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Welcome to New Jersey - 84%

orphy, January 13th, 2021

From the depths of New Jersey comes Nokturnel, a ripping fast death metal band that has ties to many other names in the death metal underground. Namely, it features Tom Stevens, who had been involved in death metal’s formative years since 1985 with the band Savage Death (which also featured drummer Erik Young). Eight years after starting his journey of pushing the extreme, Stevens’ finally released a full length with Nokturnel in 1993, entitled “Nothing but Hatred.” Pure speed and brutality take the forefront here, but they are steered by an equally wild force of creativity.

Everything is cranked to 11 on this record, and the songs are always verging into higher speeds as they develop. Stevens’ riffs are varied and pack a punch, as he plays lightning fast power chords that jump around along the fret board, but also incorporates quite a lot of quirky ideas. Much like fellow mid-Atlantic death metallers Deceased, Nokturnel has a knack for incorporating Voivod influenced sections throughout their songs. One of the best examples of this are the dissonant chords and jagged rhythms in the track “Global Suicide.” That song also features an excellent thrash break at the end that also reminds me of Deceased, and you could make the case that fans of “Luck of the Corpse” will find a lot to like about “Nothing but Hatred.”

Unlike Deceased, Nokturnel eschews heavy metal melody for much more chaotic lead playing. Quite honestly, Tom Stevens’ guitar playing is the highlight and overall driving force of this record. Much like his riffing, his lead playing is frantic and relentless. His solos are like a more virtuoso version of Slayer, as they’re pretty chromatic, but he employs incredibly smooth execution of tapping, sweeping, and even tremolo bar abuse. For a lack of a better term, Stevens is just metal as fuck on this record, and his bandmates are equally as skilled and unhinged as he is. The rhythm section is extremely tight, performing at full speed, but still allowing room to breath and build when appropriate. The bass sometimes simplifies the riffs without any tremolo picking, giving a more solid sense of rhythm. Furthermore, there’s some start/stop sections that are performed with absolute precision among all the madness, or things like quick shots and other nuances that give these songs a little something extra.

I’ve always found the production of this record to always be a little odd, but as each track goes by, I start to warm up to its sound. I think it comes down to the fact that the vocals are just too loud, as things seem to sit really well during some of the extended instrumental passages. The bass has a subtle overdrive that adds a mean edge to it, but it still maintains low end warmth. Meanwhile, the drums are standard early 90’s death metal affair, with lots of smack on the kick drum, but it seems to have a nice balance as the snare and toms retain a good natural sound and dynamic. Many of the lead guitar sections emphasize the fact the band is a three piece, as there will be no rhythm guitar under it, but it doesn't feel empty, as the rhythm section is able retain a full sound with busy playing.

Death/thrash and NYDM fans who haven’t heard this record should do themselves a favor and give it a listen. Although it has plenty in common with their fellow New Jersey death/thrash bands like Ripping Corpse and Revenant, it doesn’t have the slamming breakdowns of the former nor the extravagant Morbid Angel moments of the latter. What it does have is Voivoid-esque fretboard wizardry, and an insatiable thirst for over the top speed. It’s a shame this record hasn’t been re-released at any point – maybe the cover is just a little too ridiculous for its own good – but as far as I’m concerned, this is up there with the other classic death metal bands mentioned in this review.