Natur have been getting a lot of attention lately. Vice magazine has taken a shine to them, and Fenriz of Darkthrone recently named them his “band of the week” and invited them to play his personally curated Live Evil festival. Formed in 2008 and based in New York, Natur refer to themselves as as “old metal,” that brand of heavy metal that hearkens back to a time before there were really genre definitions, when the music was about just fun, high energy, riff-driven heavy songs. Natur reach back to that, attempting to channel the historical moment and really embody it rather than merely throw on a retro patina.
In this, they succeed. Their debut full-length, Head of Death, is full of galloping rhythms lead by the hammer-and-tongs drumming. The strong guitar leads and power chords, as many hooks and catchy elements as a porcupine’s quill. There is nothing new in the compositions, or even anything particularly exciting, but Natur compose songs that fit perfectly into the aesthetic they are reaching for, so they do reach in their goal.
Beyond that, I am not sold on their particular mystique. The songs are long; lead/title track “Head of Death” is a full eight and a half minutes, and the final song “Mutations in Maine” (also probably the strongest on the album) is seven and a half as well. This does allow songs the time to develop, to flesh out the narrative, but can also result in their feeling drawn out. There is definitely some dross that could have been cut, so that the tracks could be made tighter and leaner, and kept from wandering quite so much. The tempo also tends to be a bit slow, especially in the middle of songs like “Spider Baby” where the son grinds to a plod before picking up speed again. Natur are best at their most nimble, and when they drag their heels too much, the cracks in their aesthetic become more noticeable.
The weakest point on Head of Death is the vocals. The tone is thin, and singer Weibust has a hard time staying on pitch at times, electing for a spoken-word delivery intermixed with shouts. There is very little emotional investment in the vocals, increasing the sense that the singing is rather bare. There is the occasion bit of grit or tunefulness in the performance, but overall the vocals come across as groping and uncertain.
I can’t help but compare Natur to other revival bands of the classic heavy metal sound, such as Christian Mistress. Their songs are unquestionably old-school heavy metal as well, but the tone, the texture of the music was incredibly exciting, as were the complex lyrics and their delivery. Here, in an attempt to be as authentic as possible, Natur have missed out on opportunities for innovation and have instead succumbed to empty stylishness.
Natur nail the image, the shell of classic heavy metal, but there is something missing. With stock riffs and bland vocal delivery, Head of Death entertains without exciting. The band members play their instruments competently but without any great talent or even unique flair, and there is a mealy texture to the recording, so the album has a little flash but the sound but mostly comes across as kind of watery and flat. Natur seemed to aim very low in the making of this record, hoping to capture a historical genre, and they nail it spot on. But, right now in the present, can do so much more than this. Metal has transformed, so we should bring something new to the past. Musicians owe it to the time that has passed since 1982 to make use of all we have learned, to make the old new again, rather than simply revisiting it. In this, I think Natur can do so much more than what they have presented here.