Friday, September 20, 2013

Nephren-Ka - The Fall of Omnius

Naturally any band that tackles Frank Herbert’s famous science fiction novel Dune as a lyrical theme is going sound simultaneously futuristic and sun-scorched, right? Wrong. Nephren-Ka’s “The Fall of Omnius” offers few musical clues to their lyrics and resists the urge to get gimmicky by conservatively sticking to the solid and well worn path of brutal death metal. Yes there are small bits here and there that act as arid desert invoking interludes, but this can be written off as Nile influences shining through. Moreover, the only moment that might suggest that the band is thinking about an interstellar fictional reality is the mechanical outro to “Feydakins storm,” which for a modern death metal album isn’t particularly unusual in the first place. So, while the band’s lyrics may be something a little different, the music is familiar enough to cause deja vu. The familiar sensation is a good one though, and the band’s deviation from expectations in no way detracts from the album’s quality. Nephren-Ka convincingly drums up good memories of at least a handful of other death metal bands in a way that draws from enough different places to keep it from feeling like they are copying anyone in particular.

Nephren-Ka is a band with a lot of potential, and this is more than just a nice way of pointing out that “The Fall of Omnius” isn’t the best album out there. One of the really strong points here is the overall album structure even when individual songs don’t share that strength. At around 43 minutes long, the album feels very tight and coherent because of how well they cross high and low intensity riffs throughout. Take for example how well the frenetic end of “Legend of selim (pt.1)” contrasts to the plodding and crushing start of “The rise of omnius.” Even that seemingly inconsequential mechanical outro on “Feydakins storm” was placed in just the right spot for the band to break up the overall pacing on the album. Coupling this with the aggressive start to “The cymek revolution” shows how well thought out the track ordering and intensity arch are. This is the kind of thought process that is absolutely necessary to create a great album. As noted above, the structural strengths don’t always pan out in each song. Sometimes riffs will linger on a little too long or awkwardly jut into the song like a nerd suddenly discussing the genera of house flies at a cool kid party. This makes it so that the songs are sometimes contradictorily too repetitive and yet disjointed.

When the band fumbles it sucks away a lot of the energy, but a fair amount of killer riffs make this easy to forgive. Throw in a modest serving of guitar solos on top of those riffs and you have yourself a death metal album. With the constant single-note tremolo picking and crunching power chords, the solos and faster flourishes refreshing use both sweeps and longer notes. The band does this without ever coming across as overly techy despite the fact that short clips of the band could be manipulated to make people think that they were listening to Origin. One staple of brutal death metal the band could have used more of is the interplay between raspy and guttural vocals. Given how often the riffs seem to get in repetitive funks, a dynamic vocal section can do wonders. Listen to how the band really pulls this off on “Praise shai-hulud” when the guitars basically just chug for a minute. Gutturals blend into the rhythm where the rasps blend into the melody, its awesome - why couldn’t Nephren-Ka spice things up like this more often? Respect the sandworm, the spice must flow!

In the closing track the band really gets their act together with well placed transitions and finally puts together a song with a strong sense of itself. About half way through, the band uses a breakdown as a prelude to heaviness - instead of a cheap gimmick, it lets the drummer breath and builds the intensity to a tremolo section that sounds a bit like blackened death metal. This is also an illuminating contrast because it shows how the lack of bridging riffs had stifled and suffocated the drummer; e.g. the part at around 2:13 into “Legend of selim (pt.1)” with the abrupt triplet feel solo. Using this as a closing track and having it as the longest also helps to make it a strong bookend for the album. While still a little inflated, the band takes the opportunity to remind everyone what’s happened so far. The popping bass alerts the listener to just how much this element has contributed to the band’s heaviness throughout the album. Towards the end we even get to hear some double-tracked guttural vocals that help maintain momentum through the song’s cyclical structure. “To the golden path” is important because it shows that the band can connect their ideas together within individual songs, even despite clearly being a final track. If the band can write an entire album like this, then they are set to improve on an all ready firm display of metal.

1 comment:

Orion M. said...

Great review. When I think of mechanical sounding death metal and dusty post-apocalyptic planetary exploration I think Fabricant did it best on their EP last year. Overall what we have here is what France is becoming known for - above average death metal that does little to push the envelope.