Monday, October 9, 2017

Album Review: Nachtblut - "Apostasie"

When you have music conversations with your friends, and you’re trying to get them to listen to a new band that you like and they’ve never heard of, you inevitably make comparisons, trying to find an analog to a touchstone that they’ll already know.  That analog can touch on multiple points, be it a familiar aspect of the band’s sound, style, appearance or genre. 

Some of them are easy.  Graveyard sounds like Led Zeppelin.  Midnight Ghost Train is similar to Clutch.  Turisas sounds like Andrew Lloyd Weber has an angry, metal-obsessed son.

Then comes Nachtblut.  It’s taken a while to come up with a proper analogy, but here it is – Nachtblut, and their new album “Apostasie,” lies halfway between Rammstein and Finntroll…both in musical sensibility, and in general silliness.

Before rumors start to swirl, let’s put this in its proper context.  That is a compliment.  Pure and simple.  In a year when it seems like the calendar is overly saturated with bands coming back out of the woodwork after multiple decade hiatuses, here’s a German band virtually unknown to American audiences that are putting fresh, personalized spins on sounds we thought we knew.

Addressing the other elephant in the room, as far as the silliness goes, maybe we’re reading this wrong and “Apostasie” is supposed to be as serious as a heart attack, but that seems unlikely.  If the Upstate New York public education system’s German curriculum is worth anything, some of these song titles translate to “Your Death is my Hooker,” and “Women De-boning,” so it’s hard to envision that the tongue isn’t firmly buried in the cheek here.

To top it off, if you skip to the end, there’s a truly excellent and highly enjoyable cover of the German rapper Kollegah’s hit “Wat is’ denn los mit dir,” which caps the album perfectly.  It’s a fantastic change of pace with some really bright keyboard work that stays within the envelope of Nachtblut while still showing an ability for musical interpretation.

Anyway, the meat of the album is an adrenaline-fueled, riff-heavy ride that will find a niche with fans across the spectrum of metal, as evidenced by the bands cited at the head of this thing.  There’s a lot of great design elements here in the construction, even if you can’t understand the German lyrics.  “Amok” rumbles with purpose and direction, but is flanked on either side by some clear piano and punctuated by a clean-toned guitar solo in the song’s second half.  The juxtaposition of the clean tones with the over-driven, screaming punch of the song’s basic riff creates a dichotomy that is simple, but adds a lot of depth.

As ever in this kind of effort, the keyboards can make or break an album by either accenting it or driving it over the cliff into contrivance.  Nachtblut employs the alarmingly bright tones of keyboardist Lymania’s harmonies to create real depth and help move the songs along.  “Scheinfromm” by itself is a powerhouse, but the electronic elements turn it into a more memorable, and thus more effective, song.

Not to be outdone, Nachtblut also gives us “Geboren um zu leben,” which for all its metal underpinnings, can safely be recognized as crossing the border into industrial, with its mechanized beats and heavy electronic influence.  The breakdowns and bridges are deceptively danceable, showing just another facet of what “Apostasie” brings to the table.

Listen, we’ve now spent three paragraphs distinguishing what some might call minor differences in affect or musical idiom, but being able to separate those pages and provide the listener with a handful of different styles while staying on message is what makes “Apostasie” so much more accomplished than many of its contemporaries.

A couple odd notes that have to be addressed.  If it were not for the soft piano section of “Frauenausbeiner,” an attentive listener may think that the song is a Germanized version of AC/DC’s “Have a Drink on Me.”  The basic riff, the structure, even the cadence is remarkably similar to that song from “Back in Black.” 

Also, the piano ballad “Einsam,” while executed well enough and highlighted by the emotive and earnest performance of guest vocalist Aeva Maurelle, feels a little out of place on the record, both because it’s sandwiched between a rousing arena-rock clone (as mentioned above,) and the beer-stein swinging celebration of the title track, and because as we’ve already talked about, there’s a question of seriousness amidst the bravado here.

Let’s not lose the forest for a couple of trees, though.  “Apostasie” is great.  One of the most purely enjoyable, catchy and consistently well-constructed albums of 2017.  It doesn’t require a lot of dissection to be able to understand what’s going on here; it’s a straight-ahead, rolling gothic metal record that knows how to be fun and punchy at the same time.  Especially as we hurtle inexorably toward year-end award season, you are doing yourself a disservice if you do not spend some time with Nachtblut.

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