Nightfall - _Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants_
(Metal Blade Records, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (9 out of 10)
I first got acquainted with Nightfall in the early summer of 1994. It seems as if it were yesterday when I went to the local record store, "In Yer Ear" (sadly long since out of business) when I bought Nightfall's _Parade Into Centuries_ (1992), Septic Flesh's _Mystic Places of Dawn_ (1994), and Marduk's _Those of the Unlight_ (1993). After a few weeks, I declared that _Those of the Unlight_ was boring, _Parade Into Centuries_ was just okay, and, save the use of the typical Greek-sounding drum-machine, _Mystic Places of Dawn_ was plain awesome. But this review is about Nightfall, and not Septic Flesh (a.k.a. Septicflesh).

A year or so later, a good friend of mine lent me the second Nightfall album, _Macabre Sunsets_, which to me employed the use of a really crappy drum-machine -- or at least it sounded like one to me. I thought the album was pretty good, though I could not get past the really, really bad drum sound (still to this day it sounds like a drum machine, but I guess you never can tell). Regarding the song composition, there was something disjointed about the arrangements and the use of those bombastic, orchestra-style keyboards that later became a hallmark of France's Misanthrope. It wasn't until October 1995, when I picked up Nightfall's _Athenian Echoes_, that I became a bona fide Nightfall fan. This album, to me, was progressive, avant-garde (but not bordering too artsy), and really innovative for the time. I loved the use of Mediterranean-sounding melodies, interesting clean vocals, and those super-fast blast beats (and, again, I still can't tell whether they used a drum-machine on this album -- even though they claim not to have) juxtaposed with slow atmospheric guitar passages.

Unfortunately, though, everything Nightfall put out after _Athenian Echoes_ was terrible. _Lesbian Show_ (1997) was a horrible attempt to follow Sentenced in their newfound love for gothic metal. Much in line with _Lesbian Show_, the EPs_Anthems of the Night_ , _Electronegative_, and the full-length _Diva Futura_ (all from 1999) were more examples of how the band further distanced themselves from their death metal roots, and turned more toward a strange, uninspired gothic metal approach. _I Am Jesus_ from 2003 had a few interesting moments here and there, but not enough to sustain my interest in the band. For some reason I decided to pick up a copy of _Lyssa: Rural Gods and Astonishing Punishments_ when it came out in 2004, but this, too, ended up being a really bad album. That they recruited the technical wizardry and dynamism of George Kollias on the aforesaid album still couldn't sway my decision that it was a really boring, lacklustre attempt at avant-garde, progressive metal.

Well, six years into the future Nightfall are back again with an new album entitled _Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants_. At first I thought, "bah, forget it; that album's going to be crap -- guaranteed"; however, when I saw that they recently signed with Metal Blade Records, I decided to give it a try. And, seriously, I wasn't disappointed. This album is great. Honestly, I thought it would never happen, but this album picks up right where _Athenian Echoes_ left off -- no kidding. As a result of recruiting new blood, namely a new guitar player and drummer, this band is back on track. From start to finish, _Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants_ is an excellent example of progressive, catchy and melodic death metal. If I have to draw a comparison, I would say that this is _Athenian Echoes_ part 2, infused with the melodic flare of _Colony_ era In Flames.

In terms of vocals, Mr. Karadimas has reverted to his tried and true mid-range growl -- almost exactly as it was on _Athenian Echoes_. There are some songs which feature a more gothic oriented clean vocal approach; and while some may find this style a little annoying, I think it works -- only in small doses, though. Just listen to the song "Astra Planeta: We Chose the Sun" to see what I mean.

Inasmuch as this is progressive, melodic death metal, there's quite a bit of good old-fashioned tremolo picking throughout _Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants_. There aren't too many solos on this record, but the few that you'll find are inspired by melodic heavy metal; and, coupled with the melodic rhythm work, this infuses some of the songs with some excellent and catchy melodies (this is evidenced especially on the first song, "Astron Black"). The drumming is solid and measured, and not overly complicated or fast in terms of timing or style; however, the last song "Epsilon Lyrae", actually incorporates a nice and steady blastbeast at the beginning. While this song is good, I really disliked the "carnival style" (cf. Dimmu Borgir or _Nexus Polaris_ era The Covenant) synth orchestration that accompanies the blastbeat. As such, I think the song would have been that much stronger without it, but that's just my personal opinion. The synths definitely are not upfront on this release, as they are for bands such as Kalmah, but they do appear in every song (for the most part they add that extra edge of atmosphere and drama).

What I wanted to bring particular attention to is the over production and mix of this album -- which is flawless. Each instrument shines through the mix, leaving no competition between vocals, bass, guitar, drums or synths. What I like most, though, is the drum sound. The toms, bass-drums and cymbals are perfect; they don't sound digitally processed or enhanced at all (certainly no triggers), and actually have a nice analogue feel to them.

Since this review is getting a little on the long side, I'll bring it to a close here. If you liked Nightfall's earlier releases, particularly _Athenian Echoes_, then you'll absolutely love this -- guaranteed. For those of you who aren't familiar with Nightfall's work, all I can say is that if you like progressive, melodic death metal with hints of atmospheric synths and clean vocals, then you'll probably enjoy _Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants_. Lastly, make sure to check out the cover artwork by Travis Smith, it's interesting, unique and really well done. This is one of the better covers I've seen this year, actually.


(article published 8/12/2010)

8/28/2003 P Azevedo 6 Nightfall - I Am Jesus
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