Shrug – Apathy


Label: Blackened Death Records

Apathy isn’t really an album to be enjoyed. Whilst there are lots of elements I like about the first full-length from Shrug, it is a bleak, harrowing listen, dealing as it does with issues of depression, illness, and suicide. It doesn’t shy away from any of its themes, confronting them with a straightforward approach that can be quite uncomfortable, and is remarkably honest. There’s no suicide idolatry here, no veneration of depression as artistic inspiration. Instead, there are elements of harsh noise, experimental electronics, and goth rock, resulting in something quite unusual, but very convincing and brave.

There’s a clear narrative arc with Apathy, and the album is divided up in to four chapters. The first section, Apathetic Days, was previously released as an EP and is reprised here. Depression is the main theme for this section, as conveyed by the brutally direct lyrics on songs such as “Shrug” and “Apathy Part I – Setting Sun”. Musically, it’s arguably the most accessible chapter of the album, with opener “It’s Probably Nothing” setting the morbid tone in almost dark ambient fashion, before “Shrug” compliments its gothic songwriting with elements drawn from noise. “Days Like These” is also impressive, with its avant garde approach.

The second part, And The Sun Drifts So Slow, is much more challenging. “Always Tired” is a gentle dark ambient introduction that lurches suddenly in to the harsh noise/death industrial of “Negativity” in a shocking, uncomfortable, highly effective manner. It’s the shift from this to the melodic, sunglasses-at-night goth of “Staring At The Sun” that’s most challenging though, and it’s a brave decision to put the two songs next to each other, as it the choice to have the track descend in to harsh noise. “Waiting For Destiny” is also worthy of praise, for the way its harsh noise cuts across extracts of more ‘normal’ music to chilling effect.

The 33 sparse seconds of “Lump” introduces section three, Then The Sickness Came, which is arguably the most avant garde of the four chapters. “Lump”, “Dreaming During The Day”, and “Apathy Part II – Sleeping Sun” all experiment with minimalism, whilst “I Don’t Have Time” does more with its walls of noise than simply assault the listener, which is very unusual. It’s “Cancer” that is the most noteworthy track here though, and one of the most uncomfortable on the whole album. Mixing garbled harsh noise with samples of people simply saying “cancer” is every bit as depressing as you might expect, but it’s the later half – where all background noise and music is stripped away, simply leaving human voices saying that one word, over and over – that is the most uncomfortable and hard to listen to, to the extent that you quickly forget that an impressive line-up of underground names, including Karl Willets (Bolt Thrower, Memoriam), contributed to it.

Bringing the album to its conclusion is the fourth chapter, When My Saviour Revealed Herself. Despite the title of this section, it’s every bit as bleak and depressing as what has gone before.  The goth of “Unable To Live Like This” lives up to the miserable promise of its title, and makes the harsh noise wall of “Train Tracks” seem almost comfortable in comparison. Closer “Arriving At Suicide” really hammers the point home, with a catchy, cathartic chorus that works well with its mixture of glacial doom metal and goth. It’s a fittingly weighty, human end to an album heavy in emotion that is far from an easy listen, but is easy to appreciate, if not enjoy. It’s remarkable how all the different sounds experimented with come together in to a cohesive whole, and that Apathy never risks losing its flow or focus, either in a narrative or musical sense. As such, even though it’s not an album for everyday listening, it’s one that I readily recommend, and it is to be commended for taking so many risks and producing such a strong end product.

Apathy is available to stream and download via Bandcamp.

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