ALTARAGE - NIHL (IRON BONEHEAD LP 2016)
I’ve heard so opinions that this album from Altarage titled “Nihl” is totally sensational debut and that it got very good opinions from the critics. So I got tempted and bought myself a copy of vinyl, without even checking a single song, hoping that the impression will be insanely great. Now, after few days of playing this record I can say that I feel disappointed a bit. I’m not saying that “Nihl” is bad, because it’s a decent album, I quite like it, but I am far from calling it the best thing of this year or from using words like “sensational”.
So… what’s wrong with “Nihl”? Well, I feel slightly torn apart when hearing this music and sometimes I cannot make up my mind whether I love it or just hate it. On one hand I have to say that I like that sepulchral, totally ghastly and cold aura that the music awakes. Altarage really can frighten some people with such dose of morbidity and (ravishing, urgh!) grimness. It definitely is one of the coldest and darkest sounding death metal albums I’ve heard in a while. And this aspect is surely the strongest characteristic of “Nihl”, especially when it comes with some killer riffs that I have spotted here and there. But on the other hand Altarage creates such a dense and heavy, monstrous wall of sound that sometimes their music becomes a bit too chaotic and simply unreadable… Which wouldn’t be necessarily a bad thing, but it turns out that a lot of this material starts to sound the same and as such it just gets dull. Obviously you need to listen to “Nihl” carefully, this album requires full focus if you want to catch all its nuances and details. Only then you’ll be able to get into it, but I suppose even in such circumstances it’s not an easy album. Personally I have to say that I was able to catch some exceptionally great fragments, but sometimes I felt bored, so this is why I think that their songwriting still needs an improvement (to avoid writing songs like “Baptism Nihl”, which is just mediocre). Altarage do impress often, especially when they break the neck with furious speed and almost Morbid Angel-esque viciousness, like in “Graehence” or “Vortex Pyramid”. Or in “Altars”, which is just earthshaking track, with definitely the best riffs and arrangements off the whole album!
The thing which I didn’t like the most though are the vocals. On one hand they sound quite unusual and are far from the typical death grunts, sounding a bit like screams, howls and shrieks that you hear from the distance echoed in a catacomb. Or if someone was growling into the tube, which is even worse. Unfortunately, too often the vocals arrangements seem to have no sense and they don’t even match the music, what is very annoying. They just appear here and there, growl with no sense, creating only cacophony, what surely doesn’t help the listener if he wants to get into “Nihl”. I would prefer to hear more typical, deep growl, which would actually fit the riffs, rather than originally sounding ghastly whispers and shrieks, which don’t match the musical background.
So, I am not sure what should I really think of “Nihl”. It’s good album, but is it really something that I would recommend to everyone and make such a big fuzz about it? I don’t think so. I surely do not regret buying this record, as it’s a nice addition to the collection, but I wonder if it won’t end up as a dust gatherer rather than something I will play a lot. I have to admit though that even if “Nihl” can reminds you acts such as Portal, Antediluvian or Impetuous Ritual, they surely belong to those bands, which try to walk their own path of extreme death / black metal. And that counts as something positive. I will keep an eye on them, hoping that for the next album they will improve some aspects of their music, while keeping its sepulchral, eerie aura intact.
Oh, I have to say also that hardly ever the artwork matches the music so perfectly as it’s in case of “Nihl” killer graphics.
Standout tracks: “Graehence”, “Vortex Pyramid”, “Altars”
Final rate: 69/100