Style: Folk Rock
Release Date: 27 Mar 2020
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Here's something of a curiosity but there are plenty of reasons why it's an appropriate one to review here. For one, this is the second album by a side project of Adam Darski, best known as Nergal, the main man in Polish extreme metal band Behemoth. It's released on Napalm Records. Guests include members of Mastodon, Emperor, Trivium, Slipknot, Volbeat and two different Shinings, the Norwegian and the Swedish. And, assuming that a restrictions lift, they are booked for a whole slew of European rock and metal festivals, including Wacken Open Air.
Given all that, it would seem to be a gimme to review here, except that it's not metal or even rock. It's actually dark roots music: a blend of country, blues, gospel and folk, with melancholy gothic flavours infused throughout. The overall tone is alt country, even when the songs aren't murder ballads, but that's a versatile genre and the sound ends up running from Nick Cave to the Mavericks. It's fascinating to hear these musicians taken on this style.
Listening to the second track, Coming Home, I could have sworn blind that I was hearing Nick Cave himself but the singer is actually Sivert Høyem, who's best known as the frontman for an Norwegian alt rock band called Madrugada. He's an aural mirror of Cave and the lyrics he sings fit too, such as, "She came on like a cyclone kiss; she brought both suffering and bliss." This is a real highlight here, but it's not the only one.
For instance, it's followed by Burning Churches and By the River, two wildly different takes on Americana but two very memorable pieces. The former has a singalong gospel chorus that would become a standard if only gospel singers would sing about burning churches. The latter is an spiritual explosion for Ihsahn, who gets emotionally intense with his voice and then his guitar, as the song evolves into a guitar solo.
These songs are notable for who performs on them in more than one way. It's weird in good ways to hear trendy metal singers like Matt Heafy of Trivium approach a dark country lament, with lines like "Soon you will be mine or you'll be dead" but it's even more fascinating to explore the sheer variety in styles that Nergal trawled in here.
For instance, the lead on Burning Churches is by Mat McNerney, who usually sings post-punk with Grave Pleasures; the delightfully menacing delivery on Man of the Cross is from Jérôme Reuter, a former oi singer who tends to play in the neofolk genre with his band Rome; and the final track, which at heart is a suicide note in confessional form, is delivered by Kvarforth, a black/doom metal performer known for the Swedish band called Shining. Ironically, the opener, Run with the Devil, is sung by Jørgen Munkeby of the Norwegian band of the same name, a hard rock outfit. He even adds saxophone for good measure.
I like this variety and it propagates throughout the album. Surrender is an agreeably lively gospel stomp. Męstwo, as its title suggests, is in Polish, which is another level of weird for an American roots song. Deep Down South is female led, both through the banjo of Sasha Boole and by the vocals that she and Johanna Sadonis provide. Boole also wrote a couple of late songs, as the album finally moves towards rock. How Come? is still alt country but Rob Caggiano and Brent Hinds, guitarists for Volbeat and Mastodon respectively, strut their stuff in solos. And, even though the final track begins with the rich cello of Weronika Kulpa, it ramps up into black metal intensity.
I have no idea how this will play to the rock and metal audience that Nergal seems to be pitching it to, but I liked it. Then again, it's the second such album, after 2017's Songs of Love and Death, so it sounds like he's already found an audience. As a fan of rock, metal and roots music, I'm now totally on board for whatever Me and That Man does in the future.