Stoneburner’s concept surrounding the chaos wolf god first appeared in 2020’s Red in Tooth and Claw, the being first an agent of creation and then ultimately of destruction. With Apex Predator, we are treated not so much to a sequel but rather an expansion of the previous EP’s themes, as one of the wolf’s denizens strives to inflict enough chaos on the world to incite the return of the Apex Predator. It is through this lens of disarray that Steven Archer explores the ills of our world, from the spread of disinformation through mass media to the adulation of leaders who revel in hypocrisy and greed, delivered via the artist’s perhaps instinctive brand of industrialized noise and furiously unorthodox song structures.
“The Return of the World Wolf” sets the tone, beginning slowly before exploding into a barrage of “weaponized noise,” the organic metal percussion and the discordant vocal manipulations topped off by belligerent guitars and glitches sure to send one into a paroxysm of enraged confusion. There are moments when the listener is anchored to some recognizable form, such as in the shrill yet bouncy electro beats of “Planet Amputation,” the manic glitches underlying the lyrics to “learn and observe, but don’t speak,” encouraging humility in a state of vulnerability, or perhaps in the “Spectrum” single, which may bear a resemblance to Ego Likeness in its dark and danceable melodicism, Donna Lynch’s harmony vocal alongside Archer’s rich and impassioned baritone. The same can be said of “A Hurricane of Mouths” as thrusts of throbbing synths and chugging guitars occasionally break into somber passages of chilled ambience like a frozen tundra upon which the wolves reside; then the track shifts into a more menacing gear as the tempo fluctuates, subtle waves of an almost operatic howl mesh with grating distortions, and the heavily manipulated vocals warn “My final storm is coming.” And then you have a track like “Contracting Iris” with its trippy ambience, the monotone processing of the vocals possessing an air of desperation, the stabs of guitar adding a touch of aggression to an otherwise glassy and lithely cinematic atmosphere that may remind some of Stoneburner’s earlier output, the mournful repetitions of “She is Contracting Iris” dissipating into a lush outro. Resonating throughout Apex Predator is a distinct air of apocalyptic dread, as the bold and brash title track hits with lyrics like “I’m a singularity of rage and apathy,” its layers of noisy electronics threatening to overpower the listener. But then, there are the darkly melodic post-punk soundscapes of “No Light No Spark,” Mr. Archer’s voice frustrated and weary form the weight of a troubled world; lines like “The clock is ticking” and “Write a tale of your own” are all too palpable in the artist’s monotone trapped between defiance and despair.
Although Steven Archer had proven himself a capable producer on his past efforts, Apex Predator is augmented by the production and mixing skills of John Fryer, removing none of the abrasion, but adding a discernible level of finesse that sharpens its auditory teeth and claws. This writer can’t help but recall the opening lines of the Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade anime: “This this is like a wolf. This thing is a wolf. Thus, it is a thing to be banished.” If you can withstand Stoneburner’s lyrical and sonic onslaught, you may find yourself among the wolf’s acolytes, contrarily fleeing the world and seeking comfort in the chaos.