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This album was recommended to me for the Temple of Not side of the split. Supposedly sharing similarities with Darkspace, the two Temple of Not tracks seemed to make the split worth checking out. The other (first) side of the split is performed by Nightbringer which shares members with Temple of Not and is presumably the main project of the two Temple of Not members. Nightbringer is straight forward black metal, Temple of Not dark ambient/keyboard drones.
Nightbringer starts off the split with a fairly telling song. The Void clocks in at over eight minutes, and keeps the same mid tempo pace throughout the track. Everything is what you would expect from a decent black metal band. The riffs are tremolo picked almost entirely. with a fair knowledge of melody and harmony, although no riffs particularly stand out and structure is hard to figure out since the riffs all sound a little too similar. This largely is also a fault of the drums though. They play the same double bass 4/4 beat over everything. Fills do transition riffs but it's hard to stay engaged in long songs that simply tremolo pick and blast the kick drum (why haven't black metal bands figured this out yet?). Vocals are performed fairly well, not really too harsh or intense, though also not boring, they're just mediocre like the rest of the bands performance on the opener. Generally a croaked high pitched scream they sometimes drop to a low growl that is appreciated since it gives variation to the music.
The rest of Nightbringers side follows suit fairly close to The Void. The songs all tremolo pick fairly harmonic riffs in most cases. Drums blast away (at varying degrees of fast, sometimes the snare decides to try and blast as fast as the kick) to a monotonous effect, not produced badly enough or mixed low enough to sound like Darkthrone, and not technically proficient enough to be like Endstille. They also sound triggered which isn't helpful. Black metal is a genre where either you write simple but classic riffs that carry your album, or you have production that carries the album. The riffs are not memorable enough, and the drumming is produced so that the album sounds too clean. If the drumming were produced so that everything sounded a little more dull and muffled it would benefit the Nightbringer tracks since am organic sound is much more suited to the album than a triggered sound. Overall the Nightbringer side is above average for US black metal standards, good for a couple listens, but nothing that is essential, you probably won't be listening to this on a regular basis. Best track is easily Vir Sapiens Dominabitur Astris, which varies vocals and tempo to make a well rounded track.
Temple of Not starts out their side of the split with (fuck me) wind noise. Yes this recommended Darkspace sound alike has started their half of the split with the most common indicator that this "ambient" music will be complete shit. Three minutes into the song the first hint of a melody comes in. It actually sounds promising as it is a rather unsettling little combination of notes. But of course the melody (not really a melody, more of just a musical effect, two notes using a well chosen synth patch) is repeated ad nauseum, presumably to create more atmosphere. Here there is little sense of atmosphere since there is little direction to the sound. Halfway through the opener the song still hasn't gone anywhere. If you actually bother looking into it you'll find the guys behind both these projects are a little obsessed with death, and then things start making a little more sense for the Temple of Not side. The opener does sound fitting to the theme of death, it paints a scene of something morbid, but you really have to actually care to be engaged by this track. It's more suited to be an accompaniment to a silent black and white film than a track that is too weak to stand on it's own. At the 10 minute they bring in a super distorted effect, very reminiscent of harsh industrial tracks. If you buy into the whole concept of being an audio representation of things dead and dying it's interesting (though more akin to drone than ambient) but it suffers from severe niche appeal. Genuinely unsettling and dreadfully boring at the same time.
The second track is more droning keyboard, though it progresses and doesn't develop the same monotonous theme for 13 minutes like the previous track. On one hand the ambient is very haunting and dark, on the other hand it's also extremely slow and boring if you just can't be bothered to give two shits about what the band is trying to do. It's completely hit and miss, as already stated you have to buy into Temple of Nots spiel, the music itself isn't even music, it's almost bordering on gimmick. It's almost as if the CD should come with an advisory "think of morbid images and death while listening to the Temple of Not side". If you buy into it it's a unique experience, but most people probably won't care enough and I can't blame theme. Minimal droning sounds for half an hour is boring and the Darkspace comparison is completely unwarranted. I really don't know what to make of this side...
Get the split, listen to it once, the Nightbringer side is definitely worth a couple listens, Temple of Not is something I can't recommend, but you should hear it for yourself, everyone will judge it differently, but it's safe to say most will find it boring.
Nightbringer is for me the more enjoyable part of this split CD. They present excellent twisted, complex, sinister and intense black metal with an emphasis on tremolo picked melodies, morbid harmonies and many times untypical arrangements. The production is clear and powerful, yet a bit rougher than on the full-length.
The material is in the same vein as the full-length “Death and the Black Work”, perhaps just a little bit more straightforward, yet definitely not an easy listen. It sounds like this recording lacks bass completely but the powerful guitar presence makes up for it, so it’s no big problem. The untypical arrangements are a factor that gives Nightbringer their own sound. These four tracks twist and turn, sneak up on you treacherously and catch you off guard. It’s not predictable stuff at all and may even sound chaotic and incoherent to some due to the length of most of the songs. Nevertheless, I like this band’s style of composing a lot and think it’s a real pleasure to hear something like this. Just like on the debut full-length, there is a certain “hugeness” to the music and it sounds like the band are trying to go “beyond” with their music. They aren’t just playing, they’re also channelling some kind of evil powers through their music.
In order for black metal to be good it should have some obscurity and there’s no shortage of that in these four tracks. I can’t think of any black metal band that sounds exactly like this, Nightbringer have created their own sound. I’ve never cared that much for USBM but I’m always glad when a new great American black metal band comes my way.
Temple of Not: 50%
I’ve been never been that big on ambient stuff (there are some exceptions of course) and TON didn’t manage to convince me entirely either. While these two tracks certainly have a dark and ghostly vibe to them, they are overall too long. I feel that shortening the playing time of both tracks would have made them better and more effective at creating haunting and horrifying atmospheres than they are now. “Temple of Not” mostly consists of monotonous and droning keyboard soundscapes and some voices in the background occasionally. Annoying distorted effects (that are much louder than the keyboards) appear towards the end of this track and when they do, they destroy the atmosphere completely and I have to turn the volume down. Fortunately the parts with these effects don’t last very long. Thirteen minutes of this kind of stuff is just too much for me, sorry.
“The Sunken Houses of Sleep” is the better of the TON tracks. The first part of the track contains some pretty majestic yet dark keyboard ambient stuff, which sounds good. The second part of the song consists of very monotonous keyboard soundscapes and a twisted voice speaking during some parts. The third part of the song is more varied again and definitely the most ritualistic one: eerie keyboards mix with a sound that one could imagine could be e.g. a shaman’s drum being hit repeatedly. Also this part contains some obscure background voices. While there’s more variation on “The Sunken Houses of Sleep” than on “Temple of Not” overall, the second and third parts of this track are too long, so they become boring. If you like long dark ambient tracks with slow changes in mood, TON will be to your liking. I think the best way to get the most out of this kind of stuff is to listen to it alone in the middle of the night by candlelight.