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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Album Review: Nephelium – Coils of Entropy

by Mark Laffin

In the early days of death metal, there was really no other sound in the world of metal that rivaled its malevolence. Bands like Death, and Suffocation’s unmitigated exhibition of bone-crushing rhythms, demonic growls and terrifying imagery really was the pinnacle of musical extremism. Since this era, metal bands have found new and innovative ways to effectively instill their listeners with feelings of shock and terror. Rather than rely solely on sheer brutality in their sound, bands from some other metal scenes have managed to create vivid soundscapes that genuinely invoke fear and unease, all with deliberate use of the right atmospherics. Bands espousing a more artistic approach to creating dark and frightful tones and moods, have at times caused the death metal scene to appear more comical or tongue-in-cheek, thus rendering it less intimidating. One particular niche which can be credited with raising the bar against the first wave of death metal, is the Norwegian black metal scene. The death metal camp would continue to stand its ground with its own Gothenburg scene and followers, which went a different direction to infuse the traditional death sound with elements of melody and vast technical prowess over simple ferocity. However, this eventually led to a more compartmentalized series of marketable sub-genres in the way of metalcore and such. So with Nephelium’s debut, it’s refreshing to see a band exploiting some of the classic components of the original death metal sound and still sound relentlessly brutal and unnerving without coming off as gimmicky.


The band’s sincerity is perhaps punctuated by the fact that they hail from none other than Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. In a region of the world which is known to be very conservative and guarded against such extreme Western culture, Dubai is actually one of the more liberally minded urban centers in the area, and perhaps serves as viable launch pad of sorts for cultural dissent. However, the band’s geographic and ethnic background does not surface itself in the music. Listening to these songs gives an impression of a group of kids growing up on a steady diet of Deicide and Cannibal Corpse. The vocals are mostly hellishly guttural, interspersed with occasional Carcass-like shrieks and screams. While on the surface, the band avails a very classic American death metal ethic, there is actually much more lurking in the shadows. Although this record will give many death metal traditionalists much to celebrate, there are many shades of progressive ambition and technical precision that clearly stand out here. Most of the songs exceed 5 minutes, and all showcase an impressive display of multi-faceted song structures. To the casual listener, the most prominent qualities will likely be the scathing vocals and crushing riffs. However, a closer listen will reveal immense layers of complexities in the arrangements, not to mention a constant rotation of time signatures.

The most endearing virtue of this recording is how it builds such an industriously mechanical framework built on elaborate guitar patterns and compounded rhythms which are so meticulously arranged, yet still maintains a grassroots level spirit that does not compromise utter savagery and retains pure aggression as the main focal point. To offer an exaggerated analogy, imagine if Bruce Springsteen made a concept album with the grandiose schematic design of Rush, but with the songwriting still managing to identify with blue-collar America. It can be fair to state that conceding to such musical indulgences while keeping to your true elemental graces can be a daunting project. The overall production style is likely one of the factors in conserving this delicate balance. Many bands of this ilk that embrace such technical extravagances are usually very cleanly produced, which will typically compromise their fundamental appeal in favor of marketability. Enabling somewhat of a crude element to the production quality here, it seems to take just the right amount of attention from the technical aspects, and maintains the importance of the ugliness of it all. The essence of this album is sincerely horrific, and fiercely bludgeons every bit of sonic space with its piercing malignancy. In other words, just what a good death metal record should be doing.

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