What a year 2019 was for Hypnotic Dirge Records, with stellar releases from NONE, Kval and Maeskyyrn to name just a few. It’s because of that last one, Maeskyyrn, that I came across Judgement, the full-length debut from the disappointingly-not-German Nachtterror. Earlier this year, I channeled all the might that my status as an exalted AMG writer imbues me with and demanded the promo Maeskyyrn’s Interlude from Hypnotic Dirge (read: I sent a politely-worded email). They obliged and sent not only Maeskyyrn but also Nachtterror. Reviewing schedules being what they are, we couldn’t get to symphonic black metal six-piece Nachtterror‘s record in time for its release. And that is a damn shame because Judgement is a seriously good and incredibly varied slab of metal.
Judgement follows two EPs (2008 and 2012) and a 2015 split with Altars of Grief, Of Ash and Dying Light… Many of the tracks that now comprise Judgement are souped up versions of cuts from one of those earlier releases. Given its gestation period, perhaps it’s unsurprising that there is a helluva lot going on. Where to start? Perhaps with the cover art, designed by guitarist Eric Escott (aka Lord Maelkleth),1. Like the record itself, the centerpiece draws the eye or, as the case may be ear, and it’s only on closer inspection that you start to see all the other things going on around the fringes.
Nachtterror’s core sound is symphonic black metal, with keyboards and synths running riot over furious blast beats and rapid riffing. That feels like I’m selling these Saskatchewan natives short though, as across Judgement’s hour-long runtime they never repeat a trick. From Nevermore-worthy power ballads (“The Beauty of a Withering Flower”), through Windir-esque folk-tinged black metal (“A Forest at Night”) to doomy, symphonic numbers falling somewhere between early Paradise Lost and the most recent Borknagar (“Sea of Dread” and “To Beckon the Weak”), the variety is huge and yet … and yet it all hangs together as one.
Unexpectedly delicate piano pieces bring death-tinged black metal to a juddering halt (“Beneath the Crimson Moon”). Sometimes the ferocity is resurrected with equal suddenness by drummer Forgir smashing back into gear; sometimes it is a gradual, almost post-metal building of layers. Across it all, the triple mic attack—from the two guitarists, the aforementioned Eric ‘Maelkleth’ Escott and Erik “Infernal Saint Wikk” Labossiere, and lead vocalist Lord Vatiel (Erick?)—growls, rasps, barks, howls and croons. Smashing these styles together, often simultaneously, gives Nachtterror a deranged sound that I really enjoy (“Beneath the Crimson Moon”). The sound of unhinged howls dis-harmonizing with doomy cleans and death metal growls, over synths and rapid triplets on the drums (“Sea of Dread”) or delicate dual cleans over the gradual build of guitar before breaking into Mikael Åkerfeldt-worthy growls (“Upon Ashen Shores”) is stunningly effective.
In case you can’t tell, I’ve really fallen in love with Judgement. Over the past couple of months, I have returned again and again, with every listen revealing something new. It also sounds great, with my only slight criticism being that the drums are perhaps slightly too high in the mix but when the work behind the kit is this good, who cares? Nachtterror took their sweet time getting this record out—they got together in 2006 ffs! So, I just hope we don’t have to wait another 13 years for the follow up.
Tracks to Pass Judgement on: “Sea of Dread,” “Beneath the Crimson Moon” and “Upon Ashen Shores”