Nāḥāš (נחש) the Hebrew word for serpent has been translated by biblical scholars numerous ways as they scramble to juice any new meaning from the rotten turnip of ancient plagiarism that is the book of Genesis. Etymological fallacy perpetuated by Christian scholars suggests nachash a descriptor beyond animal form in biblical fiction and that of a deceptive, shape-shifting divine being, a luminant of the Divine Council even. Though the means of disfiguring the root of a word is poor form in the field of etymology the idea of an anti-God disrupting humanity’s intended creation while taking the form of a talking snake is at least good Kipling-esque fiction. Cursing a snake to crawl without arms or legs, and eat dirt for eternity, isn’t the most meaningful punishment either. The serpent represents a disruptor, a being powerful enough to deceive the supposed almighty and ultimately clever in it’s malevolence. This serpentine shrewdness is actually very fitting for Norwegian black/death metal trio Nachash as their debut full-length ‘Phantasmal Triunity’ will undoubtedly pull the patient listener in for numerous trance-inducing spins before it’s venom takes effect.
Drummer Kenneth Tiller began his career in extreme metal just as Norwegian black metal’s follies eradicated any hopes of his (quite interesting) death metal band Nephrite taking off after releasing two demos in the early 90’s. From there he started Apocalyptic Empire Records and eventually played a key role in Celestial Bloodshed. It can be fairly assumed that the Oslo based Nachash began after the tragic dissolution of then thriving Celestial Bloodshed following a key member’s death, beyond some posthumous releases between 2010-2013. With Tiller joined by Brainshock vocalist Anders Westbye and bassist R., the trio seem to have set upon creating black metal inspired by a global set of early masters and innovators. Their vision was revealed in the form of ‘Conjuring The Red Death Eclipse’ (2015), an EP driven by the late 80’s and early 90’s pulse of black metal that didn’t noticeably invoke Scandinavian tonality (unless you count Michael Denner/Hank Shermann). Their noted inspirations and shared obsessions came in the form of Mercyful Fate, Rotting Christ, and the foully underrated Master’s Hammer. This immediately set off my own personal radar as there are few black metal scenes I follow as intimately as the Hellenic and Slavic traditions starting in the mid-80’s.
They nailed it on that EP as contemporaries of groups like Grand Belial’s Key, old Amen Corner, and even early Thou Art Lord with a mix of furious underground battery and epic heavy metal influenced movements. While ‘Conjuring the Red Death Eclipse’ was noisome and crackling like ‘Sathanas Tedium’ and had some of that ‘Mocking the Philanthropist’ melodic edge, ‘Phantasmal Triunity’ finds Nachash taking full advantage of their stoic songwriting by producing a nearly non-abrasive tonality. Not only does the band’s debut prey upon those with similar taste with finely tuned, referential style but their clever use of suspense and resolution within composition makes for a difficult ride to jump off of. An easy ebb-and-flow beautifully highlights the link between epic heavy/speed metal and obscure black metal gods from all over the globe.
You’ll no doubt miss subtle hints of Master’s Hammer‘s ‘Rituál’ and a few riffs reminiscent of Root‘s glorious ‘Temple in the Underworld’ but the nods to early Varathron, Kawir, and Ungod (‘Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts’ especially) should bring up some association with contemporaries like Sacriphyx, Svolder, and a hint of more recent Inquisition. That is to say it has atmosphere but also driving riffs influenced by the old ways of black, death, doom and speed metal. Cleverness with pacing and the creation of interesting guitar passages defines any band I’ve mentioned in relation to Nachash and this is the intended path to a highest quality of underground extreme metal. This year in particular I’d say many bands are using classic Hellenic black and epic heavy metal influences with great results and would suggest Mongrel’s Cross, Melan Selas, and Embrace of Thorns all conquer the stoicism and ‘heavy metal’ plunder of it all but none quite capture (or perhaps, intend) the tact nor the romantic vision of their influences well as Nachash have on ‘Phantasmal Triunity’.
That said, the album generally trades in subtle movements and classic heavy metal builds rather than stomping, furious riffing. You -could- mosh to this but somehow I see myself headbanging in a comfortable chair with some measure of intoxicant while Nachash are doing their thing. Maybe that has more to do with my being old and boring a person than it does about the pleasant lilt of ‘Phantasmal Triunity’. It is easily one of the best albums to date in this pensive, illustrative ‘epic black metal’ style and likely to sit high atop my list of favorite albums from the year. The caveat is in it’s subtlety, though, and I will suggest that it took nearly ten listens before I had both accounted for all of it’s nuance and instrumental minutiae. The album simply doesn’t beg the listener to return without any instantly memorable hooks, and any fangs they do embed are gentle enough that you’ll only find the marks upon reflection.
With more than two months of listening, and enjoyment, I still struggle to describe the hypnotic ‘romance’ of Nachash‘s debut. I suppose it comes from my own decades ingrained appreciation for albums like ‘Walpurgisnacht’ and more recent affairs (such as the somewhat comparable ‘Isotheos’) that pull me back in for more time spent marveling in it’s ecstasy. The atmosphere, sound, and style did eventually outweigh the overall catchiness of the record for my tastes; Although “Astral Sacrifice” is exquisitely memorable in it’s own right the strength of the album lies in the ornate guitar riffs of “Fleshtemple Incineration” and “Vortex Spectre” as their interplay with Tiller‘s drum performances ultimately makes the case for ‘Phantasmal Triunity’. The only minor note I could include was to give the basslines some greater dimension and presence as I think something more acoustic and less flattened could provide some greater heft in the future. One of the best debuts of the year and a highest recommendation for fans of ‘epic’ olden black metal.
|Released||August 10, 2018|
|BUY/LISTEN on Shadow Kingdom Records’ Bandcamp!||Follow Nachash on Facebook|
Spiraling portals unto collapsing expanse. 4.75/5.0
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