Nightbringer - _Hierophany of the Open Grave_
(Season of Mist, 2011)
by: Dan Lake (8 out of 10)
While most black metal packs itself tight enough to fit snugly inside a club (or a bedroom), Nightbringer's sophomore slaughter _Apocalypse Sun_ always struck me as arena black metal. Not that it would appeal to the population at large -- the only hooks on hand were the kind used for ritual disfigurement -- but the sheer hugeness of the sound was enough to darken stadiums and plunge them whole into the stinking, craggy abyss. Nothing about Nightbringer is crusty or concerned with flaying the corrupted corpus christianus; all their energy serves a dark reverence. No matter the blast speed, there's a measured certainty in the drawn, anguished rasps and icy tremolo chords that transcends mere stage presence, as if the Colorado natives had tunneled into the haunted Rockies and discovered an ancient cult of Balrog-worshipping orcs. And then joined. The ceremonial terror march continues on _Hierophany of the Open Grave_, the band's 2011 Season of Mist debut.

Nightbringer is that rare band that focuses equal intensity on instrumental mastery, detailed songcraft, and dark lyrical intent. Shrieking six-stringed demons billow out of the rank midrange muck. Drums plod, blast, and artfully accent each shift in tempo as a song requires. Each track builds its own structure and purpose, though for all that, telling one apart from another is, um, devilishly difficult. Liner notes credit vocalist Naas Alcameth with ambient compositions, which I can only assume are used as track intros or layers within the songs' dense construction, since nothing here creeps or haunts without being heavy as fuck. "Eater of the Black Lead" starts with pretty acoustics, then drives over listeners with a razor-wired steamroller. "The Angel of Smokeless Fire" floats in on organ keys and wind before smashing through both with bleak distortion, and penultimate track "Via Tortuosa" beckons with a Steve Von Till coda that later erupts into an electric zombie lurch.

Rather than submit to the varying demands of each song, vocals on every track trudge inexorably through the album's grim, esoteric manifesto. Even after staring at the full lyric text, it's hard to know what these straight-facers are on about. _Hierophany_ might describe the spiritual spelunking through which I might find my own darkened divinity, or its incantations might actually summon a soul-slurping Sixth Circle demon prince. The intended results are somewhat unclear. In either case, the Bible Belters won't be happy, and we can all get behind that, right?


(article published 1/11/2011)

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