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Nergard – A Bit Closer To Heaven

A Bit Closer To Heaven
by Charlotte ''Downright Destructive'' Lamontagne at 23 July 2015, 8:33 AM

Pure, clear and angelic, three words who rarely combine themselves to metal… In a modern age, sticking to a particular genre can be somewhat of a musical suicide, considering how originality has now been proven to pay. For Norway has always been home to metal music, here rises NERGARD, a musical project given birth to by the bassist, keyboardist and drummer Andreas Nergård. Engaging into creating a combination of Melodic, Rock and Metal, the musician has backed himself with 16 other artists, some of whom being vocalists, guitarists, keyboardists and also bassists. On a quest of recreating a new, rare genre, the formation experiments in all sorts of ways with their just released album ''A Bit Closer To Heaven''. Only around since 2010, it seems the band has already seduced a large fan base. But what is it about their music, that makes it so gripping?

For all the melody it holds, there is also a very modern feel to the music of NERGARD. The elegant and graceful voices tangled to the crystal clear sounds (whether it being for the technological bass effects or the computer noises), give a very recent vibe. Of course, various aspects, such as the elevating bridges made out of keyboard leads, prove the record leans towards melody before all. With it's also accessible pop-­rock rhythms, the formation delivers a nice and clean record – repellent to any die hard fan of stomping fury and abrasiveness. Still, with heavy tendencies throughout the vibrating drum rolls or the frenetic picking, it is technically and musically fine to label ''A Bit Closer To Heaven'' of metal, as it manifests refinement and a soft, melodious kind of metal. But there is far more to the formations music, as they seem to invoke a particular element all through the record. As secret weapon, NERGARD uses the well effective climax effect. With ascending scales and higher voices always finding a way of adding their selves to the evolution of the track, every piece intensifies itself, reaching a boiling point. As this seduces the ear and stimulates the brain, it seems the record spins quite fast. The occasional forefront tempo breaks also take turn into gradating the overall product, but results in an only polished aggressiveness. Truly, the heaviness mostly lies in the very present underpinning bass and drum duet, who offers a decent amount of technicality and synchronism, while the tone is oriented towards metal rather than rock (round, amplified, profound). And so, still considering themselves as Melodic Rock Metal, you would have to say the rock spirit comes alive through the uncluttered structures (verse, chorus, solo/bridge) and the non­-rapid, simply enthusiastic tempo.

With this in mind, it's no coincidence when the record hits off with a melody strongly influenced by rock music. A cycle of eight note riffs ending and sealing the bow with ascending scales expresses the aura of ''Light and Shadow''. Interesting enough, the sol purpose here ultimately seems to aim for the recreation of a harsh, 80s song. Light enough to call in rock-oriented, but heavy enough to tag it along the 80s label, the catchy rhythm and melody mashed to the rapid core brings back typical elements of rock and thrash. For it is very present along the song, it's the fusion of screechy sang­-and­-yelled high­-pitched voice, and the low­-drum contrast that highlights the thrash and modern metal influences most. The simple structure, yet effective one, goes on to become an entertaining eight minute long opener. The bridges communicating the more melodic aspect of the formation through keyboard serenades and two gender choirs also prove another objective to the piece, twisting it into a resting moment far from the weighing influences earlier projected. Strange enough, besides the 5 comes off as rock as these two (although ''A Bit Closer to Heaven'' contains sharper riffs, too).

Wailing guitar solos on top of bass­-drum casual foundations and repetitive, easy melodies, serve as main influences. Even if the 5 weighing, distorted main riff), the record takes an overall different direction in tone, resembling the one a progressive act could have. If ''Fall From Grace'' first landed an electronic impression say a fake tone, often heard in popular music – the crystal clear, melodious and light, floating voice uplifted the piece. Still, with many computer effects, the unfurling rain of keyboards (à la DREAM THEATER) coated with sweet glockenspiel leads, flourished a tasteful composition.

