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I’m actually not a very big fan of American black metal at all, with most of the black metal acts that I have encountered thus far from America not leaving much of an impression. But Nightbringer has had quite an illustrious history, forming all the way back in 1999 before releasing their debut Death and the Black Work almost 10 years later in 2008. Forever Plagued Records last year reissued what has been claimed by some to be one of the better black metal releases coming from America, complete with the bonus tracks that initially came with only the LP edition of the album.
The sense of unease is quickly established as the intro of opening track Caput Draconis – Black Saturn sets up a rather haunting atmosphere, with the sound effects that are utilised easily sending chills down one’s back. And the band takes their time to do so as well with the rather long duration of the intro (and the subsequently long track lengths on the rest of the album), ensuring that the listener is fully immersed into the atmosphere before letting their ritualistic, occult black metal hit the listener with full impact. Right as the first riffs hit the listener, the band’s influences from Finnish acts are immediately clear with the heavy emphasis on the atmosphere of the music, often dark, cold and desolate, and the at times warm and fuzzy production quality certainly helps in creating a huge sound for the band.
However, the emphasis on the atmospheric aspects of the band’s music does not mean a lack in other departments as Nightbringer brings in various different stylistics throughout the album, ensuring that their music has sufficient aggression included to keep the listener enchanted at the same time. For instance, Womb of Nyx completely throws the listener off guard with the sudden surge of aggressive riffs, complete with some of the most savage drumming on the album. The instrumentation on the album, as one would already expect, is nothing overly technical nor complex, with the entire focus being on the reinforcement of the ritualistic mood on the album, from the heavy usage of trem-picked riffs to the majestic drumming of Nox, backed by Naas’ tortured shrieks. The ambient aspects of the band’s music are also unsurprisingly heavy, such as the intro of Of Silence and Exsanguination, giving a nice buildup to the track.
Personally, the only real complaint of Death and the Black Work is perhaps the over-abundant usage of the trem-picked riffs. These are usually fine as they are buried under the other guitars, complementing each other, but on certain tracks where the lead guitars are mixed especially high like on certain parts of Feast of the Manes, this can get pretty irritating, though they serve the band’s purpose in creating their craft of uneasy-sounding and challenging black metal to listen to.
On this particular issue of Death and the Black Work, the total running time of the album lasts in excess of 100 minutes, and it is not unexpected that each of the tracks here are all pretty long, with even the shortest track lasting more than 7 minutes. Coupled with this particular style of black metal which usually involve rather repetitive riffs, such a long album would usually be a torture rather than a luxury. However, on Death and the Black Work, Nightbringer has ensured that one is kept captivated right from the opening moments of the album, making this an album that one would go back to time and again to re-experience this enchanting, trance-inducing journey. Furthermore, with the band now having ar-Ra’d al-Iblis (of Acrimonious fame) in the lineup, I am all the more interested in upcoming releases of this band.
Nightbringer is yet another below-average, trendy black metal band from the useless shores of America. For the most part, USBM is completely worthless, and these guys do nothing but add more truth to that statement. Rather than jumping on the depressive bandwagon, like so many of their countrymen, this band has gone for the pseudo-intellectual crowd that lurks in the underground. Everything about them reeks of posturing and trying too hard to impress people with how many occult books they've read and referenced in the lyrics. Like so many similar bands, these days, it is all image and no substance.
Released in 2008, Death and the Black Work is certainly one of the most boring releases that many of you will ever try sitting through. The only minor entertainment may come from counting the number of imitation Watain riffs, or simply laughing at the pathetic attempt at creating an occult atmosphere to match the image that the band so strongly tries to cultivate. Right away, you'll notice that the vocals are horrid. This guy relies way too much on a more guttural approach that has no place in this sort of music. It seems that, in one way or another, Americans cannot let go of their death metal roots, in a precedent set by Judas Iscariot long before. The songwriting is incredibly poor and under-developed. The guitar melodies are painfully boring and generic. Worst of all, they seem to go nowhere. There is this constant feeling as if the riffs are about to build up to something, but nothing ever happens. Apparently, even the drummer got bored with the lame riffs as, whether the pace is fast or slow, he is way too overactive in trying to compensate for the lack of interesting ideas. Nightbringer was too busy trying to fit in all of the trendy elements of modern 'cult' black metal that they forgot the one thing that mattered most, which is sincerity. This record does not possess one ounce of it. They've got the mixture of high and low vocals and the occasional funeral doom bits tossed in, with a very choreographed and inorganic feel to it all. This is truly the sound of a band trying way too hard, and coming up with absolutely nothing but random riffs that have about as little meaning as the faux-philosophical lyrics.
