Written by Ellis Heasley
Ape Vermin – Arctic Noise
Doom metal from North Carolina, USA
Releases May 7th, 2021
Via Koloss Records
After a full half-century of existence, it’s impressive that doom still seems to go down as well as it often does nowadays. While bands have of course pushed its boundaries over the years (special shout out to Elephant Tree here as surely one of the best examples), for the most part it’s stayed in pretty much the same (slow) lane of Sabbath-inspired riffs, long songs, and general psychedelia. None of that’s a criticism – if it works, it works, and it clearly works for the North Carolina-based trio Ape Vermin. Their take on the genre definitely sits on the sludgier end of the spectrum and draws comparisons to the likes of Conan, Slabdragger, YOB and Sleep. They first shared this with the world on 2018’s Sonic Monolith, which is now getting a follow-up in the form of their brand new record, Arctic Noise.
With just three tracks, the band considers Arctic Noise an EP. That seems fair, but this is doom we’re talking about, so it’s by no means an especially short listen. It clocks in at a full 30 minutes – just seven shy of Sonic Monolith, which is considered a full-length. More than half of this runtime is taken up by the record’s gigantic opening track “Megaliths Of Echo.” This gets things started with squealing feedback before the band kick into the first of its multiple fuzzed-out and sludgy riffs. It’s a lengthy, sprawling song, with all the crushing heaviness this kind of music is built on.
As you’d expect, Ape Vermin certainly know how to take their time with their ideas on Arctic Noise. The opener gives plenty of examples of this, with the band sticking to different riffs often for minutes at a time, but it’s even more obvious on the second track “Ancient Ruin.” This one runs around the same riff for four of its five and a half minutes. It switches things up for a moment towards the end, before ending on that same riff. This definitely has a hypnotic effect, which is almost certainly what the band was going for, but you are left to wonder if a little more variation might’ve been a good move.
Ape Vermin’s command of the typical doom elements is invariably solid, but surely the most interesting thing about Arctic Noise are the moments where they step into more melodic territory. For example, while guitarist/vocalist Brett Lee employs quite a harsh bark reminiscent of someone like Matt Pike, both “Megaliths Of Echo” and “Ancient Ruin” see him also offer up cleaner stylings which bring to mind the more melodic and trippy vocals of a band like Mastodon. Lee’s guitar solo on the opener also contributes to this, adding a sense of emotional melody you might expect on a more recent Pallbearer offering.
The band round out the record with its title track. With plenty more riffs and another cool guitar solo it doesn’t really throw up any surprises, but then again neither does this EP. Arctic Noise is a raw, solid doom record that’s pretty much the perfect length for the amount of ideas it has to offer. It’s unlikely to be the album that wins the doom skeptics over, but those already partial to a good sludgy riff-fest shouldn’t find any problems here.