To fully appreciate Null Apostle, the full-length and full-throttle debut from Auckland, New Zealand band Bridge Burner, you need to understand three things. First, Bridge Burner’s members have also played in ferocious NZ bands like Graves, Diocletian, Ulcerate, Witchrist, In Dread Response, and The Mark of Man. Second, Bridge Burner have cited groups like Botch, Godflesh, Gorguts and Bolt Thrower as influences. And third, and most importantly, Bridge Burner don’t sound anything like those aforementioned bands.
Note that down, because Bridge Burner inhabit a world awash with bands who’ve clearly confused influence with imitation. Not Bridge Burner though; they strive for originality, even if they’re drawing from the same creative wellspring as other hybrid punk/metal bands.
Bridge Burner aren’t reinventing heavy music on Null Apostle, but their pulverizing sound is still subversive and hard to define. The band take untamed elements from grindcore, crust punk, black metal, and death metal, and they arrange those elements in novel ways. Often those arrangements only crystallize for a split second, before the band intentionally demolish them and rebuild anew.
Listening to Null Apostle tracks such as “Illness & Loathing”, “The Blood Never Lies”, and “Witches Alone” is like being tightly wrapped in barbed wire, locked inside a steel drum, and then kicked down 12 flights of stairs. It’s a brutal and bloody encounter, with the bulldozing riffs of guitarist Josh Hughes combining with Cam Sinclair's white-knuckled percussion to create a formidable barrage of noise. However, all the chaos is delivered with deadly accuracy. And that’s where Null Apostle’s greatest strength lies.
It’s truly impressive how Bridge Burner manage to precisely hit their musical targets while simultaneously sounding so utterly (and so viciously) unhinged. Sure, other bands use similar musical weaponry, but many of those bands exhaust their creative cache in a single strike. However, you need more than a couple of blazing songs to keep a full-length release interesting throughout. Thankfully, Bridge Burner’s songwriting storehouse is packed with visceral ordnance.
On Null Apostle, Bridge Burner astutely gauge when to unleash a berserker burst here or grind out mind-mangling noise there. That means Null Apostle is total fucking onslaught, but with plenty of subtlety within. That the album is as savage as it is smart is no doubt thanks to the experience in Bridge Burner’s ranks. Years of playing in strident underground bands guarantees that lessons (both harsh and helpful) are going to dispensed. Many of those harsher lessons would defeat other musicians. But not Bridge Burner.The band sound fired-up, full of ideas, and ready to take creative risks on Null Apostle. Vocalist Ben C. Read has had plenty of opportunities to vent his vitriol in bands like In Dread Response, The Mark of Man, and Ulcerate (and with his enticing new project, Toska Hill), but Null Apostle features some of Read’s best work yet.
Read’s frenzied shrieks, snarls, and throat-destroying howls evoke an emotional exorcism, and Null Apostle becomes even more punishing as Read harrowingly explores existential agonies. Guest vocals from Jelena Goluza (Outright) on “Keelhauler” and Tali Williams (Human Resource, DIAL) on “Cultfathers” add more riveting vocal ingredients. All of which amplifies the album’s overall impact.
Null Apostle is superbly engineered, mixed and mastered by Bridge Burner’s (now former) drummer, Cam Sinclair. Sinclair recently exited the band to concentrate on his studio wizardry; see his work on releases from Bölzer, Bulletbelt, Diocletian, Heresiarch, Stalker and more. (Sinclair also plays drums for black/thrash titans Exordium Mors.) Sinclair’s intuitive sense on how to capture and channel aggression is put to great use on Null Apostle’s title track and the much starker “Howling Beneath the Earth”. But the entire album is thickset, jagged, and palpably heavy.
Death metal and feral grindcore tussle it out throughout, while crust punk and black metal piss even more acid into a boiling cauldron of rage and torment. Null Apostle is duly harsh and violent, and full of caustic communiqués, but that's obviously all part of its appeal.
Whether you'll enjoy the album will likely hinge on your appetite for experimentation and hybridisation. The truth is, Bridge Burner aren’t one thing or the other and they’re hard to pin down. Sure, they use recognisable elements from punk and metal, but like bands such as Oathbreaker or Full of Hell, Bridge Burner don't blend their influences in straightforward ways.
Some might feel that approach is far too erratic. Some might feel that Read’s vocals are just far too histrionic. Null Apostle is definitely very dramatic as well. And all of that might prove to be too turbulent or temperamental for some.
It's not a criticism to note that Null Apostle is challenging. Powerful art should challenge us, and Bridge Burner’s belligerence and defiance of genre only adds to Null Apostle's strengths. The album is bleak and hostile, and it seamlessly fuses intensity and negativity, but Null Apostle is also a pathway to liberation.
Bridge Burner use nihilistic noise to deliver crucial catharsis. Think of it all as sadistic enlightenment. Or purification through darkness and pain. No question, Null Apostle offers deliverance via decimating music. And it’s a merciless rite well worth experiencing.