As for the production, the overall sound of the album is warm and muddy. This is not what you want in a black metal release. There is not one moment where it feels cold or dark, whatsoever. The mix is rather claustrophobic, with the percussion seeming to surround you and to block out the riffs, at times. This would be fairly detrimental to the album, if not for the fact that the riffs are pointless. The vocals are buried in the mix, to a degree, seeming to blend in with the guitars. With such a weak vocalist, they should have tried some studio trickery to make him sound somewhat better, but they opted to let him rot in a lame attempt at sounding more obscure and underground. Unfortunately, this all reeks of modernity, from the sound to the actual songwriting.
The band's bio claims that they have been together since 1999, yet Death and the Black Work gives off the impression that they had formed not long before recording this, after having listened to too many Watain and Deathspell Omega albums. This does not sound like the work of musicians with any real old school roots. There is no connection to the past, as this is completely derivative of their contemporaries, rather than showing any understanding of those who had come before. This only adds to the modern feeling that permeates every aspect of this recording. This is sure to appeal to the type of crowd that saves their lunch money to buy more Jewish occult texts, especially those whores that try to appear evil in an effort to impress their friends on the internet. Don't fall for the hype. If you want real black metal, don't go anywhere near this.
Approaching a US black metal release is regulary and alarmingly different to the way releases from bands in other countries can be absorbed.
The 'underground metal media' have often painted USBM as either a palid clone of its European forbear or an entity in itself, with no tangible ties to the resurgent atavism that gave birth to black metal in late 20th century northern Europe.
It is this contentious diatribe, perhaps, that colours the view of USBM's likely (and deserved) audience. Yet, many acts, Nightbringer among them, have continuously challenged the "only European BM is real" camp with material of such strength that it leaves even some of the most established acts, a few involved in the genre's earliest activity, in the shade.
'Death and the Black Work' is a heavy record, not purely in musical terms, but in a fashion that allows it truly weigh down on the listener. It is an impenetrable mass of clammy, dusty atmosphere, a wall of blackened, dissonant sounds and a rumbling presence that is unavoidable and uniquely unnerving for the duration of its playtime.
Initially, Nightbringer appear to sound much like a less-polished Setherial, employing intriguingly varied blast-beat patterns and meandering, competing melodies that crawl in and out of a dense fume of foreboding energies and harsh static.
However, the release's earliest tracks unfortunately blend into one long exercise in distortion, drumkit pummeling and a mixture of croaked and shrieked vocals. It is listenable and musically proficient, but nothing new or in any way terribly interesting. Only later, in the album's middle and closing tracks, does Nightbringer's aptitude for creating some quite magical black metal show its face.
Offerings such as, "Of Silence and Exsanguination", with its tense, ambient intro and echoing percussion calls to mind those comparisons that have been drawn between Nightbringer and the mighty Deathspell Omega. Such declarations are possibly a little ambitious, but like Deathspell Omega, Nightbringer are adept at incorporating doom and sludge/doom elements into their otherwise 'heads down', claustrophobic black metal barrage.
As a debut full-length, 'Death and the Black Work' is confident, occultist black metal from a band now surrounded by a certain mysticism and zealous following. As is often the case, the hype that can be created around bands and projects needs to be pushed aside for a period of time in order to truly appreciate what the band was originally attempting.
This piece of black metal art is most notable for its masterfully crafted atmosphere, this being what truly grants the release (and the band) its own identity among a plethora of acts all essentially doing the same thing.
I picked up Nightbringer’s “Death and the Black Work” triple LP for $35 at a local shop. I was pretty reluctant to buy it at such a steep price, but it was money well spent. This is one of those albums that had me listening to it two or three times in a row. Waking up in the morning, I could hardly wait to listen to this record, sometimes even holding back my urge to listen so that I wouldn’t outplay it. The majority of these songs give me the chills every time. This is by far one of my favorite black metal releases of all time and I’ll explain why.
The triple LP, distributed by Forever Plagued Records, has a decent layout to it. It comes in a box, with a medium sized book of lyrics, containing the alternative CD cover. Although I wish that the vinyl would have included more artwork, the music is more than enough to satisfy.
