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Hiz mozt zinizter and ztylizh - 85%

autothrall, January 14th, 2022
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, Peaceville Records (Reissue)

By the time Nightwork came along, Diabolical Masquerade was already this underappreciated, quality Swedish black metal export, especially when you took into consideration that it was the work of just one man. Wait, does Blakkheim even qualify as a man? I've always fancied him as more of an immortal vampire prince who wrote some catchy Goth metal tunes and retro-death metal on the side as a day job; his is a rather singular genius across the genre borders and I doubt there's a metal niche he couldn't dig into with his considerable fangs and entertain us with. Each of the albums he wrote under this moniker had a nice degree of variation from the last, and Nightwork is no exception.

This is a bit more theatrical than The Phantom Lodge, more like something you'd heard in the background at some dark carnival with all its creepy pianos, and of course that cinematic nature would be honed in even further on the fourth record, and not necessarily for the better. But here, Blakkheim strikes just the right aesthetic between haunted house hysterics and worthy, varied riff patterns that are excellent at complimenting the spectral synthesizers and his awesome rasped vocals, which can be shifted around much like a Dani Filth but not quite so much a caricature. There's a refined, progressive nature to the writing here which often focuses on sinister chugging patterns interchanged with a dual narrative between vocal and keys, for example in "Dreadventurouz" which is a far cry from the more symphonic, thundering overtures he's written on previous albums. Those might have howled at you beautifully from a mountainside or castle, but here you're getting into the winding, nightmarish corridors of some fun house or museum. There are still sequences which bridge between the two extremes, yet Nightwork sounds tighter, more personal.

The use of the 'z' in song titles rather than an 's' seems goofy at first, but actually adds quite a lot to the charisma of the album, and the song titles are fucking great anyway: "The Eerie Obzidian Circuz", "Thiz Ghoultimate Omen", and of course "Rider on the Bonez" all convey the themes and moods set by the music, as well as the idea that Blakkheim is not taking it all so seriously. He's the rock star at the Halloween party, but he won't just flick his cape like a snob and ignore you, he'll have a few laughs with you and participate in the usual masquerade games. But that's not to undersell Nightwork's competence, this is an engaging, spooky and sometimes phantasmally beautiful black metal piece which was quite unique in its day, and holds up extremely well almost a quarter of a century later. What else really sounded like this? Maybe Entombed in the Midnight Hour from Dead Silent Slumber? Maybe bits and pieces of Emperor, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, but this was every measure as interesting and worthy in the late 90s.

In fact, while there might be individual tracks on the albums before it that I hold in higher regard, I think this is quite clearly his strongest work with this project, and frankly I hope he himself will come back to Diabolical Masquerade one day, ignore the Death's Design, and pick up where this one left off. I love some Katatonia and earlier Bloodbath, but my October evenings are all the weaker for lack of new Blakkheim adventures.