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Back to greatness - 90%

Bloodstone, January 2nd, 2011

An excellent fifth entry here from my favorite German melodic death metal/metalcore unit, and a welcome bounce back from the somewhat sub-par 'Omnicide - Creation Unleashed' the year before. Being a fan of these guys is pretty great, I tell you; since their 2005 debut, 2008 is so far the only year without a new Neaera album, and the quality of their stuff ranges from at least solid to absolutely masterful. Plus, they tend to change style and/or evolve quite a bit between albums, which is nice. There's a fair deal of variety in their catalogue by now and a new Neaera album is always something to get excited about.

That said, this is so far the Neaera album that differs the least in style from whatever album preceds it. The music is essentially melodic death metal with a metalcore flavor (no traceable deathcore influence here, in case you're wondering), leaning a little more towards the latter than the previous two albums did. The positively epic melodic tremolo riffs remain a trademark of Neaera's sound, and on display are also the pleasantly headbangable 'SotS'-era At the Gates riffs and punishing, more straight-up death metal-styled riffs that we've come to expect. Breakdowns, better ones than on the last album, are sprinkled in here and there as well. What makes this album such a notable improvement over the one, however, is the production, which is a thousandfold improvement over 'Omnicide', which had their worst production job by far. No more awful vacuum cleaner guitar tone, overly loud bass and boring-ass drums - on the contrary, this is one of the best production jobs in recent memory. It's not Armamentarium's "one hundred layers of everything" kind of production, either (not that there'd be anything wrong with that, if you ask me) - what we have here is a simple, but very natural and live sounding job that just emits a ton of energy. The drums in particular have an awesome punch to them, and drummer Sebastian Heldt is given room to show off some really cool chops that add greatly to the music: for example, "Heaven's Descent" and "The Prophecy" both feature awesomely done switches from thrash beats to fast double bass, that make my neck muscles twitch something horrible and bring some of The Crown's material to mind. It's several cuts above the mostly boring, standardized production jobs I hear from so much other major metal label stuff today (at least underground production, or lack thereof, isn't as predictable and samey).

The actual songs fare better this time around, too. The songs are more wide-open, accessible and fun, which works in the band's favor here. While I appreciate 'Omnicide' for being such an uncompromising, almost suffocating affair, the album hasn't stayed with me as much over time as other Neaera albums have. I guess this band simply needs some older, classically-rooted metal influences to function properly, and thankfully, that's what 'Forging the Eclipse' gives us. Again, the metalcore influences are a bit stronger here than on the last two albums, and somewhat recall the first couple of Neaera discs. That doesn't mean the immense songwriting growth that marked 'Armamentarium' has diminished here in any way; there's plenty of variety to go around, the songs are still highly epic and there's little relying on metalcore tropes. The band's sense of eagerness and sheer passion continue to shine here as well, much due to the vocals being as venom-spittingly pissed off as ever. No doubt, this band does plenty to stand out from the German metalcore/melodic death heap.

Overall, definitely Neaera's second best after 'Armamentarium'. Highly recommended of course, one my most played albums of 2010. This kind of metal has been out of vogue for some time now, but these guys keep partying like it's 2004 and do a great and uniquely flavored job at it, so if you dig other bands of similar ilk there's no reason you shouldn't check this out. The best part: before you know it, they'll have another album out worthy of my time! Hell yes, love this band so much.