AVKRVST- The Approbation (Album Review)

June 15, 2023


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Norwegian progressive rock band AVKRVST has roots that go back quite some ways, as founding members Martin Utby and Simon Bergseth made a pact some two decades ago to form a band together, though when they actually got things started officially is a bit fuzzier.  But no matter what the case may be, alongside the rest of their bandmates the duo has put together a lush and melancholic take on progressive rock and metal in the form of The Approbation.  Spread across seven tracks that flow seamlessly into each other, AVKRVST explore textures that span the earlier days of progressive rock along with the modern sheen some of the bands in the last decade have brought to the genre.  Add in some genuinely heavier parts and songwriting that gets under your skin, and you have a debut that is genuinely exciting and crafted like it’s coming from a veteran artist.

“The Pale Moon” is what drew me in to AVKRVST’s music when it was released as the first taste of The Approbation a few months ago.  On this track the band seamlessly blends lush melodies and heavier instrumentation that still have some bright spots to be found in between the doom and gloom, moving from elements of earlier Opeth and Leprous to the type of atmosphere you’d expect from a Porcupine Tree album.  My anticipation was high based on the strength of this song, and the rest of the album has been able to meet those lofty expectations.  What works so well about The Approbation is how it’s a progressive rock album first and foremost but knows when to crank up the heaviness and push into metal territory to place emphasis on particular passages.  This makes for an old meets new sound, where the keyboards sometimes give off hints of much older progressive rock but the overall approach has this bigger, modern vibe.  AVKRVST’s arrangements have this cinematic quality to them that have you sucked into the atmosphere of the softer, melancholic moments and jolted back to attention by the booming, louder ones.  Each song flows seamlessly into the next but there are clear breaks and stand-out riffs that stand out over time, making this a release that can be taken in seamlessly from beginning to end or convince you hit the repeat button on a specific one.  Even as the arrangements push past the ten-minute mark the group provides plenty of substance and they seem to fly by effortlessly, seeming shorter than they actually are due to the engagingness of the material.  Admittedly the one element I’m not as keen on is some of the attempts at more deliberate chugging and metal tonality on the title track, as it feels just a tad bit out of place.  But the rest of The Approbation more than makes up for it, and whether it’s the bouncier dreamlike melodies on “The Great White River” that have a Pink Floyd meets alternative rock vibe or the haunting acoustic guitars and wild keyboard driven moments on “Anodyne”, there’s a lot to like.

There are plenty of guitar leads that will captivate you throughout The Approbation, but the vocal work is what really ties everything together and will keep listeners engaged from one moment to the next.  The heavier opening of “The Pale Moon” may suggest that you’re going to get a lot of harsher moments, but AVKRVST uses a lot of restraint and saves them for just the right time.  Instead, you’re often met with singing that has a more somber and reflective tone to it, which gives a much darker slant to much of the material.  Yet it’s not all doom and gloom, as songs like “The Great White River” let the singing soar towards the clouds in much softer and brighter flourishes that contribute additional depth.  On the harsh side of the spectrum, you get very deep growls that are sure to generate even more Opeth comparisons, but with how sparingly they’re used you really feel the impact of each appearance.  Stylistically the singing reminds me of IQ circa the Dark Matter time period mixed with some other prof classics, and this type of emotional and calculated delivery leaves a lasting impression.

The Approbation is an impressive first showing from AVKRVST that has well crafted songs that pull listeners in with big hooks but have finer nuances that will keep them coming back to discover everything beneath the surface.  Admittedly a lot of the individual components bring a slew of other bands in the progressive rock and metal spectrum to mind, but AVKRVST is combining them in ways that feel different and it seems like as they continue that sound will diverge further onto its unique path.  But with this type of songwriting quality, this is one of the best debuts of 2023 and fans of everything from Opeth to Porcupine Tree will want to get lost in its textures.  The Approbation is available from InsideOut Music.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg