Sometimes, context is everything. Take Greek/Swedish melodeath stalwarts Nightrage and their 2005 release, Descent into Chaos. During a time when our digital voraciousness was yet gestating, the general availability of music limited, and my taste still fully receptive of Gothenburg metal, the subjective value of that objectively passable album became immense. Great riffs and melodies, catchy hooks, and an innate sort of aggressiveness bedazzled me. Listening to it today, it sounds good, if unremarkable and most certainly not at the level of some of the classics of the genre. Context, like I said, matters the most. Nowadays, Nightrage are one the last remnants of a style depleted ages ago, their records doses of pure nostalgia, existing oblivious to the current metal framework. Twelve years, four full-lengths, and innumerable lineup changes later, what was once guitarist/vocalist Marios Iliopoulos’s project evolved into a true band that continues to show a stubborn adherence to the same formula regurgitated since their inception. Making only minor modifications to their approach and abstaining from the rollercoaster of style inflections so typical of their peers, in 2015 they returned with a fairly successful and re-energized release The Puritan. Unfortunately, The Venomous sees the quintet drop back into a familiar rut ruined by a tired paradigm.
Yet the familiarity is not Nightrage’s main problem—heck, retro-everything is all the rage right now—but the fact that The Venomous is decidedly a dull and flat affair. Emotionally and technically, it is devoid of any character and instead reduced to simulacra. A cover band crooning longingly to a sparse audience on the terrace of some dilapidated seaside resort. An empty caricature of a once beloved genre. Having listened to it multiple times in different moods and situations, I find it hard to recall a lasting impression of the music it carries. Bouts of recognizable phrasing are packaged in uninspired riffs taken from In Flames’ vocabulary, the alternations of growled and clean vocal lines feel borrowed from late period Soilwork, and sparklings of Insomnium’s edgy articulation are sprinkled throughout but lacking the Finns’ songwriting kicks. Just the first triptych of songs is enough to get a sense of what The Venomous is all about. What starts with the title song “The Venomous,” slow, melodic, and harmonious, morphs into the faster and hymnic “Metamorphosis/Day of Wrath,” and concludes with the unnecessarily accelerated and syrupy “In Abhorrence.” The same pattern is rinsed and repeated for the remaining nine songs on the record.
Listening to The Venomous in one sitting becomes demanding not because it’s a difficult listen, but because the songs have a tendency to fuse into one another, sounding alike and tiresome, chained into a single fifty-minute blob. While cuts like “Catharsis” and “Bemoan” are plainly boring—so much so that I can’t think of any amusing adjectives to describe them—“Affliction” and “The Blood” show the worst side of the band. By insisting on using canorous clean vocals and arena rock choruses, even traces of atmosphere that the band manages to summon are ripped to shreds of copy/paste melodic death tediousness. Add to this the baffling acoustic outro, “Denial of the Soul,” and the situation for the album as a whole starts looking really dire. Fortunately, faster and more aggressive cuts like “From Ashes Into Stone,” the Dark Tranquillity tinged “Trail of Ghosts,” and the buoyant attack of “Desolation and Dismay” salvage The Venomous from becoming a complete failure.
Some metal records, if trite in their songwriting and ideas, can be redeemed through the pure fleshliness of their sound, their sonic massages of our minds. But here the production and mastering qualities are only additional layers of dismay, making the odd interesting guitar riff, tuneful leads, and linear solos thin and oblate. Simultaneously, Lawrence Dinamarca’s plasticky drums tick artificially and Anders Hammer’s bass is nearly unheard, lost in a compressed mesh of instruments. Needless to say and much like their music, Nightrage’s lyrical themes are rehashes of rehashes, childish in the worst way.
The Venomous is in many ways a sad and disappointing release, an echo trying to survive past its time. Go listen to the latest Insomnium, Dark Tranquility, or Mors Principium Est instead.