Thursday, May 28, 2015

Haggith - "Apocalypse" Review!!

It's now time for our newest montly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene (our 71st total), as we're finally taking a look at local hard rock/grunge quartet Haggith's second CD "Apocalypse", in honour of the release of it's sequel earlier this month! Released on November 23rd, 2012 during their fundraiser concert that night at the Bushplane Museum, "Apocalypse" was self-produced and recorded earlier that year at PaperClip Productions, and while it's their second full length album, it wasn't recorded in the "mainline" format seen on "Dragon Joy Ride" and "Deuce". This album was primarily recorded by Mike Haggith on drums, lead vocals, and guitar alongside the now departed Daniel Horton on guitar & bass, with both sharing keyboard duty on most tracks. As well, usual frontman Curtis McKenzie sings on and co-wrote 3 songs, current guitarist Caleb Cachagee made his studio debut with Haggith on bass on "If You Get Out Alive", and "Fin (Part 1)" features guest backing vocals by Taylor Emlaw.

Primarily wrote and arranged by Daniel and Mike, "Apocalypse" is available through the band for just $5 and may be available at their concerts, but it's online copy on Bandcamp is available on a "name your price" model. It can also be streamed for free there and on YouTube, but please buy "Apocalypse" to support the band and their work! Each song title below is linked to it's YouTube copy as well. Featuring 44 minutes of music across 14 songs, let's begin this review! In terms of the "Apocalypse" concept, the band outlines it as being the story of Mike Haggith (playing himself), an astronaut who returns to Earth, now ravaged by a zombie apocalypse, and his choices and realizations once he discovers the scope of the infection (no wonder the album lent itself well to Haggith's past Zombie Walk appearances!) As this is a track by track review, there will be spoilers of the story, so note that before proceeding.

The album kicks off with "What Happens In Vegas...", which features backing noise and sound effects seemingly from a Las Vegas casino, before Mike delivers a speech about his upcoming space flight during what appears to be a celebratory party for him. This is more of a framing device for the songs and story to come, as it's not a song, but it does set the early optimistic mood well! Second is the first true song on the album, "Days", a minimalistic song apparently during Mike's space voyage, and it's a nice softer ballad from his point of view featuring him on vocals & drums, and Daniel on guitar. It builds well and has that sort of feel of being alone with your thoughts, but the vocal melody can be a little shaky, and the mix of the guitars can be a little loud. Solid progression of the story though!

The song continues right into the next one, "Chaos in the Streets of Aftermath", which seems to take place once Mike returns to Las Vegas in the story. A tenser and heavier song than it's predecessor despite some very out of place keyboard melodies, it's the first of two instrumental tracks on "Apocalypse", and it gives the vibe of being out of one's element, as he did come home to an apocalypse, but that keyboard work is distracting and takes away from the mood until the last 40 seconds, which have more of a synthesized eeriness to them. The short "Red Car" is next, which is another softer song from Mike's point of view about wanting to go home and observing what has happened to his immediate surroundings. It's a little uneven, and it doesn't stand on it's own very well, but it progresses the story well to the four part song to come!

Next is the 12+ minute suite of "Home" songs, which are broken up into 4 parts. "Home (Part 1)" opens after samples of little girls calling for their daddy, but the song soon takes a dark turn as Mike arrives in his apocalypse-devastated hometown, uncredited by name in the song. Featuring a very Metallica-esque sound (the opening riff even sounds like "For Whom The Bell Tolls"), this song is arguably the heaviest work I've ever heard from Mike as a lead singer, and while the Metallica comparison remains stuck in my head, it's solidly performed, and has the sound most fitting of a "full" band so far! The 73 second "Home (Part 2)" is more of the discovery that Mike was too late to come home before the apocalypse, and is just a very soft, minimal passage that works best as a bridge between parts of "Home". On it's own, there's not a lot there to really support itself.

"Home (Part 3)" is the longest of the suite,  and spends it's first half in experimental keyboard effects, which almost feel like Mike's mental processes at work as he realizes what's happened to his home, before transitioning into a soft and downbeat guitar melody with backing keyboard work, with the last minute featuring quiet harmony vocals from Mike. Given where the story has taken Mike (the astronaut), this is fittingly melancholy, but it ends in heavier territory on "Home (Part 4)", reprising the basic sound and aggression of "Part 1", concluding with Mike's departure in his car and a subsequent car crash, though he does exit the vehicle. The "Home" suite is well done and it nicely comes full circle, but I wonder how it would have turned out if written around the five stages of grief?

