An unusual, musically complex, Armenian influenced band from the LA area? How is it that sounds familiar? And in fact there is a strong link between the Apex Theory and System of a Down - before either band was formed, Apex Theory's Andy Khatchaturian and Dave Hokopyan were in a band with Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian from SOAD. They split citing creative differences, and went on to form seperate bands.
Acquiring a reputation largely through word of mouth, the Apex Theory soon had a number of labels circling them. The producer behind Linkin Park and the engineer behind the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails were drafted to create their first album, and a healthy buzz began to develop. The album was released to critical acclaim, and the words 'next big thing' were bandied around by at least one major music magazine.
Then, with alarming quickness, nothing happened.
The band toured some low level venues, to disappointing crowds, before going on a short hiatus. I was lucky enough to see them performing to a crowd of 40 people in the Manchester Academy, UK, before they took a break.
The fact that the Apex Theory did not become a global phenomenon off the back of this album is downright puzzling. Almost four years later, it's still one of my favourite albums. Melodic, heavy, folky, rhythmically complex, unpredictable and infectious are just a few adjectives I'd sling at it. The vocals, guitar and synth provide powerful melodic hooks, while the bass and drums create one of the most complex and understated rhythm sections playing in contemporary rock.
1. Add Mission
Yes, I'm afraid this kind of wordplay is a common theme. :)
A brooding start to the album, with rapidly picked guitar and ambient synth creating an eerie atmosphere. The riff kicks in with a dark energy, setting the song off careering between contrasting sections, making strong use of delay and synthesizers, though never in overt ways.
2. Mucus Shifters
Rapid picking and complex drumlines make a quick return, but there's no messing around with this song. The riff dives in almost straight away, while drummer Sammy J. Watson reminds us why the band got through so many drummers early in their career. The vocals swerve between whispers, song and rant without pausing for breath, in a way not dissimilar to old bandmate Serj Tankian, but not quite as angry.
3. Come Forth
One of my favourites, this song starts with a simple guitar line with a heavy delay, building until the hand-drums and synths come in to complement it, before breaking through into the main sound of the song. A more hopeful song than the darker two preceding it, it builds towards a strong climax with a catchy melody and strong vocal harmonies.
4. Shhh... (Hope Diggy)
Ah, Hope Diggy. If you've even heard of the Apex Theory, this is likely the song you've heard. Complex drum rhythms and a shifting bassline underpin the subtler guitar, leaving the foreground for the vocals, the definite focal point of this song. The verses are filled with tonguetwister rants, which veer between insightful and nonsensical with the manic fervour of a crazed street preacher
5. Drown Ink
A soft start after the driving climax of Hope Diggy, some very mediterranean guitar playing brings in one of the softer numbers on the album. At first, at least. As ever with the Apex Theory, they love to surprise, and the choruses are among the heaviest.
This would have been one of the hits, if this album had had the success it deserves. A staccato bassline punctuates the trademark delayed guitar picking, while backing guitar and drums build up the sound over the course of the first minute and a half, at which point the whole song fizzes away to silence and starts afresh, with a catchy riff, strange synth sounds and the now familiar semi-political lighter verses.
7. That's All!
This is a track driven by drums - Sammy J. Watson showing he has what it takes to keep up with the rhythmic ideas thrown out by Andy Khatchaturian - the singer, but a drummer himself. This song is a rarity as it manages to keep the same mood the whole way through, shifting rhythms, subtle vocal harmonies, ambient synths and a familiar, well conceived bassline knitting together into one of the best songs on the album.
Straight into the riff here, no messing around with these sissy intros. The hooks in the chorus of this song should almost have been enough to make this album a hit all on its own. The album is starting to mellow out by this point, and even the heavier choruses are more jubilant than angry.
Wow. The opening guitar line is a masterpiece of Armenian folk-come-rock. Somewhere Daron Malakian is wishing he'd written it first. They build on this strong start, picked guitar variations being the driving melodic force behind this track, another one of the best of the album.
This track was used to promote the game of the film Minority Report.
10. Right Foot
This one is an especially folk number, with strong mediterranean roots coming through in the general atmosphere, particularly through the hand drums, the inspired guitar work. Heavier choruses remind us that we are in fact listening to a contemporary rock band, not in fact taking in a mediterranean sunset.
11. Aisle Always
A little rawer in feel than some of the others, I get the feeling this track wasn't entirely finished when they came to record the album. It is a bit weaker than some of the other tracks, the vocals getting a little repetative, but the strong hooks show great potential.
12. In Books
To be honest, by now the album is starting to lose momentum. I can't help wondering whether the band was pressured by the label into cramming a few extra tracks in. The songs are still good, but not quite up to the par of the rest of the album. Still, about the best I can say about this track is that it has all the now familiar Apex Theory trademarks, complex drum rhythms, restless basslines, and guitars that veer between heavy riffs and delayed pickery. A good song, but not the best choice to end the album.
In summation... go buy this album, please. And tell your friends. The Apex Theory deserve the recognition.