Review Summary: Otargos have produced a very solid record with some absolute piledrivers but not without it's flaws.
French black metal has a tendency to seriously impress. With bands like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Alcest making it one of the most interesting black metal scenes about, any opportunity to potentially discover more awe-inspiring music from across the Channel is more or less impassable nowadays. This is why, upon seeing the words 'French black metal outfit' while browsing through my local music shop, I jumped at the chance presented before me and bought Apex Terror.
So, do Otargos live up to my expectations as a brilliant extension of the French black metal scene? Yes and no, are my begrudging answers.
The album starts off extremely strongly, with a military-style snare drum intro courtesy of Thyr (who sadly, left the band shortly after the release of Apex Terror along with bassist XXX, making way for two members of Bordeaux-based death metal outfit Demented) giving one impressions of an impending battle (helped by some ambient synths in the background). The track builds up, as a riff played over the top of the drums that wouldn't sound amiss on a Zyklon
album bellows. This repeats a few times, giving the impression of something big around the corner, and then...
The riff changes, leading shortly into a fury of blast beats, chainsaw-like rhythm sections and obligatory high-register tremolo picking. Throw founding member Dagoth's roared vocals over the top, and the result is vicious. The whole track continues in this way, with a Slayer-esque solo thrown in for good measure, before ending as abruptly as the flurry started.
As the album progresses however, inconsistencies start to show. A good example of this is on the slower paced Aftermath Hyperion, which feels like it repeats itself too many times too often; instead of progressing with the track, they opt to play the slower, drawn out riff in the middle for too long (almost a minute), lessening the impact of the verses which are among the finest on the album. The decision to spend the last nearly 1:30 minutes of Aftermath Hyperion playing almost the same riff over and over ├* la 'From Mars To Sirius' Gojira, followed by another half minute of headache-inducing feedback, just seemed like they were trying to pad out the song to give the impression of ambition.
Over the course of the album, it is clear that Zyklon
are a big source of inspiration for them, meaning they fit more into a blackened-death subgenre than pure black. The main riff in 'For Terra' sounds like it could have been written by Samoth himself, and the frequent use of palm muted triplets throughout the album are, to their credit, generally used very well. The vocals are stylistically different however, Dagoth opting for a layered high-low effect compared to Secthdamon's much more consistently mid-ranged growl. Also used at several points during the album (most notably the introduction to Fallout) is a technique reminiscent of a tannoy-driven rallying cry, with mixed results; although it gives variety, my main gripe with the Aftermath Hyperion, it doesn't sound particularly needed where it is used. The 'f**k you all!' ending to Versus just seems a bit puerile and unimaginative.
For me, the highlight of the album has to be Thyr's drumming (which can also be heard in Malevolentia
, should you like symphonic black metal). From start to finish it's an unrelenting barrage, be it furious battery as on Apex Terror or For Terra, or a driving, double bass led march as heard in Fleshless-Deathless. The drums in particular have been recorded very nicely in addition, the band opting for a cleaner production quality as opposed to the 'recorded through a potato' production standards of black metal of yore. Despite this, XXX's bass rarely comes through unless you really listen, although of what can be heard it's there purely to back the guitars up.
In short, Otargos have produced a very solid record with some absolute piledrivers but not without it's flaws. That said, it's an improvement from their previous albums, so with a few tweaks Otargos could be up there with the great ones in the French black metal scene.