The ninth song on "Apocalypse" is "If You Get Out Alive", which is the first song featuring regular Haggith frontman Curtis McKenzie, and is the only one with then-bassist Caleb Cachagee, so this is the only chance on the album to hear Haggith's classic 2013-era lineup in full. Starting with the sound of walking before the song begins, this is the first non-instrumental that isn't from Mike's direct point of view, but it is seemingly about Mike's odyssey and quest to stay alive. Curtis' vocals are a little held back here, but the guys show their solid chemistry on this track, with Daniel's guitar strong as usual, and Caleb making a good first impression on bass! This song arguably fits in the best with Haggith's early concert repertoire as well, so if you loved "Deuce" in particular, than "If You Get Out Alive" will be right up your alley! It could have been a tiny bit darker though.

Next is "The Choice", which returns to Mike's first person thoughts as he hides from the zombies, and debates what choice he should make about his future: stay on what's became of Earth, or leave everything behind (Spoiler: he chooses the latter.) A guitar ballad with melodic and well-phrased thoughts about his plight, it stands up on it's own better than some of the earlier "Mike's reflection" songs, and isn't as shaky in the process, so it's a highlight for this style on the CD!

That's followed by "Fin (Part 1)", the first of a two part, 9+ minute suite that sandwiches a bridge track that we'll talk about in a second. The second of three songs with Curtis on lead vocals, it's about Mike's plans to leave Earth, and it effectively represents the melancholy nature of such a choice, while Taylor Emlaw's guest backing vocals do fit the song fairly well! However, fans of the earlier melodic or heavier material on "Apocalypse" may be put off by the slow, deliberate pacing. The 95 second "Liftoff" comes next, which is strictly of sound effects of a spaceship take-off, as Mike's character is a space pilot, so how else would he leave Earth? Though not a song, it does the job to further the story and lead into the second half of "Fin"! It is worth noting also that "Liftoff" is the only track on the CD that Daniel isn't credited for writing or arranging.

"Fin (Part 2)" is next on "Apocalypse", and is the longest song on the album if counted separately from "Part 1". Opening with Mike's spoken word observations of why he left Earth for space, alongside droning, almost doom metal-style vocals over-top of ominous, slow-paced instrumentation. The second half of the song features processed sung and spoken word vocals from Curt in his last appearance on the CD, which somewhat give the vibe of reception being lost as a the ship travels further away, but I'm unsure if that was the intention. On the whole, "Fin" is dark and explores Mike's ultimate decision to solid effect! The album closes with "Final Recorded Seconds of Intelligent Life", which is an album-low 65 seconds long, but is effectively a reprise of "The Choice" as Mike sends his last message before committing suicide, which will let him be free. Definitely a downer ending, but at least his character ended things on his own terms!

So, what are my final thoughts on "Apocalypse"? As a pure album, I do prefer "Dragon Joy Ride" the most of their first three CDs, but the songwriting, themes, and detail put into this concept album make it worth listening to as a full experience! With the exception of "If You Get Out Alive" and "Fin", this album is less of a Haggith CD and more of a soundtrack to a dark, apocalyptic musical from Daniel and Mike, and on that basis, it does exactly what it's supposed to do! They crafted an interesting and challenging album that takes you from happiness to anger to reflection and contemplation of one's fate, and while there isn't as much of a direct presence of zombies as you might expect, the vibe is there! It would have been nice to have seen Curtis and Caleb involved more, and some songs are a little shaky vocally, but as a pure concept rock opera, I'm a fan!

There's enough different sounds here for anyone to find something they'll like, but I firmly recommend listening to this album from start to finish, rather than individual tracks, so you can appreciate the story and the work put into it (and check out "Apocalypse II" to continue the story.) Check out "Apocalypse" at the above links, and I hope you guys liked this CD's album review! So, what album is being reviewed on the SMS next month? I'm not sure as of this writing, but stay tuned for info on possible album releases in Tuesday's next "Where Are The New Albums?" post! New local metal, hard rock, or punk albums would obviously get precedence, but if none come out, we would dip into our archives for an older review, hopefully tied in with an artist playing locally next month..Due to our 6 month anti-bias buffer, our next review will not be of a Haggith, Treble Charger, Telephone & Address, or SweetKenny album.

Also, while it can now be streamed in full online, Mike Haggith's own solo album "The Warinside" is awaiting it's formal paid release next month, hence why we're not rushing it for June, as we don't want to jump the gun in the unlikely event that his release party is postponed or cancelled. In any event, look for our next CD review next month, and stay tuned for weekend concert previews next! Thanks everyone!

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