In my first year of reviewing under the lofty banner of AMG (which features Immortal Mona Lisa brandishing a sociology textbook), one of the more unusual albums to hit my Metal Desk was Nightfall‘s Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants. Those Greek freaks created a dizzying mix of black, death, doom, gothic and symphonic metal that was as compelling as it was unpredictable. The writing was crisp, the songs were interesting, it left me interested in hearing more, and finally, they’ve gotten around to the follow-up. Cassiopeia is their ninth platter and though they’ve undergone all sorts of changes to their sound over their long and mostly underappreciated career, this time they retain the same core sound from Astron Black. However, the writing is a bit less eclectic and all over the place. Most of the songs orbit the same general style, but within each song they gleefully cut and paste different genres into the riff-work, while tossing in some oddball elements here and there as well. This ultimately makes for a tighter, more cohesive (and heavier) album that still has plenty of fluctuating styles and influences to enjoy. While they had a certain similarity to countrymen Septic Flesh before, its more obvious now, though they’re like the lighter, “diet” version (now featuring more Kale!). They also incorporate elements of Moonspell‘s weirdness and a fair amount of old Amorphis (think Karelian Isthmus old) and classic Mercyful Fate in the riffing, which is NEVER a bad thing. In fact, it helps make this a GOOD thing!
The bulk of the songs are based around a mid-tempo chug which Nightfall propels along with a collection of riffs ranging from blackened trems to NWOBHM, doom and epic/Viking style. The way they stitch all the influences together seamlessly is what makes this such an enjoyable listen. Opener “Phaethon” rumbles along with punchy, simple riffing and a Gothenburg sensibility, then adds in understated symphonics and a vague Septic Flesh sense of ritual music and it works well. “Oberon and Titania” introduces corkscrewing death metal riffs and blast beats amid creepy, twinkling piano, trem riffs and super melodic, graceful lead work that could be on a prog rock album or Omnium Gatherum‘s New World Shadows. On paper, it should sound like big stew of disaster, but it actually sounds concise and precise.
Other high points (there are many) include the collection of high-class and diverse riffs making up “Stellar Parallax”; the Amon Amarth Viking riffing mixed with Irreligious era Moonspell song structures and mood in “Hubris”; the doomy riffs sitting alongside NWOBHM guitar-work during “The Reptile Gods”; the unexpected Euro-power glory that erupts during the epic flavored “The Sand Reckoner”; and the battle-ready riffing running all over the huge closer “Astropolis.”
None of the songs fail (though “Colonize Cultures” is a tad dull), and this is one of the best, most consistent collections of mega riffy, guitar-driven songs I’ve heard in a while and the more you play it, the more it hits you. You’ll also notice more and more little details and nuances as you get familiar with the songs. The best material is actually on the back half, so its one of the rare albums that gets better and better as it rolls along. I didn’t think this would end up better than Astron Black the first time I spun it, but by the third time, it was indeed better.
Most of the riffs churned out by Evan Hensley and Constantine are fairly straight-forward and direct, but they throw so many at you per song and more often than not, they stick in your head. The leads and solos pack a lot of feeling and emotion and fit the mood of the songs perfectly. The constant changing of styles keeps things flowing and interesting and the off and on use of symphonics is a great touch that, while used in moderation, works to maximum effect. The vocals by Efthimis Karadimas jump between death croaks, clean, baritone singing and semi-blackened cackles, but he doesn’t go from maximum extremity. He often reminds me of Moonspell‘s Fernando Ribeiro and his style works with the melodic song craft. Everything just seems to gel together and all the pieces fit just so.
Nightfall seems to be a dark horse band, but this album may change that for them. You may never have heard these guys, but its high time you do. This is a mighty well-written slab of genre bending and it’s surprisingly memorable to boot. If you like Septic Flesh and Moonspell and appreciate a lot of varying influences in your music, this is a must hear. A great start to the new year and hopefully an omen of good things to come in 2013. Gyros and moustaches for all!!