Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nolentia - May the Hand that Holds the Match that Will Set This World on Fire Be Blessed Above All

Nolentia’s “May the Hand...” is an album that is as musically tight as its title isn’t. At around a half hour long the French death metal/grindcore band offers up a surprising amount of interesting ideas in a well-focused package. Even with only 4 of the 17 songs cracking the two minute mark, the band manages to blend ideas and entire songs well with one another, completely avoiding the feeling that can happen with such releases where it seems like a band has just a handful of unrelated ideas. By the time you near the work’s end and hear “The glorious march of progress” you can really notice this overwhelming sense of cohesion through the separate songs. This cohesion continues on to the very end of the album because of how well the latter songs meld in with the one another. A strong flow like this makes for really effective pacing, which isn’t always easy to achieve with 17 different songs in such a relatively short time. Even earlier in the album the band pays keen attention to timing, “Encoded” flows perfectly into “Wright” and the mid-section songs are a slightly slower middle act to give the listener a brief reprieve from the churning violence.

With a clear sense for songwriting Nolentia has no use for gimmicks or ornate musical ideas, “May the Hand...” is interesting simply because it is crushing and has meaty riffs. Nothing here will be overwhelmingly original or groundbreaking, its just good. Strongest among all songs on the album, “Et in acedia ego” pulls no punches when it comes to that eminently important meatiness factor. Screeching unhinged guitar riffs that pull away from a thick percussive bass that is crunchy enough to not need the guitars anyway. Other bands take note, this is how a bass with facial hair sounds. I only wish that the bass player was more inclined to speak up in the other songs since it sounds so damn awesome. This don’t need to include attempts to get fancy, but it would be nice to hear something like having the guitars go a bit higher every so often in order let the bass have a temporary dictatorship over the low-end.

In “Et in acedia ego,” as elsewhere on the album, you can hear how focused the band is on strong rhythms and downbeats. Occasionally, “May the Hand...” has the drums choke out this rhythmic sense by being too busy and concealing the natural punch some of the melodies have. This is a mix between too must blasting and keeping the same beat while the riffs change in rhythm. Usually though the drums, guitars, and especially vocals all line up together to unleash a battery of music. It is pummeling, which should be unsurprising given that there is a predominance of grindcore influence, although songs sometime structurally feel hinged around death metal ideas. Take for example “The boiling frog principle” which doesn’t have an abundance of mostly death metal riffs, yet still feels like it due to very first riff and the jagged transitions throughout.

One significant weakness is the upper register vocals. These higher pitched yips are really grating and whiney, but nothing unusual for the style. Despite not liking how they sounded I still appreciated how Nolentia varied the vocal styles while keeping an eye on balance. Switching off one style to another and then screaming together can be much more interesting than a more monotonous approach. Even with one of the voices being fairly poor, the two combined simultaneously manage to be stronger than either individually. Fortunately, when there is only one vocal line the gutturals effectively dominate as they often carry a melody rather than only a rhythmic punch. Moreover, the gutturals are much thicker and have more musical presence so anytime they appear it is much more noticeable. The higher vocals in contrast are dynamically flat and partly like they are the product of studio magic, there isn’t a sense of strain or volume in their delivery.

Nolentia closes off the album with “The second principle,” which unsurprisingly could be thought of as the second half of “Better” because they transition so well despite the closing track being much slower than the rest of the music. Another strong part of “The second principle” is how it has such a powerful sense of finality. The slow and steady tempo helps create a stability to bring the ending into focus, tremolo picked notes make a wall of sound that even out the rest of the album’s rhythmic thrashing. Best of all is the very ending, as things get progressively louder and distorted there is no questioning that this is the crushing finale. Not personally being into shorter songs, I didn’t think I would like this much. While the longer songs were on average stronger, this is really just coincidence because so many of the songs seamlessly meld together. This is an album with enough direction to almost make it narrative. Nolentia has a bright future and would be excellent if they allowed the bass take the lead more often, eased up on the drums, and worked on the higher pitched vocals. This would help the band’s songwriting swell up to the musical size the band deserves.

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