Nightbringer – Apocalypse Sun
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Production matters. It is part of what the listener hears, aside from music, and can make or break a record. In the case of Nightbringer's Apocalypse Sun (The AJNA Offensive/Avantgarde, 2010), it doesn't break the record, though it colors it to the point of distraction.
Apocalypse Sun sounds expensive: clean and compressed, with much separation between instruments. For mainstream metal, the sound would be appropriate, but for underground black metal, it is problematic. The incessant kick drums suggest a sewing machine, and the relentless tremolo picking is too clearly defined. The result is tense and neurotic, like the spotless home of an OCD sufferer. If this record were a painting, it would be a pointillist one, except that the points rarely coalesce into unities.
Yet the production works on a certain level, that of laying bare the music. Every pick stroke is audible and perfect. Mighty technical chops are evident. I don't know if Nightbringer still compose music on piano, then transcribe it for guitar, as they did several years ago, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were still true. The tonalities are dissonant, full of criss-crossing lines. Sometimes they reach regal climaxes, for which the clear production is apt. In relentlessness and harmonic sophistication, Nightbringer recall Krallice.
Unlike Krallice, however, they are Black Metal in capital letters. Apocalypse Sun is orthodox black metal; as such, it worships Satan through a dense forest of what seems to be Kabbalah-derived terminology. (Averse Sefira come to mind.) The esoteric subject matter demands a more shrouded musical presentation. Thankfully, that presentation already exists: Nightbringer's previous record, Death and the Black Work. Its recording has more dirt and darkness. The pick strokes form lines that tighten and loosen, sometimes plunging into abyssal depths. While Apocalypse Sun is plenty interesting - I could see the Kronos Quartet playing it - it lacks such depths.