Before reading on, I should mention that his album is one of the most inaccessible releases I’ve ever heard. I didn’t really like it at first. I was unable to tell the difference between each song, and couldn’t retain any of the riffs I had heard after listening. It was only after listening to the album about 15-20 times, and reading the lyrics that I begun to see how awesome this record truly is.
People have described Nightbringer’s sound as similar to Deathspell Omega and Darkspace. Although I would agree with that statement, I think Nightbringer’s sound creates an entirely different beast altogether. They just happen to contain certain elements from both DsO an Darkspace. They use an interesting mix of doom paces with slow rhythm guitars, accompanied by fast tremolo picking (insanely fast at times). The tremolo picking on this album is very well done, creating some of the most terrifying melodies I’ve ever heard. Contrasting the slower parts are blastbeasts with fairly complex, intertwining guitar riffs that constantly change in subtle ways, but always resolve. The composition is superb, each riff flowing into the next perfectly.
The production on this album is astounding. The general atmosphere I get is like being led through a gigantic cave, with rivers and passageways filled with ritualistic ornaments, dimly light with candles. The bass is almost non-existent and although this is common for most black metal releases, it’s a bit disappointing considering how awesome the overall production is. The reverb on the guitars, drums, and vocals gives this album a very creepy vibe to it. The drums have a lot of reverb on them at times, which makes for an interesting, cavernous sound that really adds to the already stellar atmosphere.
The vocals on the album are solid. Switching between the fairly generic, yet effective high pitched scream, to a much more sinister sounding, reverb drenched growl that is absolutely haunting. The lyrics are very obscure and occult in nature. The lyrics eloquently evoke a sense of vivid atmosphere. Some may say they don’t make much sense, and although I can somewhat agree, there’s something to be discovered about this album.
Good lyrics require you to learn something new in my opinion. Whether it’s an idea or even just words, learning something from a song is a powerful thing. Upon reading the lyrics I came across a handful of words that I had never seen, making this release seem even more obscure and foreign to me. After doing some research and learning what exactly these words meant, it allowed me to understand the lyrical content and ideas behind the songs, and I was therefore able to enjoy these songs so much more. To me, the idea of buying some strange album containing ideas and words you have never heard before, and being able to take that knowledge away from the music is incredibly satisfying.
All of the songs on the album are solid. Some are better than others, but none of them are disappointing. I would say “The River Lethe” is probably the weakest song on the album, but nonetheless a good song all around, which speaks volumes about the quality of this release. A stand out track for me would be "Feast of Manes", which has one of the greatest riffs on the album in my opinion.
I can understand why someone wouldn’t enjoy this record, even after 5 or so listens. It really does take time to appreciate this release. I would recommend listening to it a couple times, then listening to it while reading the lyrics a couple times more. After that, all subsequent listens should exponentially reveal the genius behind “Death and the Black Work”.
The only thing that bothers me about the release is the long ambient intros. They’re a bit too long at times and are mainly just the same noise repeating itself, then gradually getting louder. If the ambient intros had a little more to them, I think I could have enjoyed them more. The intros do add atmosphere to the record when listened in its entirety, but sometimes I just want to listen to a song, and not have to sit through over a minute noise.
If you like well crafted, sinister black metal, take the time to listen actively to each element of the music to its fullest, and I doubt you will be disappointed.
Here is another band surrounded by so much hype, that even if they did have a bit of innovation beneath all the bookstore "occultist" imagery and try-hard aesthetics, it is lost to the boring pointlessness of the presentation itself.
All that there is here are some densely layered guitars mainly tremolo picked or strummed quickly for well over an hour, but it feels like an eternity has gone by in the time it takes to sit and attempt to distinguish these songs from one another. They are all so unbearably long for the sake of being long, they are all played the exact same way, with the exact same vocals, the same minor chord progressions, the same bland drum patterns, the same nonexistent basslines.
WHAT else can really be said about a 70-minute album with only 7+ minute tracks that are all about the exact same thing and sound exactly the same? I seriously cannot overstate how monotonous this music is. They are obviously capable of playing their instruments and writing riffs, and maybe if all of the songs at least differed somewhat in their respective running times, then this might be a tolerable album every once in a while. But yeah. No.
