We all know how fickle the music business can be. Those who can't make something inspiring and true often make their living by preventing others from doing so. So goes the story for Viktor Jonas and his melodic death/doom project formerly known as Apathy. Avoiding the red tape, stacks of paperwork, and legal fees, Jonas added 'Noir' to the name and changed his preferred font to appease a would-be litigant. All in a days work for the music industry, I suppose, clouding the work of the independent to better suit the establishment. Fans of his previous albums may recognize, however, that it was never the name that made the music so special.; it was our love of the music that made the name resonate. With the release of Across Dark Waters, Jonas and vocalist Vidar Wetterhall prove that little has changed with the addition of four letters.
One of the most unsung qualities in the Apathy Noir lexicon is the ability to create a story that is strengthened by the lyrics, not abandoned. Across Dark Waters is, at its core, a concept album, following a fisherman as he is lured to see by a trio of sirens. But it isn't a hollow concept; the entire story is fleshed out and expanded through a focus on strong songwriting. rather than confine the lyrics to rhyme schemes and syllabic limits, they are written as a story, and merged with the instrumental below. It's a subtle decision, but one that makes all the difference as the story plays out in song and structure. One glance through the album's lyrics, and a new weight is added to each coordinated movement.
That contrast of light and dark, or good and evil in this case, has always been a key element in any transcendent death/doom album, and it happens to be something Jonas has embraced for the last decade. His keen ear for melody is obvious, but perhaps less so is his skill as a composer and arranger. Each layer is finely tuned to create the maximum effect, whether it's the programmed drum beats beneath the mix, or the light keyboard touches that poke through ever so slightly. No track best exemplifies this more than The Village, which can produce chills with it's sweeping melodies or elicit awe with wave after wave of distorted guitars. At the risk of sounding cliche, he hits all the right notes along the way, magnifying the mood of each passage.
Along those same lines, there is no rush to move from point a to point b; the albums spans more than sixty minutes, and in a manner of speaking, takes on the tone of a feature film. Because of the depth of the story, it needs time to be able to breathe and grow. Characters are introduced, they evolve, they change, and there are plot points to be hashed out. Reasonably, you could break the album into three distinct acts; the first two tracks, and in particular Beyond The Sea, set up the struggle the fisherman faces, captured so deftly in Wetterhall's growling vocals. The second act, which encompasses the middle of the album, walks the lines of the gray area, an emotional battle between self and society. But it leads to a powerful movement, Death Of Hope, which may be the most well rounded piece on the album. The third and final act sees everything come back around. It's symbolism is well conceived and even more expertly executed. The final, somber notes of Dark Waters leaving you breathless.
Jonas, as a musician and an artist, has nothing left to prove. His writing has only gotten better with each subsequent release, culminating in an album that achieves balance between sound and imagery. It speaks to his commitment, really, to piece something this monumental together, without the fame and fortune the music industry promises to deliver (though rarely does). It will always sound like a cop-out to say someone does anything for the love of the game, but there is no other way to classify the independent music movement in the year 2016. Across Dark Waters is the next in a line of albums that will never get the wide play and praise they so rightly deserve. But, I suspect, that wouldn't deter Viktor Jonas and Vidar Wetterhall, who will move on to their next story, their next vision. They've added an extra word to the name, a mere four letter addendum but, as they say, a rose by any other name... well, you know the rest.
Bandcamp - https://vjonas.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/Apathy-Noir