|Cover art by David Herrerias.|
Esoteric and enigmatic are obviously words and concepts embedded in the vernacular and culture of black metal. Chiefly because seemingly every band from the sub-genre would have us believe they are either one or both. However, if all a band is really doing is dispensing the same old B-grade Satanist schlock, then calling yourself esoteric or enigmatic is not only a suspect claim but also evidence of a complete misunderstanding of the nature of both concepts.
Esoteric and enigmatic aren't defined by hackneyed ‘more evil than evil’ histrionics, because both entail far deeper and often cryptic levels of knowledge being conveyed. Even if you don’t agree that there are supernatural beings at work, you’d know those bands that are truly esoteric and enigmatic because they’re the ones communicating a profound sense of enlightenment; no matter how tenebrous and terrifying that enlightenment may be. Those bands make you want to believe by releasing darkly devotional music that is overwhelming in its presence.
You can find that presence, and all that genuine esoteric, enigmatic, and diabolic glorification in the works of Colorado-based Nightbringer. The band’s arcane sonic artistry demands a level of consideration and investigation that exceeds stock standard theatrics, and Nightbringer was expressly created as a, “conduit for the contemplations on the mysteries of death as it is understood in the tradition of the art magical”.
Of course, that’s all well and good (or well and wicked, if you prefer), but plenty of other bands would claim to be voicing the magical and mysterious too. What makes Nightbringer’s claim valid is that the band’s releases have exhibited no shallowness or overworked play-acting. Nightbringer has remained firmly fixed on taking the climate of darkness that underscores our lives and amplifying and manifesting that through powerful and transformative expressions.
In essence, Nightbringer doesn’t speak of the mysteries of the great beyond in the abstract. The band directly communes with those nebulousness forces beyond the veil, beckoning them into being in the here and now. That’s been the case since the band’s first full-length, 2008’s Death and the Black Work, it’s right there in 2010’s Apocalypse Sun too, and more than evident in the band’s many split and demo releases.
Their last full-length, 2011’s Hierophany of the Open Grave, was a magnificent achievement in summoning a gnawing and malevolent presence. The album was dense and grandiose, and exhibited more complex and sophisticated songwriting. The swirling and dissonant chaos of orthodox Nordic black metal met the exploratory mettle of esteemed bands like Dødsengel, Deathspell Omega, or Blut Aus Nord. And Nightbringer’s scorched-black tremolo storms, bitter vocals, and technically masterful passages were all set within an orchestral framework.
What made Hierophany of the Open Grave so effective and captivating was that its aura lingered long after it was finished. Combine that with the album's strong sense of transcending the normative and a conjuring of the extramundane, and it seemed as if Hierophany of the Open Grave was going to sit in Nightbringer’s oeuvre as the band’s defining release.
At least, that was the case until their latest album, Ego Dominus Tuus arrived. Ego Dominus Tuus brings more of the same bone-chilling and pitch-black menace that Hierophany of the Open Grave possessed, but there’s even more to admire in Nightbringer’s ability to evoke the unholiest of atmospheres in the most reverential fashion.
That sense of veneration isn’t surprising. All of Nightbringer’s releases have praised the darkness, and in a recent Decibel interview multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Naas Alcameth compared the band’s compositional approach to a mason constructing a cathedral. There’s no more apt a description for the awe that Ego Dominus Tuus inspires than that. Because, as Alcameth pointed out, Nightbringer’s songs are cathedrals of sound – meticulously constructed edifices extolling the virtues of the band’s chosen Lord.
On Ego Dominus Tuus you’ll find intricate craftsmanship and a sense of worship imbued in every note on tracks like “Lantern of Eden's Night” and “Things Which Are Naught”. Both songs are iniquitous prayers, rich with symbolism, and attuned to stir the soul into action. But then, you could say the very same about the enshrouding darkness of “I Am the Gatewayy”, “The Witchfires of Tubal Qayin”, and epic album closer, “The Otherness of Being”.
All of Ego Dominus Tuus’ tracks are forceful incantations in their own right. All contain elements both ferocious and dynamic. And even the more ambient crawl of “Call of the Exile” still embodies the feel of apocalyptic times fast approaching. Any track from the album taken in isolation serves its purpose well – erasing the boundary between this existence and more unearthly realms. Yet, taken as a whole, the 70-minutes of Ego Dominus Tuus also serves as a breathtaking ceremonial suite, where performance and spiritual practice are one.
There is no separation of art and invocation on Ego Dominus Tuus. The album’s impassioned riffs, interweaving vocal lines, and swells of keyboards drive a sinister and symphonic saga forward, but what Ego Dominus Tuus never feels is overlong or melodramatic. That’s not to say the album isn’t dramatic or even bombastic in parts, because you don’t a create a release like Ego Dominus Tuus without having grand plans, and you don’t tear a rift in reality without a sense of extravagant gesturing. Also, Nightbringer are clearly a band that admires classical compositions, so the album is charged with momentous musical and emotional surges.
However, Ego Dominus Tuus is never too exaggerated. Nightbringer tell a tale that is impressively ornate, yet never overblown. Every riff, melody, harsh vocal passage, and beat of the drum has been expertly arranged to evoke exactly what is needed. It’s a considered approach by Nightbringer, one threaded through a cacophony that is savage and ungodly, but always mindful of its overarching purpose.
Ultimately, Ego Dominus Tuus baptizes all in triumphant and diabolic liturgies. Nightbringer is fervent and unnervingly intense throughout the album, and whether you’re a believer or not, the band’s devotion to the dark arts is certainly a testament to its convictions. Ego Dominus Tuus sets a new benchmark for Nightbringer, and for any likely contender for the esoteric and enigmatic USBM crown.
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