Papa Grymm once told me, when I was just a wee little kvlt tyke, “Son, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Also, clean your room. You’re an embarrassment to the Inner Circle.” Archon Vorskaath, mastermind behind the amorphous Greco-German black metal machine Zemial, is the posterchild of the DIY ethos, recording and performing all vocals, instruments, and sound effects, as well as releasing 2006’s In Monumentum, all by his own not-so-little lonesome over the last 20 plus-years, spawning two albums and handful of EPs. Vorskaath’s visionary trek continues with Nykta, Zemial’s third full-length and first for Hells Headbangers Records. While you must admire a man’s singular vision of musical dominance, and while there are a few caveats, it mostly does an awesome job.
The opening chug of “Ancient Arcane Scrolls” recalls a bit of classic Bathory/Celtic Frost worship with a bit of an Iron Maiden gallop, featuring some capable guitar playing and bass work. However, Vorskaath’s forte has always been behind the drumkit (I mean, have you seen him live? Dude ranks up there with Absu’s Proscriptor in the “I can drum and vocalize, thank you kindly” department), and he shows some jaw-dropping fills towards the middle of the song, all while utilizing his trademark “thrash-meets-Jaz-Coleman” rasp to great effect. “Under Scythian Command” is a no-holds barred straight-ahead blackened thrash attack, leaving in just under two-and-a-half minutes, and would kill in a live setting easily.
In fact, the first three tracks of Nykta would lead you to believe that this entire album is a throwback to classic early black metal, with some modern-day atmospherics thrown in for good measure. “In The Arms of Hades” would continue this trend until Vorskaath veers left off of Route 666 and into Mars about halfway through, tossing out some spacey keyboards, David Gilmour harmonies, and a general feeling that’s more “blacklight” than “black metal”. Although he would return to the blackened path on “Breath of Pestilence”, you can tell between “In the Arms of Hades”, the instrumental “The Small”, and “Pharos” that Vorskaath loves his proggy side. This is not a bad thing whatsoever, as they show some very, VERY tasty guitar and bass licks that have me eyeballing my Jackson Kelly with intent, but it is something you must be aware of if you’re expecting a full-blown blackened thrash attack. In fact, if you put “Ancient Arcane Scrolls” next to “The Small”, they sound like they both came from completely different records. Also, “Out of the Cage” is Vorskaath’s tribute to avant-garde pianist John Cage and his pioneering song, “4’ 33″”. You will find this an amazing way to reflect on the preceding album, and ponder the level of blackened progressive awe imbued on one’s eardrums… or you will think it’s the most pretentious waste of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of dead air that will make you wonder if your disc is scratched or your iPod is fucked up. There’s absolutely no middle ground there.
The warmth generated from Nykta’s production threw me back a little, as I didn’t expect the album to sound and feel so analog. Given further listens, however, I can’t see this album sounding any other way, and it fits perfectly. Nykta’s sound recalls both Iron Maiden’s Killers and the works of 70’s King Crimson, and yet retains a cold bite in the guitar sound when the moment is called upon. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish.
Nykta shows Vorskaath plowing forward in his astral solitary trek to global black metal dominance, and he’s going to have a cigar and going to get far doing so. It is a bit of a challenging listen, but there are great rewards within for those who venture out into space and return for repeated journeys. It is also proof positive of how one person can take less-traveled roads, scenic waylays, and off-beat paths, and still arrive on the same trajectory one started on decades ago. Nykta impressed me considerably, and Zemial gained a follower.