Friday, May 25, 2012

Nightmare - The Burden Of God (2012)

With a career that spans three decades, starting in 1979, France's Nightmare weren't always the most tight knit unit. After two full length efforts, a long, musically induced hiatus tore the band apart, then brought them back together in 1999. With a fresh start, and a new found approach to their take on traditional heavy metal, the five piece returned better than ever. On their new album, "The Burden Of God," they tread in familiar waters, but with new twists. Classic metal tone, with a more modern dynamic, rolled into eleven booming tracks.

The short, orchestra loaded opening track, "Gateways To The Void," raises the curtain on this play, with violins darting and weaving in and around one another. Woodwinds and brass enter, forming a thunderous level of sound and fury. A deep, resounding voice calls to you, telling you that "your destiny is far worse than any nightmare," thus plunging you head first into "Sunrise In Hell." That same symphonic elements ties the two tracks together, greeted with the loud thud of kick drums. Frontman Jo Amore gives you grit and grace, all in the same breath. The way his voice carries over the battery of drums and thrashing guitars is astonishing, reminiscent of Tobias Sammet. Melodies abound, with strategically placed riffs leading the way. What follows is the title track, one that has all of the weight and power of classic thrash. High speed chugging guitars ride the wave of a methodical bass line, pounded forward by the relentless barrage from behind the drum kit. But, admittedly, all of that seems somehow overshadowed by a short, but detail oriented solo. There is something at play here that is special, a rolling gallop that keeps your head moving and your ears tingling.

It would be easy to focus on the big picture in "Crimson Empire," but the subtleties that pop in and out in the opening are enough to encourage a deeper listen. Amore's voice can carry any load, it would seem, giving you the best that he has time and again, joined at the hip to a expertly crafted rhythm and lead section. The song remains catchy, without have a watered down feel to its delivery, a victory in and of itself. With a more dense approach, "Children Of The Nation" may be a standout, for better or worse. Musically, it is a bruiser, bringing the distortion and solid percussion at every turn. There is certainly a darker edge, both to the music and lyrics, however empowering they might be. But the short vocal hook that exits the chorus is a tad strange, and its presence seems to take you back. Guitarists Matt Asselberghs and Franck Milleliri get things back on track with a brilliant solo section, just in time to coast to a finish. And while "The Preacher" relies heavily on the spoken word, this is not to say it lacks in any musical department. Instrumentals set the mood, whether it be through soft, delicately played guitars, the stray electronic input or a muzak bearing horn. This isn't an interlude, despite the lengthy opening, but a punishing track of crushing drums and ominous tones.

While "Shattered Hearts" boasts a larger than life sound in the production, this is as intimate a track as you will find in metal today. The room shrinks, and you get the feeling that every word is being delivered to you and you alone. Even in the heavier moments, ripe with double kicks, and Amore's soaring vocals, have a more connected method to the madness. And with this flow, bassist Yves Campion shines through.This is a full band effort done to perfection. A heavy dose of symphonic elements creeps back into "The Doomsday Prediction," without being overbearing or chaotic. Instead, each instrumental piece adds to the mood conveyed in the title alone. This is a track that balances darkness with light, hopelessness with hope. It harkens back to the Judas priest effort, "Nostradamus," in the subject matter, without it seeming stilted or forced as the Priest effort did at times. Even some deathly spoken words appear, only to be obliterated by a lightning fast solo. By far the longest track on the album,"The Dominion Gate (Part III)" is every bit the epic masterpiece you would expect. Featuring a guest vocal spot from Magali Luyten, the track roars through breakdowns and beautifully constructed verse/chorus segues. An addition of more rich symphonics is the icing on the proverbial cake, taking things to an entirely higher level.

An eerie opening to "Final Outcome" fades in, before a triumphant eruption of guitars and drums. There is a subdued nature to the instrumental at first, allowing Amore to build his voice, and tell the story without being overridden by a harsh backing. This is a power metal track at heart, a "fist in the air" affair that gives you that special feeling downstairs. In the pit of your stomach, that is. The combination of his voice with the mechanical precision of the guitar work ignites a fire that burns fast and bright, escaping through nimble fingers in an electric solo portion. And what better way to go out than with a bang? "Afterlife" wastes no time, exploding with catchy riffs, and, arguably, the most intoxicating vocal hook the album has to off.  For a closer, This might not hold a candle to the intricate pieces that preceded it, but it serves a purpose as the summation to everything that came before.

Usually when someone utters the phrase "age is only a number," it is to avoid statutory charges, or convince themselves that they are not too young or too old for anything. But when it comes to metal, that phrase rings true, and Nightmare are the perfect example. Some 33 years after coming into existence, they may have released an album that could be mentioned in the same breath as their seminal releases. Maybe it isn't time for the new generation to be handed the torch of metal. Hell, after hearing "The Burden Of God," you may have to pry the flame out of the collective hand of all five members of France's power metal powerhouse.


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