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Neaera - Neaera Award winner

by Kira Schlechter at 09 April 2020, 4:08 AM

For a band to come back after a seven-year layoff is a big deal. To do that, and release an album as good as the one the melodic death metal outfit NEAERA just did, is an even bigger accomplishment, The five-piece, from Munster, Germany, formed in 2003 and broke up in 2015 before getting back together. This self-titled album is their seventh effort, their most recent prior was 2013’s “Ours is the Storm.”

The brief instrumental “(Un)Drowned” leads into the opener, “Catalyst.” Benjamin is a screamer mostly, but he alternates with a more guttural roar at points for emphasis. The title is apt – this is about being a vehicle for change, even if you’ve dealt with hardship (“Driven by reflection/Hardened by rejection” but then “Conviction takes the embers/Compassion fuels the flame,” a lovely couplet there and one of many on the album). It’s better to care wholeheartedly, they say – “Resolve reveals the essence/Of empathy untamed” – than give in to the alternative, “Indifference – the mortal sin.”

“False Shepherds” is strongly and angrily anti-nationalist, and good for them (“Borders, flags and pride/For a world without colours we should strive”). It seems to be a pretty pointed comment on perhaps the current U.S. administration (“Then comes the helping hand/Another pariah/A treacherous pied piper/To fuel your toxic fires”) and anti-immigrant policy in general (“Bombed out of their distant homes/They seek relief/Only to become a scapegoat/For all that’s wrong with you” – that’s so poetically put.)

What’s cool about what NEAERA does is the blending of really positive, mature, socially active messages – many urging inner change and personal responsibility – with brutal, crushing music. This is not just bitching about the system, it’s insisting upon YOU changing YOUR reaction to things within and around yourself. Hence “Resurrection of Wrath.” Its wailing chorus is wrenching and pleading – “Harness the grief of the world/Stab indifference right through the heart.” The bridge might be delivered in a guttural fashion, but the meaning is surprisingly sensitive – “The only true response to this world/Is not depression,” like don’t let it get you down, and thus “The only true response to this world/Is wrath and compassion,” or it’s fine to get angry but let that anger generate compassion.

The last verse is especially pointed, maybe even more so in these current times – “Overload of global hardship/Haunted by digital rage/Awareness of abysmal injustice/How can we live?” “Carriers” is a moving tale of immigration, possibly referring to the Syrian refugee crisis in particular (“They suffered assault/Trauma, persecution/They have seen a misery/That knows no company”). Those sophisticated plays on words are such a joy – that is to say, even this misery wouldn’t love company, it’s that bad. These are people who have taken their chances to come by ship to hopefully find a better life (“They run with souls of grief/With illusions of relief…Laden with hopes and dreams”) but those ships are really “carriers of despair,” that better life is a lie (“Fortune fools the bold,” another brilliant play on a familiar saying), and you won’t find a welcome, only rejection (“Before our coasts/We let you drown”).

“Rid the Earth of the Human Virus” obviously hits a little close to home title-wise, but it’s actually a commentary on climate change and the exploitation of resources. “Sunset of Mankind” is a fairly pointed Holocaust reference (“Camps, fences, and horror,” it begins). The second section in the first verse is punishing and slow to drive home the point, and they quote Shakespeare, for God’s sake, if reversing the line to fit (“grace and renown are dead,” in a loose quote from “Macbeth”), as if to say that what Germany might have been before, or has become since, will always be marred by this time – there is “no grave for your guilt.”

Their tempos and overall music are fairly consistent in the melodic death metal realm, although they tend to skew more toward the “Death Metal” and less toward the “melodic” part of the equation. That’s not a criticism; it’s just how they are. Sebastian certainly shines on blast beats throughout. but both “Sunset” and “Rid the Earth” boast simple but tuneful and emotional guitar leads from Tobias and Stefan and they are a treat. “Eruption in Reverse” is a frantic but ultimately thoughtful examination of mental illness, of someone whose “rainbow shines in black and white.” The bridge is genius in its use of metaphor (“The soul an empty house/Its owners headed south/To warmth and peace/Took with them all relief”) and the music behind it is devastatingly bleak.

“Torchbearer” urges us to set an example. We only have a short time here (“Trivial spectrum in the earth/Meaningless towards time”), so make the best of it and live for the present (“Love and praise the moment/And cherish the things that are/Embalm/ entomb your past/And ignite your future”). But don’t expect rewards (“Heritage without a shrine?”) and remember this is an ongoing process (“You thought you silenced your demons/Put your dreams to sleep”). If you continue this process of personal growth, despite the occasional setbacks, you can “(make) the darkness weak,” you can be the light in the dark.

Two tracks are separated from each other but are deeply and cleverly connected. “Lifeless” is about those who go against you and bring you down (“Your prey is waging war against themselves/Taking the blame” and “For your prey/Judgment day/Is every goddamn day”). Its antithesis, the closer “Deathless,” is you taking control (“You are waging war against yourselves/Taking the blame/Bearing a cross that is theirs/Living their shame”). The choice, of course, is yours – will you be a victim or will you act (“Fight or be fought/Choose or be chosen/Do or be done to,” how great is that). It’s definitely a message of hope – “Your soul may be darkened,” they acknowledge, you may have been through bad times, “but (it) will always shine brighter than theirs.”

This is truly an album for right here, right now. Surely NEAERA couldn’t have consciously known that, but boy, is it the case. These are some of the most well-thought-out, sophisticated, profound lyrics I’ve heard in a long time, and they really resonated with me.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. (Un)Drowned
2. Catalyst
3. False Shepherds
4. Resurrection of Wrath
5. Carriers
6. Rid the Earth of the Human Virus
7. Sunset of Mankind
8. Lifeless
9. Eruption in Reverse
10. Torchbearer
11. Deathless
Benjamin Hilleke - Vocals
Tobias Buck - Guitar
Stefan Keller - Guitar
Benjamin Donath - Bass
Sebastian Heldt - Drums
Record Label: Metal Blade Records


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