Regular readers will know well that I live to discover things that I haven't heard before. That's why I'd easily call Nepal Death's debut my favourite album of the month, even if I've rated three others above it. This is the first to even stand up as a contender and that's because this is a one man funeral doom/death metal album from Tunisia on the aptly named label Hypnotic Dirge Records.
That one man is Fedor Kovalevsky, who doesn't sound like he's from Tunisia, unlike his bandmates in progressive death metal outfit Vielikan, Zied Kochbati and Nessim Toumi, both of whom seem to have at least some sort of connection to Omination even if they don't play on this, the project's third full length release. Wherever he hails from originally, he's based in Tunis and that makes this a Tunisian extreme metal release, one that's long, fascinating and uncompromising.
And I say funeral doom/death metal for the sake of listing a genre. This may not be what you imagine from that description, though it's certainly as fair as anything else. This may sound really weird but I ended up thinking of NGR as the dark side of early Enigma. No, this isn't built out of samples and I'm not suggesting that it's Gregorian monks shifted into a minor key. However, the instrumentation here is as much church organ, bells and choral chanting as it is guitars, bass and drums. The whole thing is about setting a mood and that mood is cultists in black robes performing unholy rites in the ruins of an unsanctified church.
It's also experimental enough that it's hard to sit this truly alongside bands like Ahab, who are heavy and achingly slow but traditional enough in their song structures that you could play them at 45rpm instead of 33rpm and get a different experience. This often appears to be as much a sound collage as a piece of music. There are points where our ears catch riffs and melodies and rhythms and all the other things that we critics call out so often for attention, but mostly this sounds like a train colliding with a packed church in slow motion and in such a way that the result sounds appealing.
I'd love to hear someone better versed in experimental music than I explain why this works. I can see a particularly canny combination of subgenres, bringing in walls of sound from black metal, the growls from death metal and the slow pace and atmospheres of doom metal, but there are other things here. This is music I could imagine reading about in The Wire as much as Terrorizer and I'm convinced that a number of the instruments here are found objects in a Einstürzende Neubauten sense, bringing some proto-industrial textures into play.
It also feels as if it falls into a genre that could simply be called loud music. I don't know the technical wonders that the production is utilising but I've stood in a tiny venue with a band performing louder than was appropriate for the space and my ears rebelled at the sheer volume. I felt the same here and I have a volume control that I can tweak however I like. That discomfort factor is built into the music and it's fascinating to me. I don't want to leave, but my ears are constantly struggling to understand what's happening in such a challenging environment. This is what intensity sounds like and I say that before we get to the industrial black metal section sixteen minutes into The New Golgotha Repvbliq.
The vocals help a picture like that because they're varied. Kovalevsky sings with both clean and harsh voices but he also shouts, not in a hardcore style but like he's fighting to be heard in a hurricane, and he also chants in ritual fashion. I presume it's all him, because he's credited for everything, but he's a cast of characters rather than a single performer. Given that some of this feels ritualistic, I wonder if it was written with visuals in mind. If I put the words "dark opera" together, I'd expect something in a gothic metal vein, which this totally isn't, but they seem to fit here.
The stage would need to be huge though, because the grandeur here is Wagnerian in scale. This needs an organ the size of a building and entire walls of choirs. The characters have to be giants, fallen gods moving achingly slowly, especially during the hypnotic ritual chanting sections in songs like Unto the Ages of Ages and Death(s), Love and Life. The sets and costume must be black and white because colour has been bled out of this album. And it must have an ethnic angle, even if African flavours don't show up until Post-Apocalypticism almost an hour in, because wherever this unfolds, it isn't here and that's going to stand wherever you're reading this from.
Did I mention that this album is long? When Post-Apocalypticism ends, eight songs in, we've reached 57m, making this long already. But then it's time for the title track, because NGR presumably stands for The New Golgotha Repvbliq, and this wildly ambitious piece is over twenty minutes long. And, if that's not enough, my edition has a tenth song, titled Nothing, which adds another ten. An hour and a half of this ought to be unbearable but it's magnetic. I listened to this in entirety three times yesterday and a fourth time today as I translated my notes into an actual review.
To suggest that there's a lot here is a major understatement. It's not remotely going to be something that everyone's going to appreciate. This is very niche material, but if you're someone who likes how genres can be merged and subverted into something new and if you're someone who reads The Wire as often as your favourite metal magazine, this may be the best album you've heard in forever.