Reminiscent of Deathspell Omega? Are you fucking kidding me? Deathspell Omega have, what, ONE THOUSAND riffs per song? Nightbringer have, maybe, 3 and a half? And ironically, Deathspell Omega record these monster 22 minute songs that never become boring or uneventful, yet I don't find myself capable of sitting through a 7 minute Nightbringer track while sober. This album goes on forever with such limited variation that most of the time I found myself wondering if I was listening to the same song. This is not an exaggeration, this is really one of the most boring and meandering albums I have heard in my life.
Should I even mention the lyrical content to you? It has about as much legitimate literary substance as a dry sponge. The fact is, YOU, the reader, probably have no idea what any of these songs are about, and for this, Nightbringer wants you to feel like an asshole because you don't. You have never heard the term "Cauda Draconis - Azra Lumial" before in your life, so you are obviously a complete loser in their "educated" eyes. Even from a non-literal standpoint, if the pretentious vagueness and inaccessibility of these lyrics isn't meant to alienate the audience, then they are just there for show. Maybe even the band doesn't know what they are singing about.
Now they are signed to the Vagina Offensive, who has released every lame trendy black metal album in the past year. Well if you want some intense black metal boredom, some heavy and evil narcolepsy, some occult drowsiness, then chug a bottle of Nyquil and listen to Death and the Black Work by Nightbringer.
This album is a step forward for Nightbringer, when comparing with the preceding split CD. Even though the style is the same as on the split, the material has become more mature, deeper and darker. “Death and the Black Work” presents dissonant and massive sounding occult black metal which flows like a stream from track to track and aims to drag the listener deep down into the depths. Also the production is better than the one on the split CD, they’ve achieved both clarity and heaviness. They have also recorded a bass track this time (there was no bass on the split CD from what I could tell). The drums are at times a bit too much in the background, they get somewhat run over by the guitar wall, but that’s the only complaint I have about the production.
The music itself then? Well, it sounds like a mixture of Darkspace, latter era Deathspell Omega, Walknut and elements of Swedish black metal of the extreme yet melodic kind. At first it may seem relatively simple, but this is actually relatively complex and untypical black metal. Instead of using the traditional metal riffing style in their songs, Nightbringer have opted for a multilayered wall of guitars which are picked at a fast pace most of the time. This is the same approach e.g. Darkspace uses and it works very well. Often the music has a feeling of being very grandiose, powerful and almost pompous. This goes especially for the fast parts during which it feels like the guitars are building humongous cathedrals. To counter the grandiose parts we have the really heavy doomy parts (present on every track), which emit a very menacing and agonizing atmosphere. A perfect example of this is “Of Silence and Exsanguination”, a ten-minute monster of a song that’s slow all the way, not to mention extremely dark and torturous. It slowly creeps up on you and when you finally notice you’re being dragged down towards the abyss it’s too late... Another humongous track is “Beneath the Sands of Dudael”. Not only is it the longest track but it’s also a true mindfuck, combining all the Nightbringer elements into a true mega opus.
The way the music has been written creates a very coherent feel to this album, the tracks seem to blend in with each other as they embrace the listener. I have a feeling that this kind of formula for composing either hypnotises or repels the listener. For me it’s definitely the former. Often one or two guitars play high notes on top of the guitars playing the lower notes. This creates an epic feel to the music without resorting to the use of synths (synths are used in the beginning of some tracks though). I think the band many times uses as many as four guitars simultaneously, the guitar layer is very dense. The fast picking often continues also when the drums play slowly, so at times it feels like the music is hurrying forward even when the pace is slow.
The drum arrangements are quite untypical: the drummer doesn’t just vary between blast beats and slow parts in the usual manner. Some times he might start with a semi fast blast beat, then suddenly go into a fast blast beat, after which he suddenly starts to play very slow. It’s not just the drumming though: the song arrangements are pretty strange overall and definitely not predictable, which also contributes to the fact that this album takes quite long to get into properly and, as the saying goes, isn’t for everyone. Patience is needed in order to discover the magnificence.
The style of composing makes “Death and the Black Work” one of those to-be-enjoyed-as-a-whole albums. You need to experience it all and drown completely in the darkness, get crushed by the heaviness and be driven insane by the band’s occult spells. Since the LP version contains two tracks more than the CD I suggest you get that one, however, also the CD will give you enough to wrestle with, believe me!