Know your limit, play within it. This is the advice Ontario’s gambling regulators give to people interested in blackjack, scratch tickets, and everything in between. More folks than the average ramblin’ gamblin’ man should heed the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s advice, and one group of folks is folks in metal bands. Not all hours of music are created equal — there’s a reason a prog-metal album approaching the hour mark elicits no reaction, while Diphenylchloroarsine’s (very good) fifty-five-minute slam record Post Apocalyptic Human Annihilation is shocking in its length. The first thing I noticed about Ablaze, the eighth full-length from Brazilian death squad NervoChaos, was that it contained a whopping sixteen songs. Given that this isn’t a grind record, they seem to be going against OLG advice, much like I did when I bet my laptop on a bad hand in Texas Hold ‘Em. Let’s get this show on the road, so the public library staff can stop looking at me funny.
NervoChaos plays the type of death metal that owes much to thrash and is effectively interchangeable with death-thrash. Being from Brazil, the immediate comparisons that spring to mind are Sepultura and Sarcofago, which while not entirely wrong don’t capture the picture all that well. Nowhere near as sloppy or unhinged as Sarcofago or as chaotic, fast, and cutthroat as old Sepultura, the aptest comparison is the last few releases of fellow Brazilians Vulcano. Both bands have a spit-shined, workmanlike approach to death metal — no frills and produced clearly but not processed like a Kraft Single. It’s an honest approach, one that tells the listener immediately that the band is to live and die on the strength of their riffs. This whole review boils down to answering two questions: 1) Is Ablaze too long? 2) How are the riffs?
I’ll answer immediately in order: yes, and okay. This makes for a befuddling record, as it feels like a good album may be buried beneath a glut of outtakes and Japanese B-sides. While “Necroccult” starts Ablaze on a shaky note with its listless instrumental plodding, “Demonic Juggernaut” is an energetic cut with quintessential death-thrash riffing galore. It’s good — but not great — to a fault, not quite forgettable but not memorable either. In other words, it’s a successful exercise in genre aesthetics but not a rousing one. Guitars and drum work in lockstep on “Whisperer in Darkness,” propelling the song in the way this old style death metal demands. The riffs are commonplace, yet not wholly uninteresting. Playing this for someone unfamiliar with the genre would leave them confused as to how fans can be so passionate about the stuff.
The sheer length of Ablaze mortally wounds its replay value. “Feast of Cain” is one instance of bloat — it trudges along in its chugging, and even employs a sorrowful melody in parts, but these miss the mark and falls headlong into mediocrity, sounding neither heavy nor emotive. “Death Rites” sounds like a punk song merged with something not unlike Bolt Thrower, doing both aspects competently but not whatsoever excitingly. On and on Ablaze runs like this, keeping similar song structures throughout and exchanging one passable riff for another until becoming irritating at or before the forty-minute mark, depending on the listener’s patience. The song structures being as they are, NervoChaos could have likely taken their best riffs here, pooled them together, and made a solid sub-thirty-minute bruiser. As that didn’t happen, we’re left with the odd great riff in a sea of tolerable mediocrity which finally limps to the finish line after fifty minutes that seemed like an eternity.
A combination of a surplus of material and a shortage of energy make Ablaze a frustrating listen. Further frustrating is that I should like what NervoChaos is doing here, yet it leaves me cold. I can’t bring myself to actively dislike Ablaze, but it’s just too boilerplate to elicit praise. It’s remarkably hard finding something to say about Ablaze, as nothing sticks out as offensively bad. It’s the popcorn you get at the distillery between partial shots of tasty, interesting moonshine — a palate cleanser instead of something which excites the taste buds. I’ve had a few more neutral experiences listening to old death metal than I have with Ablaze. For all of the time it played, it was there; a presence, but not one which captivated, annoyed, intrigued, or caused any reaction other than unenthusiastic tolerance. I can’t recommend Ablaze personally, but I do hope that someone, somewhere finds infinitely more enjoyment here than I did.