Nightmare – Aeternam Review

France’s Nightmare are no strangers to the heavy metal scene. The band’s origins go back four decades to their foundation as a punk outfit in 1979. Over the next few years, the punk stylings gave way to the burgeoning heavy metal sound of the early 80s and the band released a couple of full-lengths before going on hiatus in 1988. But Nightmare‘s best work was yet to come. Reformed in 1999 with a crunchy power metal edge to their heavy metal, the band released an impressive string of seven albums with the gravel-throated Jo Amore on the mic, and a couple of these even managed to earn some love from our very own Heavy Metal Headmaster, Steel Druhm himself. 2016’s Dead Sun saw a bit of a shakeup with Maggy Luyten taking over vocal duties, and 2020 sees yet another new singer with Madie grabbing the microphone on Aeternam. I had zero exposure to this band before taking on Aeternam for review, so let’s see if Madie and the gang can leave an impression upon the impressionable Holdeneye.

First impressions are pretty good. As I’ve gone back and sampled Nightmare‘s discography, their penchant for putting the “power” in power metal is a common theme throughout, and Aeternam is no different, even if the record finds the band edging towards a hard rock sound — for every syrupy chorus, there is a heaping dose of snarling Iced Earth-style riffs. The whole package is presented in a modern metal production, and I get a very strong Pyramaze Disciples of the Sun vibe thanks to Nightmare‘s ability to combine catchiness, epicness, and aggression. The embedded title track is a great example of how the hard meets the soft on Aeternam as the intro’s thrash riffing gives way to a soaring hard rock chorus. Madie’s voice is a lot smoother than either of her most recent predecessors, and when you combine it with the band’s songwriting approach, it produces a commercial sheen over the surface of the album.

Don’t get me wrong, Aeternam knows how to put the pedal to the metal, but your enjoyment of this version of Nightmare will probably depend on whether or not you can handle a little bit of commerciality sprinkled over the top of your metal. “Divine Nemesis” contains a strong Iced Earth thrash gallop and some excellent soloing, while “Temple of Acheron” and “The Passenger” feel like modern Pyramaze. Madie gets to let her inner crooner out on “Crystal Lake,” a track that begins with a bit of Alice in Chains creepiness before it launches into full power ballad mode. And just in case things are a little too saccharine for you, the final third of Aeternam contains some of the album’s more sinister cuts, most notably “Under the Ice” and “Anneliese.” The latter starts with a short sample of the Anneliese Michel recordings, setting the tone for the albums most overtly metal track.

The production may be slick and modern, but it’s executed well. Like Pyramaze‘s Disciples of the Sun, Aeternam has an incredible rhythm guitar tone that bolsters the album’s more intricate riffs and imbues even the most simple chord progressions with far more power than they would normally have. Guitarists Franck Milleliri and Matt Asselberghs win the MVP trophy here as their very metal performances keep the record from fully careening over the edge into hard rock territory. Madie gives an earnest performance, but her delivery lacks the overall power of the band’s former vocalists and will take a bit of getting used to for the band’s fans. This is the sort of album that doesn’t contain any real discernible flaws and is enjoyable from start to finish, but lacks any true world-beater tracks. That said, “Divine Nemesis,” “The Passenger,” “Downfall of a Tyrant,” “Aeternam,” and “Anneliese” are all solid power metal rockers.

I’ve had pretty good luck with releases from AFM Records this year, and Nightmare keeps the train a rollin’. I wasn’t aware of their history until now, but it’s pretty cool that a band that formed in the 70s is still kicking out good metal in 2020. Aeternam has choruses that had me screeching for the stars and riffs that had me doing my best air-Jon Schaffer. As a power metal fan, what else can you ask for?

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM Records
Releases Worldwide: October 2nd, 2020

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