resumé is far cooler than I'll ever be. Australia's Jarro Raphael just happens to BE that man, and among his more recent excursions into the extreme is Impious Baptism, a solo project through which he's released a handful of EPs last year. I was unwillingly ignorant of that material, for there's only so much I can keep up on, but Wrath of the Apex Predator has me regretting the omission, because even if it brings next to nothing new to the table, it's one of the more immersive and entertaining black/death metal hybrids I've come across lately. If there's a better match for the Hell's Headbanger brand than this, I can't think of it off the top of my head...the top of my head, which, coincidentally, was just shorn off my skull by this record as part of an occult lobotomy.
The backbone of the music is very mechanistic, standard blast beat drumming, which would be considered a flaw if the structures it supported weren't so amusing. The rhythm guitars are roiling, dark and not entirely innovative in terms of riff generation, but the fact that they so ably conjure comparisons to old Bathory (The Return... and Under the Sign of the Black Mark specifically) and cult death metal of the early 90s works in their favor. You'll definitely hear some hints of the classic 'war metal sound' redolent of Blasphemy, Bestial Warlust, Angelcorpse, Conqueror and Blasphemy, but the songs are rarely too chaotic, instead dwelling on simplified, evil riff patterns and J's ominous, echoing guttural vocal that sounds like a necrotic hell dwelling surgeon growling out instructions to a classful of imps as they dissect various seraphim. Like a David Vincent in 1989 if he had been bitten by zombies. Leads are bloody, ugly and minimalistic when they scream out against the denser rhythm guitars, and J gifts us with a bit of variation in each track. Blasts segue into archaic death metal grooves, and every now and then you'll get some sick ass thrash metal break like the bridge of "Temple of Necromancy" which ramps up the adrenalin level.
Just about every cell of my being screams to me that I should find Wrath of the Apex Predator somewhat less appealing than I do, because there are quite a number of generic, commonplace chord progressions that don't exactly surprise or titillate my senses. But for some reason, the belligerence and variation through the record manage to maintain my attention repeatedly. It's just a great balance, from a songwriter who is quite obviously paying tribute to a number of those influences that have likewise informed his other projects; and it maintains this sense of pacing and evil despite the more obvious imagery evoked through the lyrics, song titles, composition, and even the muddy depth of the production. The bass lines could be more interesting, and the riffs more individually memorable, but it's a wholesome, hellish package all the same. Bullet belts, spikes, inverted crosses, denim, skull goblets, leather, sluts, Satan...none of this is news, but thanks to Jarro Raphael's unfiltered imagination, anchored in the extremity of decades gone, it still makes my headlines with a gigantic 'HELL YES', emphasis on the former.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]