it was clear that Sauron was onto something special. It took some time, but with clear ideas on how he wanted his songs to sound Sauron continuously improved and released his first (and to date only) full length LP, "Farthest from the Sun".
The album is divided into 4 tracks, each with their own feel and approach; which are all long and full of twists and turns. Keyboards weave in and out of many a black metal riff to enhance the atmosphere and feel Sauron desired. "Victory" begins the album with an instrumental mix of flutes; synths and an epic climax which makes you feel like picking up a Claymore and marching into battle. It ends with the cheers of a race (perhaps dwarves and elves?) celebrating the victory of the battle they've just won.
The Maimed God, one of two 16 minute epics, begins with a violin induced synth section which quickly falls into the black metal goodness we all enjoy. Fast drums, riffage and underlying keyboards keep this track flying with guitars heavily influenced by acts such as Burzum and Bathory; as well as old 80’s thrash. It's not until the 7 and a half minute mark that Apotheosis really begins to show it's true colours as Sauron breaks from the madness and drives forward with a quick synthesized folk melody. This continues for a full 3 minutes, all while more flutes and an almost Classical/Baroque violin feel are included towards the end of the section. I believe it's this sense of epic storytelling Sauron was going for; a black metal album not only portraying the grimness of both battle and the land, but the overwhelming sense of satisfaction many get from overcoming an obstacle and feeling like they are on top of the world. It tells of a man in a kingdom who has angered the gods due to his lust for power and sparked an all out war. This interlude falls back into more symphonic black metal riffage before finishing with a somewhat upbeat keyboard driven riff and tribal drumming and fading with an eerie keyboard section. I find it inspiring how both guitars and keys are mixed with such class.
In one of Sauron's earlier demos, he covered Sodom's "Burst Command Till War". He was influenced by 80's thrash and this shows in "Raise the Dragon Banner". With few interludes in the synth department (besides the notable ending), it is still a riff/keyboard driven song, churning out black metal riffs which would make one's hair rise. This is until the 6:45 mark, when the rest of the song drops down a gear with shrieking vocals falling into a piano sequence including another layer of synth overtop. This creates a very epic feel as guitar, bass and drums carry the song through an interesting fusion of slow ambient metal mixed with synth which deserves a spot on some movie/TV soundtrack. This is definitely the battle track of the album. It's a great song to bridge the gap between the two monster tracks, The Maimed God and the finale Kingdom.
Kingdom is a colossal 16 minute instrumental which takes the listener through a plethora of different riffs and passages making time seem to just pass without realizing it. Flowing from intense shredding to slower, folk inspired and progressive sections, Kingdom has so much going on that it would make this review longer than it already is. With no lyrics it is the music that leaves the listener interpreting just what Sauron was going for. It is a fairly more upbeat song which portrays the survival and triumph of a kingdom which has been through the hardships displayed earlier in the album. My only advice is to listen to the whole thing to interpret it for yourself and fully grasp what Sauron's vision was.
Farthest from the Sun was composed and performed entirely by one man. The fact that Sauron did the vox, guitars, synths, bass and programmed the drums shows a person who had a unique vision and wanted to contribute to the growing field that is black/symphonic black metal. At 50 minutes and with only 4 songs it can be difficult to digest and is difficult for any newcomers to the black metal genre. However those who are adept at listening to black metal will find this an overall excellent and enveloping experience. It took Sauron 9 years to come up with his unique sound but it is definitely his own and I have been hard-pressed to find anything in the black metal field as engrossing as this album (save a few). It can be paralleled to the life of any one person; everyone at one point or another desires something or is constantly battling the forces which make the world go around. They fight their battle, make their statement and slowly fade into the background knowing they fought the hard fight in a world which has almost everything working against them. Apotheosis has not released anything since this album, which is a shame; however fitting for the work itself, which stands out stronger on its own.