Although the term is often decried by many, especially the musicians involved, Ascension of the Watchers now truly qualifies as a bona fide supergroup. Now consisting of the trio of Burton C. Bell, John Bechdel, and Jayce Lewis, the collective histories of these three reaches back across more than three decades of modern music, with each having placed their own indelible stamps in numerous groups and genres; however, with the Watchers, their talents coalesce into a spectral and somber brand of music that blends shrill electronic-laced post-rock with haunting, even gothic ambience that makes this second full-length album a creative triumph. Drawing upon themes based on the Book of Enoch in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocrypha takes the listener on an otherworldly sojourn through what could be the remnants of half-remembered legend or a partially imagined past.
One need not look further than the title track for proof of this record’s melodious power. Like an embattled troubadour warrior, Bell’s resonant voice guides the listener through the audient miasma of crystalline guitar and electronic drones, his cries of “All I ever wanted was mercy / All I ever wanted was you” hovering atop galloping drums. In a similar vein, the descending hooks and tense rhythms of “Cygnus Aeon,” compounded by eerie samples and stabs of keyboard that seem to mimic the dark jangle of the guitars, seem to evoke a sense of ancient balladry as Bell begins with a declaration that he has “crossed dimensions beyond space and time,” while the chiming synths and steely guitars of the opening “Ghost Heart,” Bell’s vocals soaring to heights of emotive release that rival his most aggressive outings in Fear Factory. There is a sense of symphonic urgency that drifts through Apocrypha, the dynamic audio conflict of Bechdel’s digitized layers of sound and dissonance with Lewis’ expansive production… a conflict resolved by the strength of Bell’s harmonious songcraft; for example, the shifting of minor and major key modes on “The End is Always the Beginning” as swirling pads create a synthesized choir beneath a strident bass and drums. The same can be said of “Bells of Perdition,” the bellows of a locomotive and the distant whistling mirroring the foreboding lyrics in such a way as to make one almost feel welcome in the flames of eternal punishment, while the saccharine shoegazing pop of “Wanderers” and “Honoree” with its electronic vocal treatments are especially enjoyable moments on the record.
When comparing Apocrypha to 2008’s Numinosum, it becomes readily apparent what Lewis brings to the table; recorded at his Northstone Studios in South Wales, the sound of this album is even richer and more vibrant, with his drums and programming proving an excellent complement to Bechdel’s celestial keyboards and Bell’s voice and guitar. From start to finish, Apocrypha plays like the soundtrack to an ancient civilization that may or may not have existed, inviting the listener into the murky depths of reverie and redemption. It’s a sophisticated album from three musicians at the height of their creative powers. Listen, watch, and ascend.