Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Haggith - "Apocalypse II" Review!!

Now's a good time for our 98th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're taking a long overdue look at the fourth of five studio CDs from defunct local hard rock/grunge quartet Haggith, namely their concept sequel album "Apocalypse II"! With no major new local hard rock releases, we'll tackle an archive album this month, as tied in with Haggith members' recent sets with The Din, Eclipse, and Project 421. Recorded at & released through Paperclip Productions on May 9th, 2015 prior to their Swampstravaganza V set at The Canadian, "Apocalypse II" was Haggith's final full-length studio album, and the conclusion of their zombie apocalypse concept series outside of their three mainline studio releases. Instrument credits on this album are widely varying, so this is just a generalization of credit for each performer, but Haggith's 2014-2015 lineup recorded this album, with only ex-guitarist Daniel Horton performing on all tracks.

The primary lineup here features Daniel alongside singer/rhythm guitarist Curtis McKenzie, bassist Jordan Leach (in his studio debut with Haggith), and drummer/backing vocalist Mike Haggith, with all but Jordan providing keyboard & synthesizer input on most songs, and Daniel's Project 421 bandmate Frank McGillivray performs guest guitar on the three "Home" tracks."Apocalypse II" is now out of print, but copies sold for $5 during their brief sale period in Haggith's last active months, and while it (and their last EP "XIV") is not available on Bandcamp, the whole album can be streamed at Haggith's YouTube channel, and song names here are linked to those copies. If you want a physical copy, inquire with members on possible availability, and/or check The Rad Zone! Also, as a reference note and spoiler for the end of the first "Apocalypse" from November 2012, songs are primarily wrote here by Curtis & Daniel, with Mike only credited on 4 songs.

In the first album, Mike was the title character, an astronaut who returned to Earth during a zombie apocalypse, finding no hope in the new reality, and returning to space to end his life. His lack of writing credits is a presumed acknowledgement of his character's demise at that album's end, but how does "Apocalypse II" evolve across it's 10 tracks and 40 minute runtime? Read on to find out, but spoilers lie ahead! The album begins with "Apocalypse", which is solely performed and composed by Curt & Dan. A melancholy number, the song basically serves as a re-telling of the first album's storyline and Mike's saga therein, and it's well done on that basis, but Curtis' vocals could be toned down a little to match the symphonic and mid-tempo instrumentation. Not the best showcase of Haggith's full sound, but an effective way to bring fans up to speed who haven't heard the first album at all or in a long while!

Second is "Hands of Death", which is the first full band performance on this CD, and arguably it's only song to have a signficant presence in live concerts. Opening with a solo guitar section from Daniel that sounds like a folksy "Master of Puppets", this song alludes to trying to escape zombies and survive, not unlike "If You Get Out Alive" from the original album, but it is a much heavier song with strong vocals! That said, the production does not accentuate this song's aggression as well as how it came across in concerts, so it sounds a little tinny, and Mike's cymbals are too prominent. Still a solid number, complete with a quality guitar solo, and Jordan asserts himself well on bass! Next is "Immunity", which also has the full band, but it's a complete change in pace, instead being a piano-driven ballad about perseverance and survival in the apocalypse at any cost. Honestly, this is the strongest track yet, harbouring effective and affecting orchestration, better matched vocals, and stronger overall production, helping this track that's very heavy in a different way!

Fourth is the shortest song on "Apocalypse II", the sub-2 minute "Spreading the Disease". Another complete sound departure, this track feels like a country/bluegrass ditty sung around a campfire, with the guys (sans Jordan) even breaking out a hand drum, shakers, and spoons for percussion. The lyrics about the spread of the zombie virus and fate of the Earth obviously are a huge contrast from the music, but the amusing irony alone makes this worth a listen, and for what it is, it's well performed!

