Monday, August 30, 2010

Nightfall - Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants (2010)

Nightfall may have always come in a distant third behind Rotting Christ and Septic Flesh when it comes to international interests, but I've nonetheless considered them a crucial component in the 'trinity' of Greek extreme metal bands to have evolved through a number of styles both old and new in their term. Spanning the architecture of melodic black death/doom in their early years (Parade into Centuries, Macabre Sunset, Athenian Echoes), to a quirky yet intriguing fascination with Gothic rock/metal in more contemporary times (Lesbian Show, Diva Futura, Lyssa: Rural Gods and Astonishing Punishments), the band have never ceased to impress me with their open minds and head first dive into various concepts and sounds.

Now, whether or not the band have succeeded with each new experiment is debatable, but I've found a number of their albums like I Am Jesus to become forgettable at best. Its a great pleasure that the band have returned from a four year split, aligned themselves with the high visibility of Metal Blade Records, and produced a concept album that delves deeply into their own past, modernizing their initial hybrid of black, death and doom aesthetics without completely abandoning the heightened sense of melody and rock influence that their more recent efforts have endeavored. The cover art here is wonderful if simple, and the subject matter intriguing, so all components are in place for a wondrous comeback...if only the music can deliver.

Sadly, the luster of this new work begins to dull when it comes to the effectiveness of the music itself. Considering the massive effort the band put into the production, which monolithic walls of guitars, synthesizer and Efthimis Karadimas' harsh, charismatic barking, one might have hoped for an orgasm of memorable riffing that would finally, at long last, deliver this deserving band out among the masses who have yet to appreciate their fairly rich back catalog. To be fair, this is not hard on the ears, each piece a symphonic condensation of every motif Nightfall holds true. Tracks like "Astronomica: Satwrnian Moon" and the resonant "Asebeia" carry more than their share of splendors, but even these are not exciting enough or enduring to really call back the ear. "Astron Black" is a competent melodic black metal piece with the expected driving, glorious guitars, but the patterns feel familiar and not exactly compelling.

In the end, the band's mesh of components resembles the Italian band Stormlord's recent ouput Mare Nostrum, only Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants is just not as effective when it comes to the track by track staying power. With each arching wave of potency that the guitars here seem to promise, an adequate climax just never seems to arrive. The musicianship is taut and balanced in the mix, especially the drums and the exchange of synthesizer and guitar, but I never felt as knocked over as I should have been. The most interesting tracks are probably "Proxima Centawri/Dead Bodies", due to its mix of subtle, melodic death and glorious orchestral indulgence, and the measured heaving of "The Criterion", but even these and the raging lead-in video song "Ambassador of Mass" did not pummel or impress me into the level of submission I expected.

Ultimately, this is one of those albums which shall be dubbed 'just good enough' not to wallow below the line in the sand that is frustrated mediocrity. For glorious, huge panoramic displays of orchestrated studio wizardry that blend the bombast of a Dimmu Borgir with the more recent Septic Flesh efforts, I'm not sure you have many options outside of this, but if you're seeking more than just an enormous, substantial wall of rapidly fading wonders, your journey will not end here.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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