Nightbringer - Hierophany of the Open Grave [Season Of Mist - 2011]The perhaps inanely named US black metal band Nightbringer released their third full length, "Hierophany of the Open Grave" in 2011, an earnest attempt to create a dense, cerebral epic within the black metal idiom. They bring a polish and class to their craft which few in the genre possess, something that could potentially turn off fans of DIY or stripped down black metal.
Much of the modern black metal scene has diverged significantly from its roots, exploring the minimalist ambient fringes on one end of the spectrum, and delving into the genre's stripped down thrash influences on the other. This, what some call 'orthodox black metal', falls directly in the middle, closer to many of the genre's progenitors.
Nightbringer continues revisiting the glories of albums like "In the Nightside Eclipse", aping Emperor's unique mix of punkish ferocity, majestic ('emperial') arrogance and loftiness, and complex, classically informed songwriting. Unlike Emperor, they are clearly neither European nor classically trained, and the result is significantly less cohesive and orchestrated, as well as less adventurous. But to even approach the imposing presence of Emperor takes great technique and charisma.
Nightbringer is very focused on songwriting, almost to the detriment of the performance, which is note-perfect but at times lacks character. The two guitarists remain the most prominent element in the music, and also the most successful. They weave massive tapestries of atonal melancholy, great cathedrals of ascending and descending lines resonating with an arcane logic. Their tremolo picking never ceases nor slows, and they really turn this style of playing into an expressive art unto itself. Devilish odd intervals are structured into an infernal system. Fleeting moments remind me of Romantic symphonies (again, not as often as with Emperor).
Furthermore, they have an intuitive sense of how long to repeat and develop a riff before a tempo change, and keep things groove centric and memorable / digestable. The band prefers a mid paced dirge-like rhythm, it would seem, as I had a sense that the slower sections outnumbered the fast by the time album ended. Plodding monsters like "Psychagogoi", "The Gnosis of Inhumation" and "The Angel of Smokeless Fire" (which has a nice organ sound, making it a real dirge) are the meat of the album.
Every track is absolutely solid and provides a lot of food for thought. The first track is a cliched but quite powerful introduction, the traditional black metal invocation with a thunderous drum, soon joined by chanting in rhythmic delayed patterns. "Dreaming Above the Sepulcher" is probably the most ambitious thing here, a through-composed scalar meandering of guitar melodies that swells from nothing and repeats very little, rising consistently over its 5 minutes.
I must say the ending, "Old Night", is anti-climactic, since there's nothing particularly more 'final' about it than any other track on the record; everything here was already made to sound apocalyptic and urgent, and they fail to kick it up a notch here. The track ends in a dull fade out, and I find myself thinking, "that's it?". I'm surprised they didn't do something more grandiose for the finale, considering this hour long album is quite the large-scale composition.
The vocals are oratorical in style, a disdainful spitting of wordy poetic phrases hurled in a speaking rhythm over the blast beating. The style of delivery never changes, and it's not really unique, but the singer makes himself powerfully heard at several key moments on the record. The lyrics, while great on paper, seem somewhat overthought and garbled in their meanings within the context of the music.
The band's bravado is ultimately their undoing. All the aggression and pomposity has really stifled the true sadness and vulnerability that often comes out in black metal. In other words, this album is much closer to the sound of the armies of Satan on the march than the tortured lament of an estranged misanthrope. They keep a certain emotional distance, and there's not much for me to relate to here, unless I really try hard to listen through the band's self-imposed image. My enjoyment of the album is more intellectual than emotional.
Conclusively, this is an album for black metal nerds and guitar players who like to delve into the details of dissonant sonorities of tremolo picked lines. If you're not already a fan of black metal, you will almost inevitably think all the songs on this hour long record sound much the same, both to each other and to other black metal, and to a large extent this is true. Nightbringer treads little new ground with "Hierophany of the Open Grave", but for fans of the genre it's certainly a polished and complete opus, with a lot of potential replay value. If you're a guitarist, increase my rating to 4/5.