Heavily influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and then-peaking popularity of occult rock and traditional heavy metal in the late 2000’s, Natur formed in the Brooklyn area circa 2008 and, if we can use the lyrics on their early material as indication, for the sake of good times playing traditional heavy metal with some kitsch occult horror themes in mind. You’d have to be having some sort of fun naming your first single “Spider Baby”, I guess. It’d been well-picked as the catchiest piece on the quartet’s first demo in 2011 and a notable track on Side B of their debut full-length, which’d found them backed by Earache Records soon after. I’d known this band solely for their split with skeleton warriors Hessian back in 2011 and hadn’t checked out ‘Head of Death‘ (2012) until recently, after spending some serious time with their early 2020 sophomore full-length, ‘Afternoon Nightmare‘. For what its worth, based off of one song a decade ago, the general impression was that they weren’t ready for the “big leagues”. In fact, I don’t think the NWOBHM and United States 80’s power metal influenced style of heavy metal they played then, and still play now, belongs anywhere other than the pub circuits, suburban garages and dive bars that’d originally spawned it as working class music putting on high fantasy armor for a night out. Either way, they’re more than ready with the right stuff nowadays.
Some of the joy of approaching ‘Afternoon Nightmare’ blind (having not chimed in on their first album back in 2012) lies in the sense that traditional heavy metal popularity is still enjoying a reasonable high or, sustainable demographic, and that the impossibly still-going boon at the start of the 2010’s had proven itself resilient beyond false inflation and horrid pop-metal saturation. Even with some reasonably misplaced nostalgia I still wouldn’t mistake ‘Head of Death’ for a lost gem or classic but instead classify it as a rough-yet-ambitious debut from a relatively green band a few years into their gig and (again) on a major label. Reading a lot of the raw amateur journalism aimed at that record due to its legacy-rich label visibility gives the impression that the mid-life crisis of the now acceptable New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal tag wasn’t as heartily received as I’d remembered. That isn’t my main thesis today, however, instead I’d suggest this is the exact right time to give Natur some credit for sticking to their guns and working away at it. Now that they’re geared up, older and wiser, their knack for leaning into the razor cut of Angel Witch‘s leads, the grit of (early) Iron Maiden spawn and the theatricality of Mercyful Fate in the late 80’s is a notable feat. Their steadfast rough n’ tumble speed metallic energy is now a virtue in presentation of haunting melodies, sluicing their way through melodramatic horror epics that land somewhere in the realm of Omen, Gotham City or, for the sake of a modern perspective recent Black Wizard and Magister Templi. In plainest terms, ‘Afternoon Nightmare’ is ace.
Why the long wait? I’d figure it was due to their drummer joining (the venerable) Cauchemar for a few years, as well as gigging with Barrow Wight since, and beyond that their guitarist featured in Throaat for as many years. Natur were still active with minor releases throughout, feeding this theory that they’d flown too close to the sun early on and are just now (or, a year ago) breaching the threshold of their formative years in presentation of a new high standard. Is it a story of redemption, then? I wouldn’t say there is a story here, just a good heavy metal band getting better and writing a fantastic second album. If it ends up feeling like a triumph to the listener it is for the sake of how solid ‘Afternoon Nightmare’ is as an experience. The main reason(s) I’m bringing this record up a year beyond its initial release are I.) I’d somehow missed it entirely in 2020, II.) The compact disc version is coming out soon, and III.) It is a great album characterized by mid-paced anthemic-yet-dark heavy metal, plenty of ’84 speed metal jogs and ’83 heavy metal lead guitar work that ranges from haunting to strident depending on the subject matter.
The real genius moment, and the song I’d come back to a hundred fold during my time with ‘Afternoon Nightmare’, was undoubtedly “The Contract” — Though the mid-paced stomp-along movement of this song is echoed throughout much of the album, along with the vocalist’s phrasing, “The Contract” is yet a standout showcase for the upped irons that have be recommending Natur‘s return. A memorable main riff, an eerie keyboard accompaniment, howling epic doom-esque vocals, these are all traits that speak to the finesse but not necessarily the heavy rock cadence of albums like ‘Melissa’, instead owing a bit more to ‘Warning of Danger’. “Metal Henge” completes the circle, seals the deal and wins me over with its tormented vocal and a reprise of arcane and unsettling keyboard work with “Unsolved Mysteries” providing the kick beyond the finish line. Not a ton of major insight on my part honestly, ‘Afternoon Nightmare’ is just a good heavy metal record with some doom and speed metal hits along the way. A moderately high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Dying Victims Records [CD],|
Blasphlegmy/Crypt of the Wizard [LP]
|RELEASE DATE:||March 26th, 2021 [CD]|
March 20th, 2020 [Digital, LP]
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
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