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Nightbringer traffic in a sinister style of occult black metal suggestive of a plague of locusts sent from rifts deep within the Earth's shadow worlds to ravage and destroy all humankind's food crops and supplies. Death metal influences may be present in some of the vocals, the percussion and the urgent pace of the music which happens to be dominated by speedy high-pitched vibrato guitar tones that teeter on near-hysterical and have a technically cutting manner. Songs aren't very different from each other and don't boast any distinct riffs, melodies or rhythms though with this kind of music where each song's lyrics read like chapters detailing a quest to discover secret truths and knowledge and to join in communion with a Satanic hierarchy, it's perhaps not all that important for the songs to be completely self-contained and independent of one another. The music acts to involve the listener with the protagonist's quest and follow it as an observer.
There are times where the journey seems quite crazed as on "Goblet of Sulfur and Poison" and "Upturning the Seventh Chalice" where the rhythms and pointillist guitar lines start blithering up high and down low and the voices slither about over the lyrics. Some tracks like "Exitum - Litany of the Devouring Earth" can be fairly clear and straightforward minimal black metal pieces but as the album continues, I sometimes feel the quest is bogging down in its own self-importance and I wish it would hurry up as each succeeding song goes off on a different demented tangent. I guess on such mysterious quests as this one, various demons all demand the appropriate respect and obeisance to be paid to them in the appropriate debasing rituals and ordeals and the acolyte must observe them all. Keyboards and various ambient effects are brought in to heighten the mania and suspense though the shrill guitar lines with their tightly pressed tones do a good enough job on their own driving your brain cells nuts as they trace bizarre patterns that defy all known rules of rationality. The last couple of tracks on the album bring in a slightly slower, doomier air as the end of the journey nears, unity is at hand and darkness and death will soon sweep over the earth and at this point the music becomes more focussed on its goal though the mania doesn't change a bit.
Where the album excels is in creating and sustaining a self-contained hell barely able to restrain the writhing evil and madness welling from very deep within, at least until the rituals have been performed and the Satanic hierarchy feels it has been suitably acknowledged. Once the music and singing reach a certain level of intensity and madness early on in the album, they tend to stay at that level and rarely breach it or deviate from it, even in the last few tracks where the music might reasonably be expected to go completely berserk and chaotic in short bursts as the opportunity for Evil to unleash itself in all its brutality draws closer. That might partly explain why the album tends to coast along at times and noodle about in by-ways about two-thirds of the way through. Possibly the songwriting needs to be more varied and adventurous: in the context "Apocalypse Sun" is set in, we could have had a short track of demonic chanting without any music or maybe a short instrumental track featuring just a solo lead guitar playing an evil tune or slashing riffs. The keyboards and effects that are used on this album could have been used between tracks to separate them better and to develop a cold and chilling atmosphere that can stand apart from the music and give it some depth. Listeners can easily think the effects have been tacked on as an afterthought.
My impression is that Nightbringer concentrated on developing a very technical, fast and precise style of deranged occult black metal perhaps as a kind of balance to the sheer barmy nature of the music and its subject matter but didn't take it much further than that.
If the corrosive injection of nocturnal poison that was Nightbringer's scathing debut album "Death and the Black Work" was US black metal's most surpeme offering, "Apocalypse Sun" brings to the forest thrones a different and even unexpected bestial onslaught that is arguably even better. This album is not just more of the same from this excellent occult band. This is a faster, and even darker culmination than Nightbringer's late-2008 opus.
Most of the two-to-three minute dark ambient introductions and slower doomy sections have been somewhat forgone this time around. Here Nightbringer employ mostly blazing tremolo/speed-picked riffs over fast and proficient blast-heavy drum onslaughts, and spellbinding vocals inducing an insidious and frigid trance of death. However, that is not to say "Apocalypse Sun" is devoid of the ambient elements entirely as the record begins with a sonorous, building ambiance that sets the dissonant tension perfectly, giving way for a vicious battering with the beginning of "I am I". It's not until the end of the fourth track "Upturning the Seventh Chalice" that it makes a stark reappearance. With this album the dark ambient and black metal elements are integrated in a way that is simply different than with "DatBW," but in no way less effective.
The guitar riffing as heard on this recording is infectious, and compelling for repeated listening in a way that's unlike anything else that's out there these days. It just needs to be heard. This time the production is very clean. Listen closely, however, as there are many subtle inclusions that will go unnoticed the first few times listening, or without headphones. As raw, live, and spatial as the production on the preceding album was... this is tight, loud, and battering, and works fluidly in conjunction with the sharp, yet atmospheric fiery decimation that is unleashed. While "Apocalypse Sun" is hellish and suffocating, while being slightly less haunting and doomy than the former, many of the same elements that made "DatBW" so good are heard here, in addition to serpentine clean guitars and loud and compressed drumming that blasts you through an obscure descent.
Whatever little importance or relevance it is to the band and what they do, Nightbringer are currently one of the most unparalleled and visionary bands in black metal, and not merely amongst the US "scene", but worldwide. The compositional ability and intricate occult qualities alone are what set them apart from nearly every other black metal band. Get this album and be blown into a dark oblivion by grandiose black metal of a higher calibre.
For an album as anticipated as this, I know I was expecting so much more. Impossibly long songs, an exaggerated occult premise, and ego-driven guitar masturbation coalesce to define this, Nightbringer's sophomore album, Apocalypse Sun.
Whereas Death and the Black Work could at least create a sense of atmosphere at some point throughout it's 70 minute watch-checking fest, this album fails to live up to even what Nightbringer was previously commendable for. For one thing, the guitars are played with such a loose, chaotic intensity this time around, that some sections could even be improvised from how uncertain of themselves they seem. Guitars seem to consist exclusively of layered lead guitar melodies that scramble about through incessant tremolo picking, and I mean INCESSANT. This word is a negative remark because there are times when the whirlwind of tremolo picking degrades into what could be considered to be a neverending guitar solo happening at the same time as another neverending guitar solo, layered above more neverending guitar solos. If there is bass, you can never tell. I enhanced the bass frequency on my speakers to their maximum level and I still couldn't hear any semblance of bass guitar.
The drums are ridiculously triggered, which is a total shame since this could have saved the album from such a terrible sound. The drummer is very fast and competent, but it doesn't even matter because the usage of drum triggers is so abused, it might as well have been a drum machine. Certain nuances from hits on the drumkit are required for a drum recording to sound organic and human, unlike a drum machine which repeats sampled sounds and lacks any individual variation on its own. This is exactly what these drums sound like, mechanical and so sterile and flawless that it defeats the rest of the instrumental aspect of the music because the guitars, as I mentioned before, are without any personality or variation whatsoever. Had the drums been left with the same production as the previous album, this might have been more interesting to listen to.
The vocals are actually decent, despite some lame "spoken" parts and certain instances where they are nearly completely obscured by the redundant DUN-CLACK-CLINK of the drum man / machine at 30000bpm.
The song structures are interesting and they do accurately characterize the formula of Nightbringer's distinctive writing process, but hearing these certain transitions, breakdowns, and various passages distinctively requires far more of the listener this time around because of just how samey and repetitive everything else is. Nearly finished with the album, I couldn't even tell where one song began and the other ended, and this isn't always a bad thing if executed with a particular level of progression, but nothing ever seemed to relent or change.
Nightbringer approached this album with ambition, but the end result is a plastic blastfest of too few ideas and too much running time.