Sadly, mixing electronic elements to this soft, gentle record compromises the delicacy emanating from it. With so much as eight different vocalist, all providing a unique emotion and serving the track ''Help Me Through the Night'', no other song the track draws some inspiration from the sludge genre (notice the different dialogues, no other effects are needed. Keyboards, acoustic guitars, electrified ones and a large drum set seem to fill the silences perfectly fine. Therefore, the subtle yet recurring electronic/industrial components only cheapen the classy efforts the band had already supplied. The sometime frail female voices heard in tracks like ''On Through The Storm'' weaken the record, tearing it down to a very vulnerable produce. Interestingly enough, I believe this was an inventive way of sharing even more emotion, when all were already expressed. Now, not always as aesthetic as a powerful, rich chant, NERGARD assume these voices with such confidence, it seems they were a fully voluntary artistic choice, probably discussed many times during the recording sessions. Spoiler alert here, the track also contains an orgasmic, perfectly played guitar solo, worthy of 70 experimental progressive legends.

The psychedelic – almost keyboard-­like tone – will send chills down your spine, for every note emotes feeling and talent to it's most gorgeous form. ''I Will Find You'' also touches the soul, as it is depressive in a beautiful and indescribable way. The passionate, on­going dialogues between the vocalists seem to always intensify towards a higher, culminating point. As if James Labrie's (DREAM THEATER) voice had reincarnated itself through the narrator of this piece, so he could sing along this forceful, alto­-jazzy, female voice leading the way. Accompanied by saddened voices and sometimes more sensual ones retorting, ''I Will Find You'' could have easily ended the record with force and radiance. Note the brilliant, subtle transitions from voice to voice, these dialogues fit perfectly and fluidly with each-other. Every vocalist takes his turn naturally, and prove the musicianship and the discipline are on point throughout the entire album. With an angelic, tremblingly powerful feminine voice chanting about love, ''All I Want Is You'' sums up with the bands signature style: emotional ballades tainted of electrified guitar solos and choirs. A tasteful choice of ending, slow but with turmoil progressively finding it's way through. How desolating is it, that the fade out has been abruptly cut short during the mixing sessions, ruining the emotions the whole song – and even record – had set.

A pure lack of professionalism and effort there, which seems even more frustrating considering how the integral work is generally cautiously played and remixed. And so, after listening to ''A Bit Closer to Heaven'', what really emerges is the talent the musicians hold in every bit of their fingers. If the partitions are not particularly technical, the interpretation plus the creativity of the concepts and compositions communicate enough for it to be a more than decent listen. The formation here seemed to focus their energy on the spectacular vocal experiments which indeed happens to be a wise choice. With all the signing, adding loaded instrumentals would have ruined the purity. Really, NERGARD's project is interesting, for the most. With odd combinations of eras and genres (slight techno effects whilst the background is generally going from metal to rock), the record could be considered filled with potential and contradictions. Still, almost entirely made of intelligent and meaningful choices, more experience could be quite helpful for the group. With even more practice and records released, the Norwegians could achieve a great level of success, only needing a bit of time to define their musical path. Missing a bit a raw material, it seems the band mates rushed themselves into full maturity first. Opting for a music of emotions, melody and intensity, the gut-­feelings were too cleaned out – too remixed, filtered and polished. Even though, the many solid elements the record offers make up for this lack of spontaneity and, if not quite satisfying, a copious amount of sections were uplifting. Yes, elevating your soul closer to heaven.

4 Star Rating

1. Light And Shadow
2. Fall From Grace
3. On Through the Storm
4. Let it Come
5. Help Me Through the Night
6. I Will Find You
7. A Bit Closer To Heaven
8. When All I Want Is You
Elize Ryd – Vocals
Nils K. Rue – Vocals
Ralf Scheepers – Vocals
Michael Eriksen – Vocals
Andi Kravljaca – Vocals
Thomas Løseth – Vocals
Sunniva Unsgård – Vocals
Ole Martin Moe Thornæs – Vocals
Henrik Karlsvik – Rhythm Guitars
Jostein Svarstad – Guitar solo
Stig Nergård – Guitar solo
Jørn Viggo Lofstad – Guitar solo
Øyvind Voldmo Larsen – Guitar solo
Øyvind Wærnes – Guitar
Raymond Hellem – Acoustic Guitar
Martin Aas – Bass
Andreas Nergård – Drums/bass/keyboards
Record Label: Pug­-nose Records


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Edited 10 December 2022

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