The id of the absurdist amidst hallucinogenic eclipse drives an attempt to control chaos well beyond the point of unleashing it, an impossible ever-leaking internalization. We find the protagonist standing in a violent stream of their own creation and bottling it, sampling and stirring the purposefully reckless intangible, the alchemist’s own noumenon reduced to potency to suit the present directive. The hands are inevitably burnt, the mind wracked with horrified dreams, yet the frustration available to the crumbling worlds of Detroit, Michigan-based musician Theophonos‘ handicraft in the abstract black metal realm now at least limits its borders to the individual mind. ‘Nightmare Visions‘ is above all else an acknowledgement that it is all in the ambitious artist’s head and, more importantly, it needed to spill out in human form this time.
To the uninitiated listener Theophonos‘ presence has thus far been erratic, frequently in contempt to a degree that you might’ve expected after listening to his previous project’s volatile admixture of interest in black metal, ranging from Sargeist‘s liquid vehemence and the mathematical derangement of ‘Synarchy of Molten Bones‘, and a deep-set interest in the thrilling scrape and uneven textures of mathcore/metalcore which was arguably still latent on their debut ‘Ornuthi Thalassa‘ (2017), a nigh masterpiece of a record. Serpent Column was the ‘metal’ foundation of the artist coming to a practical standards and soon after pushing the limits to a surreal and chaotic black metallic mathcore form of its own. It was black metal for folks who had or could potentially be deeply entrenched in the possibilities skronk-core might bring to said rigidity and, well, it felt modern and kinda nuts in a cool way. I only mention this because we cannot see the character Theophonos presents today without this foundation in mind since this particular set of muscle memory-yanked riffs exists entirely relevant to prior work. Expect a skimming of the noise herein, a containment of chaos and a selection of the musician’s best pockets of meaning honed into about a half hour of maniac tech black-algebra.
There are two angles to entry we long-time fans can take, both related to Theophonos‘ work in Serpent Column, in communicating the perceived approach of ‘Nightmare Visions‘: First, an alternate path taken during the “going for it” phase surrounding ‘Mirror in Darkness‘ (2019) where the way forward seemed tentative ’til the choice of abject extremity was righteously the path of most resistance and some of that project’s most challenging threads and daring choices became their burst into scrambled static hiss ’til 2021. Second, we could see ‘Nightmare Visions‘ as material wizened by those experiences for the sake of being developed (or, pushed aside) during that time, most of this record is remarked as developed between 2020 and now. As is typically the case with any analysis of the unknown we can only assume a combination of all of these experiences called for the cessation of the prior project and the completion of these ideas under a new station.
Harried and nonsensical bursts served with directional aggression, tightly spiraled riffs which often feature no resolve beyond their dissenting grooves, and calmed pieces wherein attempts at respite often come laced with apprehension, anxious steps… — From a certain point of view nothing has changed beyond perspective, less an astral projection of the self disembodied from the reeking demise of humanity and more a fever dream which recollects all lessons learned and pipes them back into the machine. The gist of the point I am making is that the artist has a preferred medium and a recognizable palette to work with here and ultimately the real decisions made within seem to be aimed at what goes ‘just far enough’ out of line to still lend itself to human retention, nothing too far into obscurant nox. As such you’ll find opener “Maps of the Future” vaguely indicative of ‘Ornuthi Thalassa‘ in its entrenched feeling run-on rhythm guitar work but without any fear for moments of intentional repetition, chunking hits which’ll read as metalcore influence syncopation on some level without reaching a certain type pf postured mosh-metal fare.
I’d just as well slap the term “blackened Converge” out of your foul hot-taking mouth but, sure, bite deeply of “Go On to Your Gallows” and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to look to such an obvious foundation for reference. I’d argue that the artist’s taste in that type of music isn’t limited to such an entry-level metalcore reference but the implication is efficient enough when the audience is generally comprised of folks who primarily follow underground extreme metal interests. If we are to consider Theophonos‘ muse extreme-core of a certain era then a song like “Thousand Imaginary Swords” is the most likely point of passionate introduction for the unassuming listener, a most succinct and emotive rush punctuated with a free-chunking percussive development that indicates pre-2004 metalcore’s sludgy swinging movement on a basal level. Overall you’ll find a more glitching, erratic and faster sped set of actions which all appear intentioned rather than plainly erratic in most every case.
The most substantive pieces here aren’t necessarily the lengthier bits but “Lost One” does well to accompany the opener in terms of extending a bridge to those seeking the rhythmic language of Serpent Column retooled, though seemingly from an alternate reality/timeline, whereas “Nightmare Visionary” feels like it does something new with that sound using the old rhythmic tics per the guitar arrangement, blending the chaotic charge and triumphal feeling of the past into a dissociative heavy metal stomp by the end of the piece. As I wheeled through the album’s forgiving length a number of times in preview it’d been impossible to overlook the feeling of déjà vu when it came to focusing on the rhythm guitar work and the signature movement of the artist simply because I’d spent so much time appreciating his first three or four releases as they’d arrived. Some riffs are just too familiar in shape even if they do tend to work in the moment, this’d left me conflicted as I considered if ‘Nightmare Visions‘ could manage to escape those past associations at all.
No, it can’t, but Theophonos has managed something distinct enough in spiritual alternate-succession from a different lyrical perspective which reads as better representative of where the artist is now, rather than what they’d wanted another band to be. Anyhow, they basically say “eat that old corpse, I don’t care” within moments of the album firing up, so, the intent becomes clear enough from there as the greater tirade intensifies. Much as I’d like to explore some of the finer moments of the lyrics beyond this point I’d just as well suggest the listener spend at least one spin reading along. This ends up being key to understanding the unique shift in voice found on this record. All things considered, all nodes secured, ‘Nightmare Visions‘ is a change for the better, a potent and venomous ‘modern’ black metal/hardcore beast which sounds like nothing else. A high recommendation.
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