It’s time to come clean. While I (and many of my colleagues) have been blithering on in our writings about how 2016 has been a fantastic year for — insert subgenre here — metal, I must admit that this year has been a bit underwhelming for me. Not in terms of the sheer number of quality releases, mind you, but rather in the notable dearth of legitimate surprises. Khemmis, Vektor, and Anaal Nathrakh all released fantastic albums, you say? Gee, never saw that coming! But who’s going to fill my need for symphonic low-fi industrial blackened avant-garde proto-post-modern power metal!? Probably no one, but in a year defined by excellent, long-running acts predictably sticking to their guns, I’ve been craving a few curveballs hurled at the established genres. Australia’s doom/black/death metal hybrid The Loom of Time is one such curveball. After only a year of existence, can they possibly knock it out of the park with their debut LP NihilReich?
Well, not quite, but they come pretty close. The Loom of Time primarily finds their footing in doom, riding mid-paced tempos with a hard rock groove a la Cathedral. The death metal element of NihilReich is fairly subdued, relegated large to the chunky, driving down-tuned rhythm guitar work, but TLoT’s blackened and melodic leanings are what really lend them a unique identity. Plodding doom rhythms can be blown away at any moment by barrages of blastbeats and melodic tremolo runs that smack of Dissection, or can be elevated by soaring lead guitar harmonies that expose their reverence for Iron Maiden. This unpredictability is the beating heart of NihilReich; it comes across as the first steps of a band that excel at collaboration through songwriting, pooling their diverse influences into a formula that’s as deliberate as it is novel.
While NihilReich is a mostly engaging record, it, unfortunately, succumbs to debut album syndrome in regards to songwriting. I challenge you to find a single riff or melody on this record that is returned to even once after the band moves on from it. You won’t find one. This ambitious approach to TLoT’s constructions leaves me conflicted. On one hand, it’s admirable to see a young band totally dwarf Metallica’s riff count on their recent double album in a comparatively scant thirty-four minutes, but on the flip side, this means that these tracks constantly meander and lack any semblance of a discernible structure. Admittedly this occasionally gives the songs an epic feel, but TLoT could definitely benefit from a few reprised hooks to lend their compositions some shape. It also feels as though singer and guitarist Matthew Ratcliffe has yet to find a vocal style that works for him; his low, raspy cleans are serviceable but lack range and his gurgly growls are completely decipherable yet strained, as though Mikael Stanne were badly in need of a lozenge.
Continuing with the Dark Tranquillity comparisons, TLoT’s lyrics are soaked with a distinctly pervasive cynicism. You wouldn’t perceive this attitude through the instrumentals alone, though, because, despite the ceaseless tide of blunt societal criticisms, NihilReich revels in its diversity and experimentation. The first five tracks (of six total) are all highlights in this regard; “The Cries of the Weak” is notable for laying on the doom elements especially heavy and for rocking a wonderfully bluesy solo, while “The Peons of the Cosmos” sports a fantastically catchy, post-black tinged chorus. The only disappointment is closing track “The Fight For the Subhuman,” which is solid yet underwhelmingly straightforward doom. Regardless of whatever genre TLoT is playing at any given point, you’d better like it loud, because that’s all you’re going to get. NihilReich’s tones are heavy and the mix is good despite the buried bass, but everything is so cranked that the sound can become muddled during the album’s busier moments.
Production woes and songwriting flubs aside, The Loom of Time has crafted in NihilReich a refreshingly original debut that takes a unique approach to genre-bending. It’s not a surprise last-minute year-end list shatterer to these ears, but with the way they effortlessly balance melody with aggression, this should be a band that nearly any metal fan can find something to enjoy in. TLoT is a group to keep an eye on and considering they achieved something of this scope on their freshman outing, I’m eager to see the path they take from here. You should probably be on board.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Aeternitas Tenebrarum Musicae Fundamentum
Websites: theloomoftime.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/TheLoomofTime
Releases Worldwide: December 2nd, 2016