NOMAD – Transmogrification-Partus (2020)REVIEW

In seeking the roots of this grandiose distortion today it becomes necessary to dowse a mile deep and about a two hour drive south of Warsaw to Opoczno (Poland) circa ~1993 when an enthusiastic but modestly talented death metal band named Putrefaction had spun their wheels long enough. Most of the bands membership would join guitarist Patryk Sztyber (aka Seth of Behemoth today) in this slightly more advanced death metal project Nomad circa 1994. I’d like to think they’d joined because it was a small-ass town yet it becomes clear the riffs Seth‘d been kicking around ruled once you’ve listened to their ‘Disorder‘ demo from 1996. This was a band with seriously heavy ideas early on, sure the old tape is kinda choppy due to deterioration but when they remastered it in 2016 it was clear these guys had big ideas trapped behind a cheap rec center budget.

They’ve persisted as a font of unrecognized mastery since, taking on avant-garde and black metal elements as early as 1999 (see: ‘The Devilish Whirl‘) when second guitarist Nameless Immensus (ex-Ethelyn) joined. When ‘Demonic Verses (Blessed are Those Who Kill Jesus)‘ (2004) hit, it was perhaps the right album at the wrong time — Certainly one of the more notable Polish extreme metal bands to have clawed their way beyond the 90’s up to the brutal standards of the early 2000’s, Nomad were pouring with ideas by their third album reaching an impossible to ignore high. From that point their discography wouldn’t evolve in any drastic sense as their efforts soon shifted towards an intermittent side-project after Seth joined Behemoth, aiding in that band’s explosion across the planet with ‘Demigod’. Well, I won’t tire folks with too much of a history lesson but it bears mention that Nomad never dropped a turd, never put out anything unpolished or thoughtless for the sake of ripping it up, if anything Seth‘s songwriting has become more intricate and demanding in the last sixteen years without losing any measure of attack or insistence. ‘Transmogrification (Partus)’ could then be considered a reminder that a blade does not have to dull with time if kept sharp and used with care, that the ‘old’ spirited habit of blasphemic riffs and skull-shattering brutality will provide infinite mutation if one’s fire is well-tended.

So, it has been nine years since the last album but this record has been in the works since 2014 when the initial guitar and drum performances were captured. 2015? The year when the bass was recorded, next year the vocals were done, the mix the next year, the master in 2018. I can only consider what an infection an incomplete idea becomes year over year but the end result is untainted by time, if anything it blasts and gnashes its strange burl of blackened death metal in such a tightly-wound manner that you’d never guess it’d had such a drawn-out production schedule. Sure, if those sorts of details are yet a bore and my history lesson wasn’t your deal, how are the riffs? Well, before we get there I’ll clarify which version I’m specifically reviewing as I’m only taking into account the CD version; If you are already a well-initiated fan the double LP is the right choice because it includes ‘Tetramorph II’ on the second LP which is an slightly reworked vision of their ‘Tetramorph’ (2015) EP. It is a worthy extra and again, the double LP is probably what I’d recommend most heartily since those EP sessions are directly related to those that kicked off this album’s realization.

“A Wanderer Without A Shadow” introduces the first person narrator of the album, drawing a figure that’d detail a mind entrenched and wracking itself to stay focused despite brutal, unnamed adversity. The dissolving soul that bursts in with this righteous, somewhat technical death metal song projects in ten different ways before the piece ends, kicking off a conceptually driven journey detailing their state of torment before dark imagery, corrupted traitors, a foulest messiah, and the ruthless poisoning of indoctrination leave the protagonist crippled deeper by mistreatment. The dark imagery is at once stunning and clever, using unexpected turns of the knife to redirect the visualization of each piece and credit due to Bleyzabel Balberith who has been an enchanting lyricist and intuitive vocalist for quite some time, perhaps one of the few Polish death metal vocalists to manage anything out of the ordinary (at least beyond a Glen Benton pig-rasp) back in the day. Here his concept and delivery are many steps beyond ‘The Devilish Whirl’ where I first found his style most compelling but his work is still just as distinct and memorably achieved.

Since 2014 (and probably earlier) Polish death metal seems to lean one of three ways: Too akin to ‘The Satanist’, the ‘old school’ stuff that never left be it 90’s or 00’s, or heavily focused on the style achieved when Decapitated finally made their groove-death ideas work on record. Thankfully Nomad have always had their own path to follow and you won’t find silly mosh riffs or anything more or less ‘occult’ than usual, though I will say this is one of the sharpest and punch-heavy releases from the project and perhaps because they’ve enlisted Inferno (Azarath, Behemoth) on drums as well as Orion (Vesania, Behemoth) on bass. Honestly I could pick Inferno‘s drumming out of a hurricane having been a rabid fan of Azarath for years as well as certain eras of his other projects, this is a huge plus for me and also the reason I already owned the ‘Tetramorph’ EP. Ah, but I’ve gone off on yet another tangent! What about the riffs? Well, Seth‘s work here is more technical than it appears at first, grinding into the first few songs with challenging layers and fiery staccato riffing that is certainly his own style of orchestration. The opener lights a fire while also expressing the aforementioned narrator’s torment, whirling a violent and chaotic thread that continues through the album, allowing for larger grooves to indicate chorus or at least verse changes. If I were going to suggest a place for Nomad in the spheres of Polish death metal it’d be somewhere between Hate‘s more blackened side and Trauma‘s sense of brutal movement. The atmospheric sensation inherent to the listening experience is too mystic and cerebrally-sourced to ever appear brutish.

“In the Hands of Progression” gives just enough hints of progressive technical death metal in its arrangement that the momentum of Side A does not flatly die, though I’d find myself rapt and heavily anticipating the step into my favorite piece, “Pantocrator”, where it’s swelling, effects-soaked gallop always made me quickly forget about “Nomadeus”, which is a shame because that’d been one of the more important lyrical pieces in concept with a fairly average song attached. The second half of the album is nearly flawless, making the first portion seem somewhat mechanical, conflicted by comparison as “The Graceful Abyss” feels like something new, simple but engaging as a rhythmic performative piece and “Inconsolable Longing” breaks every rule, does absolutely nothing expected and does so with a pretty solid riff guiding the way. This is perhaps “for better or worse” if you’re looking for a standard Polish death metal album, Nomad had never been exactly the place for it nor are they arguably very well known. For folks who’d already known this band and what they’re capable of I’d argue that this is their strongest, most concise record since ‘Demonic Verses…’, yet for the uninitiated I’d suggest you might want to jump over to some of their earlier stuff for context and to see why ‘Transmogrification (Partus)’ is quite different and even somewhat daring beyond some of their previous work. I’ve spent quite a lot of time with this relatively short spin (~35 minutes) and found it impossible to really fault it in a major way. I admire the complex moments, found the grooves tastefully done, and the slight blackened reaping enthralling. There are layers there but nothing so taxing that you’ll collapse under — A moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Transmogrification (Partus)
LABEL(S):Witching Hour Productions
RELEASE DATE:March 27th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [Digital],
Witching Hour [CD/LP]
GENRES:Death Metal

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