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Not quite as great, but still Nagelfar - 85%

droneriot, October 8th, 2019

There was a lot of concern over what Nagelfar would sound like after the departure of their popular trademark voice Jander - at least among the many who didn't get a copy of the split with Bluttaufe, and therefore a glimpse of what the band would sound like with Zingultus taking over the vocal duties. Would he manage to fill the void, be a worthy replacement, or a new direction... or just not the same? Fortunately, Zingultus' vocal performance on Virus West would quickly disintegrate all such concerns and scatter them among all four winds, because he is indeed not the same as Jander, nor is he a replacement, but indeed something new, and in that a perfect addition to the sound of Nagelfar. Actually comparing the new voice of Nagelfar with the old would come dangerously close to "apples versus oranges"-type of territory, because there are vast differences in the style of delivery. Jander's maniac shrieking often resembled a raw, inchoate force of nature, like a loose gatling gun of primal screams, while Zingultus vocals are much more refined, and more embedded into the rhythm and melody of the music itself, and while Jander had to alternate between said shrieking and more goth-ish clean to half-clean vocals to keep up with the mood of the music he is singing to, the style of Zingultus has the advantage that it merges itself with the underlying music simply through the style of delivery, with no requirement for any major shift in the way he sings. The vocals are definitely top notch on this album.

However, the vocals aren't all that has changed about Nagelfar in comparison to their earlier releases. With the departure of Jander's aforementioned goth-ish elements, the band apparently decided to make a general shift away from their more romantic and sombre side towards leaning more into a much harsher and aggressive direction, which unfortunately led to a decrease in another very popular - because usually absolutely brilliant - trademark of Nagelfar's earlier sound: The frequent use of acoustic and synthetic elements. While still present on this album, these elements have become much more sparse, only showing themselves in few places, and there only for much shorter periods of times than we were used to. Personally, I find that rather unfortunate, because Nagelfar - or Alexander von Meilenwald in particular - had a unique talent especially for the synthetic parts. And not only the lack of one of my most-beloved elements of Nagelfar's earlier sound is what bothers me, but the effect said lack has on the music as a whole. While the quality of riffing and arrangements is still absolutely classy, the songs tend to suffer from the band's tendency to record overly long pieces with the lack of breaks into contrasting material. In the end, only the final two songs of this album manage to put up enough momentum through highest quality riffs (and are also the songs with the highest use of non-black metal elements) to pull all the way through their length without ever having a feeling of too much repetition. All the others, while overall quite good songs, do have their moments where you just want them to get on with it already.

Overall, as my title suggests, I don't like this quite as much as H√ľnengrab im Herbst, and certainly not as much as my favourite Srontgorrth, but it's still a Nagelfar album, and any Nagelfar fan can definitely "risk" buying blindly (though of course any Nagelfar fan most likely already has). Fans of German black metal in general should definitely get their hands on this too, as it is still in the upper class of said field, even though it isn't what I would call one of the best, and I'd definitely advise anyone unfamiliar with Nagelfar to get their previous albums first. If every song on here was on one level with the last two songs "Protokoll einer Folter" and "Meuterei", this might have been another classic Nagelfar album, and another high point in German black metal, but because of the weaknesses I mentioned before it is, well, eighty-five percent.