I know this is up for (heavy) debate, but if you start counting from the actual release of 'Black Metal' by Venom, black metal has been around since 1982 now. And over all those years black metal has spawned various variations (industrial black metal, black punk, black 'n roll) of itself, some successful in my opinion, others less so. For a few years now there has been a great uprising of black metal artists that incorporate influences of post-rock and shoegaze. Once again it can be debated as to whether Alcest is to blame or thank for this but since his 'Souvenirs d'un autre monde' similarly inspired bands have popped up all over the world. And as always there are bands worth listening to and bands that are yawn-inducing.
One thing that isn't up for debate is where New Zealand's Apnea fit into this. They are definitely worth listening.. It isn't perfect by any means but it is a very enjoyable experience and it leaves the door wide open for more greatness in their future. But for now let us focus on 'Ethereal Solitude'. One of the most important aspects of this trio from Auckland is that they manage to be a black metal band that incorporate post-rock elements first and foremost. This might seem like not that important but it is to me because it's a very fine line to tread past which it basically becomes just 'Mogwai with black metal screams'. Not Apnea, they know how to blast furiously as well as hit the brakes every once in a while. Opening track 'Trees' gives the perfect example of why Apnea works so well. After a couple of minutes of post-rock buildup with gruff shouted lyrics the track explodes into blasting high speed territory complete with furious vocals and tremelo riffs. 'Hearts Sea' skips the buildup entirely and starts of at high speed but applies the mentioned brakes and then turns into something not unlike fellow post-black metallers Altar of Plagues. Which is a good thing, I might add. And I know it is an easy bit of name-dropping, but the sound of a band like Godspeed! You Black Emperor is never far away as well.
The rest of the album follows in the same vein. The balance between the black metal parts and the post-rock parts is perfect. The shifts in the two genres never feel awkward or forced. It is quite literally an album that could make adventurous post-rockers get interested in black metal and vice versa. As I mentioned earlier, it is not perfect by any means. The most obvious problem is that some of the clear parts sound a bit off-tune, especially the end of the track 'Fields At Fall'. It would be easy to dismiss this as deliberately atonal but I don't buy it. The other thing is that I'm not the world’s biggest fan of "black metal vocals where you can actually hear what they're singing", I like them a bit more incomprehensible. But to be honest, I'm nitpicking now. Apnea display a perfect understanding of both fury and restraint and 'Ethereal Solitude' is a very solid album which grows on you every time you listen to it. If only other bands would follow their example and actually produce interesting post-black metal records like this one.