Synergy is such an interesting concept. Take two things, add them together, and occasionally the resulting whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. This effect is rendered even more powerful when the constituent ingredients are seemingly at odds. In the same way that peanut butter slathered all over a bacon cheeseburger elevates it to another level of awesomeness, the curious mixture of hardcore/crust journeyman Todd Burdette (Tragedy, His Hero is Gone, Warcry, and many more) with jack of all metals Tim Call (Aldebaran, Mournful Congregation, The Howling Wind, and many more)1 has produced Portland, Oregon’s dark metal monstrosity, Nightfell. Their fantastic debut The Living Ever Mourn flew under the radar in 2014 and was quickly followed up by 2015’s Darkness Evermore, a record that was highly praised by this very website. Since the City of Roses has bestowed upon me only very good or better promos this year, I couldn’t keep myself from checking out Nightfell‘s third foray into despair, A Sanity Deranged.
In my mind, Nightfell sounds like Amon Amarth or Bolt Thrower suddenly became depressed and introspective and morphed into an atmospheric blackened death/doom band. A Sanity Deranged presents itself as a cyclical exercise in building tension through the atmospheric and doom elements and the cathartic release that occurs when Burdette drops his gigantic tremolo riffs that would fit snuggly on any classic album from the aforementioned battle-obsessed death metal bands. Coupled with Burdette’s cavernous death vocals, this undulating musical formula places the listener into a relentless trance that makes the record’s 35 minute runtime seem even shorter. Take embedded track “The Swallowing of Flies” as the perfect example of Nightfell‘s strengths coming together in synergistic glory. Beginning with a sorrowful guitar motif played over Call’s constant cymbal work, the track works to create a sense of melancholy before the driving Bolt Thrower groove arrives with one of my favorite metal moments of 2019. From there, the track moves through some blackened minor chords, the hugely distorted bass gets a chance to carry the groove on its own, and some eerie clean arpeggios and background chanting make an appearance. The total package is reminiscent of the slower, doomier moments of Batushka‘s debut.
Eight minute doom epic “(As Now) We Must Succumb” showcases Burdette’s mastery over all of his roles, his menacing growls providing the anger to combat the despair and anxiety generated by his guitar and bass tracks that meld together to sound like one super instrument of doom. Half-way through, an earth shaking tremolo riff appears and soon a higher tremolo joins to create a mournful masterpiece that can match or beat any of Amon Amarth‘s longer epics. “To the Flame” brings things to a funeral crawl with a regal march and folky chant that brings Primordial to mind. The penultimate track is an effective and truly terrifying interlude featuring heavy synth sounds and disturbing spoken and whispered words, and it perfectly sets up closer “Sanity Deranged.” The song’s finale consists of a tremolo lead that seems upbeat until you realize that another, dissonant lead is playing underneath, a touch that embodies the mental instability that the song’s title implies.
At first glance, there are two possible issues with A Sanity Deranged. The production has a low dynamic range, leading to a huge wall of sound when the music is really rumbling. The other potential flaw lies in some similarity between a few of the songs with certain themes closely mirroring those of other tracks. After nearly two dozen listens though, I’ve realized that these “flaws” actually end up strengthening the album. The wall of sound is oppressive and suffocating, punishing you into hopeless submission, and the repeating themes make you lose track of where you are in the album’s flow, adding to the sense of sanity effectively being deranged. I’m not going to pick highlight tracks, because this is the kind of album that’s best experienced as a whole. And thanks to the short runtime, there’s no excuse not to.
While I don’t always have the attention span for the funeral death/doom of Call’s more well known acts, the blending of those elements with the crust and groove orientation of Burdette’s past work has resulted in a concise, mesmerizing, and disturbing product that transcends the sum of its parts. With A Sanity Deranged, Nightfell have created a bleak, bludgeoning record that should please fans of atmoblack, doom, and death metal alike.