A non-metal listening friend of mine recently posited a question that I’ve been pondering over the past week: “Are there any metal bands that aren’t heavy?” For a moment I was puzzled because he wasn’t referring to aesthetics, but rather to the use of the term as a genre qualifier. I briefly explained how “heavy” can be used in either instance and, at that moment, I was struck with the irony that, with metal’s myriad offshoot genres, the two uses rarely coexist. We use the term “heavy metal” to categorize bands like Iron Maiden, but is Maiden really heavier than, say, Incantation? Wouldn’t the descriptor be more apt, then, to classify bands that we currently refer to as death metal? When stacked against a band that fucks around as little as Nightmarer, arbitrary genre tags are proven moot. Call them heavy metal, death metal, doom/death, whatever; these Floridians play heavy goddamn metal. Regardless of its classification, Cacophony of Terror will cave your face in.
The presence of Nightmarer’s blackened blend of dissonant doom/death metal is so massive that I feel like I’m being dragged into Cacophony of Terror by the sheer force of its gravity. It’s the auditory equivalent of falling down a narrow chasm with an anvil strapped to your chest, an aural descent into the filthiest tones and most abrasive riffs I’ve heard this year. The deep, grimey guitars are the record’s driving force; each low-end strike of the strings feels tangibly viscous, conjuring toxic buzzsaw riffs that burst with acidic vigor, while methodical leads creep under the skin with palpable malice. Right up to the final seconds of closer “Swansong,” a brief, clever addendum to penultimate number “Death,” Nightmarer’s hostile edge impressively never dulls, likely due in part to CoT’s refreshingly condensed thirty-five-minute length. In terms of construction, this album is practically flawless.
This immediacy means that Cacophony of Terror plays its hand early on with a clenched fist, but the grip loosens as the record unfolds to reveal new tools to add to the atmosphere of horror. From the droning symphonics that underscore the conclusion of “Ceremony of Control” to the vicious sound of a charging laser (you’ll know it when you hear it) that accentuates “Death,” Nightmarer displays impressive skill in punctuating their bludgeoning compositions with dread-inducing instrumental cameos. And yet this foreign sense of hostility is balanced out by relatively accessible brutal death riffs that smack of death metal classics. The diligent, galloping chugs of “Stahlwald” make a great case for this duality, as their more grounded form of heaviness is inexplicably catchy, rhythmically speaking. Indeed, though I love CoT’s forward-thinking atmospherics, some of my favorite moments of the record are those steeped in genre tradition.
Isolated moments of brilliance abound, but if I have one minor criticism to level at Cacophony of Terror’s tracklist, it’s that it feels a touch too homogenous. A handful of cuts such as “Fetisch” lack defining characteristics to place them in the same tier as the record’s standout numbers (see: the droning dread and kinetic drum mix-ups of “Skinner”), despite being otherwise compelling tracks. This steadfast compelling nature has much to do with the rhythmic execution; guitarist Simon Hawemann and drummer Paul Seidel — both ex-War from a Harlots Mouth, which Nightmarer shares sonic similarities with, sans deathcore elements – play with restraint and urgency in tandem. Their carefully paced performances often intentionally lurch forward at unexpected moments, as if one musician is trying to cheekily gain a measure’s lead on the other.
Cacophony of Terror sports a predictably loud and “dumb” mix that cranks the guitars yet buries bass clarity; the album’s take on dissonance reminds at times of last year’s Ulsect debut and could have greatly benefited from that album’s incredible bass sound. Yet despite the braindead mix, Nightmarer as a group of musicians is anything but. Their arrangements are so densely packed with flourishes that each listen almost feels like experiencing the record over again for the first time, and this nuance hidden within Cacophony of Terror’s quality of instant gratification make it a record I’m eager to grow more familiar with as the year wears on. If you enjoy heavy metal (though not necessarily “heavy metal”) in any of its forms, this one’s a must-listen as one of the weightiest, most impactful death metal offerings you’re likely to hear for months to come.