AVKRVST – The Approbation (Album Review)

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Considering that drummer Martin Utby and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Simon Bergseth vowed to start a band over two decades ago (when they were children), it’s surprising that Avkrvst’s first LP—“The Approbation”—is just now coming out. What’s even more astonishing, however, is how remarkable it is. Fueled by their shared love of artists such as King Crimson, Porcupine Tree, Anekdoten, and Opeth, the Norwegian progressive rock/folk/metal troupe have crafted one of the genre’s best debut albums in years. Without a doubt, it’s a must-hear collection.

In keeping with tradition, “The Approbation” is a conceptual sequence about “a bleak soul who is left solely with his thoughts, isolated on a cabin deep into the dark forests, far away from civilization. [It] takes the listener through the thoughts of a man struggling towards the acceptance of death, being hauled into the abyss.”

Musically, it engrossingly “capture[s]the feeling of a cold, gloomy fall – a dark sky, filled with gazing stars above the mist.” Part of that sonic success comes from the fact that it was penned and recorded in a Norwegian cabin during the winter; thus, there are “sounds of rain and a train’s horn from far away, which are actual sounds recorded outside the cabin at night under the stars.”

As for the fittingly evocative artwork, it was done by the legendary Eliran Kantor (Testament, Sigh, Thy Art is Murder), who set out to “find the element of time passing during a period of seclusion and self-reflecting in a forest cabin, and thought about the stars above.”

Kantor
adds: “Everything on the ground is dormant and in slumber, while right above us, the universe waits for no one. It correlated nicely with a lot of the lyrics, since in them the sky elements always play the part that is unstoppable and constantly having an effect on the person below staring up and finding himself swept by the gravity of his surroundings and how they make him reflect inwards.”

From beginning to end, all of those elements come together beautifully.

Following eerily atmospheric prelude “Østerdalen,the record properly begins with “The Pale Moon.Simply put, it’s a stunningly blissful yet occasionally hectic journey that—true to Avkrvst’s intentions—skillfully juxtaposes the mellow synths and wistful singing of Nosound with the roaring start/stop riffs and rhythms of “Deadwing”-era Porcupine Tree. Packed with serene vocal harmonies, pleasant acoustic guitar strums, and by the end, black metal screams and fatalistic poeticisms (“Death pulls me under the depths of emptiness / Caressed by eternal darkness / This is where all light comes to die”), it immediately illustrates the quintet’s talent.

“The Approbation” Artwork

Luckily, that dichotomic magic never lets up. For instance, follow-ups “Isolation” and “Anodyne” throw in plenty of off-kilter time signature changes—so they feel like the manic lovechildren of modern Haken and vintage Agalloch—whereas “The Great White River” is relatively encouraging and ornate, with decorative timbres adding dazzling optimism. Likewise, “Arcane Clouds” evokes the chilling loneliness and pensiveness of early Anekdoten, just as the closing title track is the epic tour-de-force of styles and moods that frequently caps-off records like this.

It may’ve taken over 20 years for “The Approbation” to arrive, but its gestation period was well warranted. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it single-handedly and demonstrably introduces Avkrvst as a top-tier newcomer in the world of progressive music. Sure, it’s overtly reminiscent of some genre mainstays, but that more or less comes with the territory (and it never overshadows the quintet’s imagination and purposefulness). If Avkrvst can match—or even surpass—what they’ve accomplished here with subsequent records, their catalog will likely be celebrated as much as those of their influences.

Release Date: June 16th, 2023
Record Label: Inside Out Music
Genre: Progressive Rock/ Folk/Metal

Musicians:

  • Simon Bergseth / Guitars, bass, vocals
  • Martin Utby / Drums, synths
  • Øystein Aadland / Bass, keys
  • Edvard Seim / Guitars
  • Auver Gaaren / Keys

“The Approbation” Track-list:

1. Østerdalen
2. The Pale Moon
3. Isolation
4. The Great White River
5. Arcane Clouds
6. Anodyne
7. The Approbation

Order “The Approbation” HERE

9.1 Excellent

“The Approbation” is one of the best genre debuts in years, single-handedly showcasing Avkrvst as a top-tier newcomer in the world of progressive music.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9.5
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