I don’t know what it is about German black metal bands, but they always sound so much more austere than their Scandinavian counterparts. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about German classical or opera music to be able to draw any kind of comparison, bit I can’t help but wonder if the more measured, martial approach that many German bands take to the genre has its roots in that tradition. Whatever the reason, long-running Elienburg, Saxony-based outfit Nargaroth sounds especially austere on Era of Threnody, their first new full-length since 2009. In fact, it might be a bit too much so – the record kind of leaves me feeling cold, and not in the way that black metal is supposed to.
Musically, I like a lot of what’s happening on this record. Band mastermind Ash has a knack for writing catchy, mid-tempo riffs, and his use of both clean electric and acoustic passages creates some interesting dynamics within the songs. Tasteful keyboard accents add atmosphere to the proceedings, and the production and mix are both absolutely pristine so every instrument and note can be clearly heard. Yet the record as a whole isn’t as satisfying as it should be, and I think there are two reasons for that. First, at nearly 65 minutes, the record is too damn long. If he’d have cut “Whither Goest Thou,” “Love is a Dog from Hell,” and “TXFO,” it would have been a much stronger album. The vocals also don’t do a whole lot for me, largely because he doesn’t vary his style much from song to song. With only a couple of exceptions, he uses almost the exact same cadence and rasp on every track, which isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, but combine the lack of vocal variety with the excessive length and the record can be a bit exhausting at times.
That being said, it isn’t without its highlights. The run of tracks that make up the middle of the record—“Conjunction Underneath the Alpha Weel,” “…As Orphans Drifting in a Desert Night,” “The Agony of a Dying Phoenix,” and “Epicedium to a Broken Dream”—is damn near flawless, with moments that me of both Agalloch and Dark Fortress. Closing track “My Eternal Grief, Anguish Neverending” is a moving track, largely because it makes excellent use of clean vocals. A bit more of that kind of variety would have gone a long way. On the whole, though, there’s more good here than bad, and I did enjoy the record overall. If you like your black metal slower and well produced, you should definitely check this one out.
Era of Threnody will be available on May 16 via Inter Arma Productions.