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For some very few bands, using a genre tag as a descriptor becomes unfair and largely irrelevant. With their album Krach, Nihill could easily be labeled any number of things: there is some ripping Deathspell Omega/Blut Aus Nord-style black metal; there is some startlingly slow Moss/Buried At Sea-style noise doom; there is heavy dark Encomiast/Raison d'Etre-style noise drone. To be fair to Nihill and their debut album, these somewhat disparate elements need to be looked at separately. (Before I begin, an informational note: the track order is substantially different on the double LP version (from which I will be drawing) compared to the CD. On the double LP, the sides seem to be split naturally between genres, making for a somewhat nearly dissociative listen.)
Side A (named side Sulphur on the album) is the blackened noise doom side, comprising one song, "Gnosis: Part 1." Of the three styles Nihill dables in, I find this to be the most interesting, and probably the style they do the best with. The entire album favors a hollow, near-ambient sounding production, although with this track the echoes and resonance definitely add to the atmosphere (which isn't the case with the standard black metal portion). The first two minutes of "Gnosis: Part 1," would not sound out of place on an Einsturzende Neubauten album, but from the two minute mark on the track is pure doom metal. The guitars cut and slash in horrible slow motion, long sustained chords that grate against subtle, barely-there drumming, complimenting a vocalist choking on every anguished scream, akin to Abbath if he was recorded drowning in the bottom of an infinitely deep well. Adding to the oppressive miasma of guitar, bass and drums is a cacophony of industrial noises, possible conflagrations, and crumbling near-foreground shrieks, howls and chants. This is funeral doom's evil cousin, one that has replaced suicidal despair with murderous hatred.
Side B (Side Vitriol) is the black metal side, and here is where Nihill falls short of the mark. The three songs here are of the blazing fast, slightly discordant variety, very close in spirit to Blut Aus Nord's The Work Which Transforms God, but never reaching anywhere near the power of that album. The production, which much benefited the slow doom of side A, is detrimental to the speed of side B. The guitars are still razor thin, unfortunately too thin to cut much of anything, capturing the "buzz" but not the "saw." Anything resembling vocals are lost in the reverb, thus making the vocalist an afterthought, except during the interludes where their true creepiness is allowed free reign. The drummer does an admirable job keeping time as it were, between tempo shifts (from furiously fast to even furiously faster to suddenly non-existent, as these songs are punctuated with DsO-style ambient interludes) and time signature changes (while for the most part they charge along in 4/4, they do throw in some odd off-time moments i.e. a short section in "Dreams Upon the Scaffold"). But these songs are lacking in the personality that make Drastus, DsO, BAN and others in this style actually memorable. These songs drone on at ridiculous speed with no concern for anything even resembling "song-ness." They get the atmosphere right, but that's about it.
The last two sides (Side Antimonium and Side Wismatt) are each a single song, "Gnosis: Part II," and "Gnosis: Part III," respectively. These two tracks are not the misfires of side B, but neither do they reach the level attained on side A, these two tracks being Nihill's foray into the drone/noise/dark ambient genre. Once again the production is an asset to these tracks, particularily "Gnosis: Part II." This is closest in spirit to "Part I," with its claustrophobic atmosphere induced through cascading waves of noise, but with the exception of maybe floor toms, this track seems to lack any traditional instrumentation. What this allows is for a near virtuosic performance by the vocalist; he switches easily between deep-water drowning gurgles, outerspace suffocating howls and dying-man's-last-screams (not that it means much, as the lyrics save, for the extremely occasional word, no matter his delivery style are nigh indecipherable), but it does add a certain depth to what might otherwise seem a shallow exercise in noise for the sake of noise. "Part III," functions surprisingly well as an ending to the album, here again missing are any and all instruments and gone too is the vocalist, leaving nothing but the synthesized sounds of attack, gain, reverb and echo, possibly what the world sounds like as it grounds to a halt just before permanent silence.
A few words must be added about the packaging and presentation of Krach. This is not an easy nor accessible album, and not only because of the music. The artwork is primarily black and muted grays, with the gatefold containing (along with the lyrics) a truly interesting (if completely baffling) piece of art: a robed, skull-faced religious figure surrounded by numerous occult symbols and (possible) Bible verses; it fits the music quite well. Ostensibly this is a concept record, possibly about the death of humanity/death of religion, but the lyrics give nothing away, as yet one more band borrows the pseudo-intellectual, anti-religious stylings of DsO, without bothering to make sense of their own writings.
Krach is an interesting album that succeeds more than it fails, but never quite reaches the greatness that seems so close. Nihill would do well to choose a particular style and dedicate themselves to it, as there is obviously no shortage of talent or creativity in the band, even if the execution is lacking at times; as this record is the supposed first part of a trilogy, let's hope the next two parts will maintain the heavydread atmosphere while offering a slightly better musical expression of Nihill's ideas. I would recommend this whole-heartedly to all fans of "out-there" black metal and doom metal, especially those DsO/BAN fans looking for a band that's exploring the slower doomier territory said bands have hinted at; for the average black metal or doom metal fan, you're probably better off waiting for something a little more normal and a little more stylistically coherent.