AVKRVST: ‘The Approbation’ Review

Today, AVKRVST have released their debut album, coming at us from a forest in the depths of Norway – as any album from Scandinavia worth its merit should. As with any new band, I think it’s worth making an immediate comparison to another artist so that you can get an idea of what may lie inside the record. And straight away, I’m reminded of Deliverance and Damnation era Opeth – and whilst there are heavy aspects to tracks like Isolation, it’s worth noting that there aren’t harsh vocals on this track.

The Approbation is a concept album about a bleak soul who is left solely with his thoughts, isolated on a cabin deep into the dark forests, far away from civilization. The 49 minutes long concept album contains 7 songs, which take the listener though the thoughts of a man struggling towards the acceptance of death, being hauled into the abyss.

Opening with a short intro track Ødsterdalen, The Pale Moon is where the music really begins – setting the scene for the record with a dark and moody soundscape. Upon my first listen when those harsh vocals kick in, at the end of the track I knew I was in for a good time. Very much hammering on those Opeth and Porcupine Tree influences, however, perhaps a little too blatantly.

Isolation kicks up the tempo with some heavier drum beats on this mostly instrumentally focused track, which might possibly be my personal favourite. Lyrically, this track has the shortest message, but a powerful one nonetheless when those vocals do eventually kick in after the cool and frost arrangement that feels particularly Opeth inspired. Subtle synth solos and organ stabs close the track, sandwiching the arrangement in a satisfying conclusion.

The album artwork for The Approbation

The Great White River pulls more towards a heavy prog-rock style, layering ethereal vocals floating above the crunchy instrumentals. I enjoyed the tonal shift when the vocals kicked in, marking a clear break moving into the next section of the track. There’s definitely a great sense of flow in this record, which follows a continuous journey of two writers Martin Utby and Simon Bergseth exploring their thoughts on the struggle of the acceptance of death. Once you understand that, the melancholic atmosphere of this record starts to hit very differently, especially with what follows next, Arcane Clouds.

I know the ghosts will hunt me down Into deep dark clouds they go, Finding new ways to make me drown, and I know they’ll find me somehow

For me, this track is the most unique on the record with its own identity which could be the band’s sound. Syncopation in the vocals through the chorus underlying with subtle guitar leads, and a driving drum rhythm makes it one of my favourite moments on the record. Combined with the lyrical content surrounding running away from death, it’s certainly the most emotive track for me.

Anodyne also goes hard after a slow ethereal buildup to gently introduce you to the track, the 5/4 fuzzy organ-led riffage begins. Reminding me of one of my favourite bands in recent years Shaman Elephant, this track stands out to me as the most fun and creative when looking for something to rock out to. Coming in at 10 minutes, it’s certainly on the proggier side of the album too with a number of different themes and motifs on offer through this musical journey.

As the finale progresses, it moves into a world of fuzz with heavy guitar tones ringing through the mix. There are a few classic prog tropes that may have been slightly overused here, focusing on the same chord progression for extended periods of time with not a huge amount of compositional development, however, I can easily see how dramatic this track could be if performed live as the intricacies of the guitar lead lines above lead to a good amount of creative interpretation.

This is a powerful debut from AVKRVST, and whilst I’ve certainly enjoyed spinning it many times over the last few weeks, I do hope that in the future they can branch out and find their own more unique sound rather than just following in the almost direct footsteps of Opeth and Porcupine Tree. This could be the start of something great, and I’m looking forward to following this band along their musical journey.

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