One of the happy surprises from out of left field during 2017 was a little album called King Delusion by then unsung German act Nailed to Obscurity. It took the base elements of Opeth, Katatonia and Ghost Brigade and skillfully forged them into a humdinger of a prog-death platter brimming with heaviness and dark atmospheres. It garnered a place in my Top Ten for that year and I still play it quite regularly. 2019 sees the band return to greatly elevated expectations with their fourth album, Black Frost, and I was particularly eager to get my paws on this one. While Nailed keeps their core sound essentially intact, they’ve expanded its scope to embrace new influences. It’s a mostly successful endeavor and the material is often quite smart and interesting albeit less heavy. Yet something feels like it went missing in the development of this new material. Some spark, some essential ingredient that King Delusion had in spades seems to have been misplaced along the way, and that mercurial something or other is sorely missed here.
As opener “Black Frost” gets underway, we’re initially greeted with the clean vocals of frontman Raimund Ennenga, and while they’re decent, they’re not his strong suit and sound a bit flat. When the song ratchets upward about a minute and half in, eyebrows will be raised at just how much his death roars sound like Opeth‘s Mikael Åkerfeldt. It’s uncanny, and the fact the song heavily tracks Opethian territory with the riffs and overall structure only compounds the similarity. Homage is one thing, but this is too damn close for comfort, my droogs. That said, it’s a very good song and a clear album highlight, with interestingly proggy touches, despite some bloat and a tendency to meander (they are aping Opeth after all). Shorter cuts like “Tears of the Eyeless” and “Feardom” are good with scattered moments of greatness (especially the latter’s heavy Tiamat vibe), but they can’t quite get to that next level where much of the material on King Delusion lived, and they sometimes feel too safe.
“Cipher,” the album’s longest song, has some good things happening as it drifts from Opeth worship into Katatonia and territory and back again. Rich in bleak moods though it is, things still end up feeling too long-winded and bloated by the final moments. Luckily the album is redeemed by back to back winners winding things down. “Resonance” packs a lot of vintage Tiamat along with hints of Voivod, which is a potent pairing indeed. “Road to Perdition” is a powerful capstone, simultaneously invoking the coldness of modern Katatonia and the muscular heft of November’s Doom to satisfying degrees.
The biggest problem with Black Frost is the tendency of the songs to bloat and wander in ways that feel directionless at times. The band handled long-form compositions well last time out, but too often these new cuts feel like they’re sticking around past their expiration points. This mixed with the aforementioned feeling that something is missing, and a general lessening of heaviness all adds up to an album that isn’t as gripping and impactful as its predecessor.
Raimund Ennenga’s death roars are quite well done, and though he mimics Åkerfeldt too closely sometimes, he brings a needed intensity to the music. His clean singing however is nowhere near as polished and sometimes feels a bit rough and awkward. The guitar-work by Volker Dieken and Jan-Ole Lamberti is quite good, blending crunching death riffs with the kind of thoughtful noodling Opeth made famous, as well as plenty of moody strumming and trilling. The band has talent aplenty, and when things come together they can craft a killer tune full of emotion. The issue is the consistency of the songcraft this time around.
Black Frost is a very solid release, but a clear step down from King Delusion in several ways. Nailed to Obscurity is still operating at a high level and good things are sure to be coming their way, but they need to trim the fat from their writing and re-focus themselves if they hope to attain the levels heard on their 2017 magnum opus.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 272 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: nailedtoobscurity.com | nailedtoobscurity.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/nailedtoobscurity
Releases Worldwide: January 11, 2019