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Ah, humble beginnings... Wait, no, this owns face. - 82%

MutantClannfear, June 20th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2011, Cassette, Rhinocervs (Limited edition)

This is as far back as one can trace the musical lineages of Yagian or A. of Rhinocervs fame (or infamy - heh, I even kinda forget nowadays that they scammed a bunch of people). This Nihilobstat tape is definitely interesting, holding value beyond a mere curiosity piece like "EMBARRASSING HIGH SCHOOL RECORDINGS OF ROB HALFORD UNEARTHED" or something along those lines. This thing was recorded back in 2000 and it's still surprisingly very forward-thinking, utilizing and combining a bunch of sounds that hadn't quite become genre tropes at that time.

It is my understanding through conversations with one of the band members that Nihilobstat is the culmination of several projects over the course of several years, explaining why the collection of material here feels so distinct and unique. A lot of demo-level bands haven't established any sort of identity and, in an attempt to do so, they cobble together every single band they like without paying much mind to how those individual bits piece together. Nihilobstat evidently had the good fortune to anticipate that problem and obscure themselves from the public eye until the music had truly come into its own as a vicious extreme metal cocktail.

Nihilobstat's recordings here combine ferocious death metal churning, beautiful and sorrowful death/doom passages, and even a section or two of frantic high-pitched black metal riffing. It's cool that each of these would find their way into either Yagian's or A.'s solo project, along with some of the untitled Rhinocervs projects: the groovy doom metal went into Odz Manouk, the death metal can be heard on RH-14, the black metal reminds me of Tukaaria, etc. Even without referencing those, each element of this sounds just plain cool. A lot of the riffs are haunting death metal of the Finnish variety, with coiling melodies straight from the crypt that ooze through the music. These transform fluidly into slow and crushing funeral doom breakdowns - they're not exactly "heavy" because of the demo-like production job, but they're well-performed and feel wholly natural, like the composition breaking apart before piecing itself back together again. Even cooler are the hazy and minimalist clean guitar breaks, drenched in reverb and bringing Evoken to mind (well, pretend that Evoken are cooler than they actually are, though). I loved the little interlude on the first track of RH-12 but low-key lamented that it was so short, so the fact that four of the five songs here feature them pleases me. They serve as a pleasant break from the chaos of the black/death/doom, though the fact that they're used so often almost makes them feel a bit gimmicky, as if the band thought "WAIT, this song isn't done, where's the clean guitar bit for Chrissakes!?" Still, though, cool stuff.

Four of the five songs hover around 5-6 minutes, a comfortable length for concise little extreme songs that are slower than the average band. The exception is the third track, which is a lightning-quick little beast that just throws out the fastest, nastiest death and black metal riffs it can within 90 seconds. It's nicely placed at the middle of the release, so it offers a quick bit of more immediate release than the doom songs do and it leaves you wanting more in a good way. The songs are all instrumental with the exception of the fifth and final track, "Traced in Absurdity" (also featured as an instrumental on track 2), which is rawer than all the others and recorded in less-than-ideal conditions. The songs are good, but not so good that I don't think the addition of vocals would improve them markedly; that being said, the vocals on "Traced in Absurdity" are weak and somewhat directionless. They don't add to the rhythm of the riffs, and quite frankly, they don't do justice to the presence that the music itself holds. This recording of the song also inexplicably ends 90 seconds before it actually finishes, so that's a bit irritating too.

And, yes, I will admit that the music is probably enhanced a fair bit overall by the fact that the aesthetics and sound have been carefully doctored 11 years after the initial recording. The music is caked in aftermarket reverb (you can hear the effect being turned off at the end of every track) and the artistic aesthetic is informed by some guys in their late 20s who use obscure European artists as their imagery instead of Baphomet fisting the Virgin Mary. That being said, in its final, presented form, this is a nice hodgepodge of lovely riffs from several sectors of metal, all mixed together without sounding derivative or hackneyed. Definitely worth a look, and not just as a curiosity piece.