The next three songs (uploaded together on YouTube) are parts 5-7 of "Home", concluding the suite of tracks begun on "Apocalypse I" over two years prior, with Mike getting his first co-writing credit for these songs. The first 4 'Home" tracks were about Mike's return to his home, realization of what happened, and tumultuous departure, and these songs follow similar themes, with part 5 themed around actually going home, part 6 featuring ghost-like spoken word from Mike and assorted sampled audio with minimalistic guitar work, and part 7 (the album's longest track, I believe) continuing plans for part 5 as the quest to go home continues. The hard to critique "Part 6" aside, parts 5 & 7 definitely have a Project 421 vibe to them, partially thanks to Frank McGillivray's strong guest guitar performances, and Mike has a nice drum solo during part 3 as well! As a pure classic metal epic, the second half of the "Home" suite does the job nicely and arguably is the CD's peak!

Song #8 is "Tribute to Mike Haggith", which directly acknowledges Mike's character's death at the end of "Apocalypse I", and serves as a eulogy to his character's life, presumably once his fate was uncovered upon the return home. If you can get past the fact that the real Mike Haggith is both alive in reality and a backing vocalist on the track, this is an effective memoriam to his character, who you did get to know throughout the first "Apocalypse", and while not a technical epic like "Home (Parts 5-7)", it does what it sets out to do! The penultimate song on the CD is "We Are The Damned", which opens with a somewhat meandering 90 second-long intro before finally truly beginning as a song where Curtis acknowledges the bleak future in the zombie-ravaged Earth and what the future holds. Another softer number, but with more of a deliberate and dark mood, this is similar to "Hands of Death" in that the production masks some heaviness in the performance, but in Curt's swan song on the album, he delivers his strongest singing yet, and Daniel's a solid match on guitar and bass!

The album closes with it's title track, "Apocalypse II", an instrumental that does not feature Curtis in any way, and has Jordan's only writing credit on the CD (and Mike's only one outside of the "Home" songs.) A medium paced hard rocker with prominent synthesizer usage late, the song has a deliberate, almost swing-like pace that leaves the ending to the album's story in a more ambiguous state than on "Apocalypse I". This song isn't bad, and has a good groove to it, but it lacks the emotion and mood from earlier songs with lyrics. As for the album's over-arching story, it's harder to precisely pin down than on the first CD, especially without lyrics available, but it comes across to me like Curtis (the narrator), Daniel, and Jordan are friends of Mike that are trying to survive in the zombie apocalypse, and are banking on their hometown being a safe haven, but once they discover that it's been hit and Mike is dead, they have to come to terms with life as it now stands. I may be totally off base, but that's my perception.

So, what do I think of Haggith's closer to their zombie concept album saga? Overall, this is an intriguing compliment to the first "Apocalypse" that feels like it's follow-up, but is also very different at the same time! Whereas 2012's album was a rock opera about Mike Haggith's fictional character with his and Daniel's writing as the driving force, he and Curtis McKenzie swapped places here, with Curt taking over as primary singer, narrator, and co-writer, giving this album it's own sound. Like before, this doesn't have the feel of Haggith's mainline trilogy aside from "Hands of Death", with "Home" feeling more like Project 421, and other songs all having their own sounds, be they rich and orchestral, dark and melancholy, or even infused with country! The lyrics of this album are (to me) more open-ended and vague, but the themes of a zombie-infested wasteland are still present, and everyone performs well, with Curt's vocals generally a strong fit, and Daniel Horton handles guitar and bass well no matter the sound!

Jordan Leach's increased bass parts are welcomed here compared to Caleb Cachagee's single appearance on "Apocalypse I", and while less of a presence in story & in studio here, Mike Haggith asserts himself on drums and through backing & spoken word vocals! I still prefer Haggith's debut "Dragon Joy Ride" out of my own heavier music preferences, and some of the production doesn't benefit the moods of the songs, but as a full piece, this is a worthwhile listen to bring Haggith's "Apocalypse" saga to a close, with a little something for everyone, but for my picks, the "Home" suite and "Immunity" are my highlights. Stream the whole album at the above links! I hope you guys liked our long overdue review of Haggith's final un-reviewed studio album (their extra releases "For The Cause" and "Flight 75" are possibilities in 2018), but as for our next CD review, I am 99% sure that it will be "Trading Faces", the fast-approaching split covers tape from AlgomA and Shit Liver, so look for that next month, and stay tuned for more news and notes on the site over the coming days! Thanks everyone!

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