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Nox Aeternum - The Reaction: A Higher Form of Killing Award winner

Nox Aeternum
The Reaction: A Higher Form of Killing
by Kira Schlechter at 20 April 2020, 5:41 AM

So maybe bands are overrated. When you can do everything yourself as well as Pittsburgh’s Andrew Hart does, go ahead and go the Quorthon route – you’ve earned the right. Going by the name NOX AETERNUM (loosely meaning ”eternal nights” in Latin), Andrew writes and performs everything here in a display of savant-esque virtuosity. This is his third full-length album since he came on the scene with his EP “Vale Nostri Moriens Spiritum” in 2013.

He starts with the instrumental “Departure of the Immaterial” (this is now officially a 2020's-metal thing, starting an album with an instrumental), one rooted in acoustic guitar, slashed by wisps of electric, and set to a delicate marching tempo, then explodes with a roar into “Dancing to the Mellifluous Song of Sorrow.” Andrew’s black/death blend is so insanely fast at parts, it’s well, insane. His blast beats are mad and the tempo changes are bonkers. His drumming is just simply brilliant, and not just the blast beats, but his fills, too, which go from jazz-influenced to outright dainty. His skill is apparent at the outset and never lets up. Musically, he’s a prodigy – there’s not a single portion of this that is not exceptionally played, from the alternately evil and soulfully beautiful guitar melodies (on both electric and acoustic) to the equally well-done snatches of bass, which are a real treat when they pop up

His voice is a phlegm-laden roar, both in higher registers and low. He emulates CARCASS a bit with his long, bordering on arcane, song titles, and his verbose, dense lyrics full of images and imagery. So “Dancing” begins with a gruesome murder and its aftermath, but it touches on war (“Venerating names of conquest and baneful righteous deeds”) and perhaps a bit of Satanism (“Call to the beast envenomed like flies circling the black flame,” and “Feeding flames of Abbadon,” referring to the Angel of Death). What its actual message is is a little murky, but you can’t deny the appeal of a line like “Siphoned through the hot intestines of damnation.”

“Execution of Death Wishes In Cold Blood” might start brutally fast, but after the bridge, it switches to a swinging 6/8 groove. There is definitely that loose black metal structure in place on this album, like for instance, this has a verse-chorus structure at first – until it doesn’t. Andrew actually sings at the end, too in a quite passable baritone. Lyrically, this seems to be the aftermath of the murder in the first track, the killer having no remorse for his deed (“Eyes growing soft in gaze while searching inside” and “Lastly fall of sinless guilt”), and maybe, in fact, hoping to do it again (“By swaying sword/Pendulum begs the swinging stain,” which is really clever imagery, as is “And by the grace of the razor/I cut the line”), and also, in fact, being quite captivated by it (“Inhaling the opium of death”).

“A Culling Communion of Ash and Teeth” has an appealing, meaty, DANZIG-like groove, then does a 180 into an almost WOLFHEART chorus, dense and full of amazing guitar melody and more of that insanely tasty drumming. He returns to those musical touchstones throughout. This one could have several interpretations – is it the killer reflecting on his past life, or is he being observed by a higher presence who knows what he’s done (“I know of all things past and future … And the world will be your tormentor”)? It’s unclear but perhaps it’s meant to be.

“Beg the Sickle To Which She Binds (A Hedgerow Against the Grain)” is an extraordinary title that becomes clear at the song’s end, should you find the lyrics (think of a bit of “Death and the Maiden”) The musical movements in it are complex and shift rapidly, marked by an outstanding instrumental midway featuring a bass solo and still more of Andrew’s superior drumming. It's a harrowing, unpleasant self-examination (“…I have chosen my way/It burns so bad that it feels good/But at least I picked my pain” and “In this world of make believe feelings/I can hide behind what is real”). And it contains some deep truths, like the chorus – “Everything pleasant in life is dangerous/No one dies a virgin/Life fucks us all” – and the truly poignant observation, “Love plans for tomorrow/And loneliness thinks of yesterday/Because life is beautiful/And living is pain.”

“Feeding the Soil with the Ardent Burning of Cain,” which begins with a blend of sparsely atmospheric electric and acoustic guitar before it gets down to black metal business, really shows off Andrew’s skill on guitar, especially with those acoustic parts. They are beautiful and full of tension at the same time, lulling and emotional, especially in the bold, lilting second section. While the meaning here is a little amorphous, it is definitely rooted in the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, but loosely and perhaps more metaphorically (the title in part refers to Abel’s blood feeding the soil). And you can’t deny his gift with wordplay. Early on, he says, “Revival incarnate/Dawn of the blade/Sheer defiance/Swallowing into yourself,” then later he uses similar themes and words to flip the interpretation on its head – “Incarnate revival/A sharpened blade of the dawn/Prophet of extinction/defiance…pure and swift” (which may also be a reference to Cain, who killed Abel with a stone and was later killed by a stone himself). Those are the things that, whether I’m a black metal aficionado or not, I will certainly appreciate and note.

“By the Docile Touch of Plummeting Skies” is layered and dense, with an easily distinguishable guitar melody and an excellent tight groove and main riff. The chorus plays with rhythm, forcing the lyrics to flow both with and against the tempo. The later breakdown is sludgy and ponderous and weighty, with a deceptively jaunty guitar line bouncing along up top. It’s quite brief compared to the other tracks and has a more defined structure. And its lyrics again are images, hinting at some type of evil resurrected after being defeated (“Restore these years which the helminths have eaten/I come with a new name”). The reference to the Egyptian god Amon-Ra at the song’s end follows that same resurrection idea.

“Homage to the Mortuary Effluvium” is a clever way of saying, “I like the smell of death” – and in case you didn’t get that, Andrew says at the start, “I love to huff formaldehyde.” It’s frantic and chaotic, but there’s a method to the madness and it fits the theme. If you’re going to be gross, be imaginative and a bit sacrilegious, and he is – ”Recite your psalms within earshot/Of the deceased and the living/Assist me in decomposition/glutaraldehyde, methanol/Wet me with your orthodoxy.” It hurtles to an end with the lyrics, but he’s not finished, merely pausing to shift into a musing, plodding instrumental backed by blistering blast beats.

“Obscurity Transcended Through Torn Flesh and Worn Spirits” effortlessly shifts tempos, from a relentless 6/8 groove to an anything-but-basic 4/4. Its chorus ends with the memorable line, “I gave birth to myself/In all forms I excrete eternally” – it’s definitely obscure lyrically, but it could be a poetic reference to deep depression, or perhaps bitter disappointment. “Shedding Skin Under Cold Vestments” is super ultra fast, but he pulls you up short by dropping in a jaw-droppingly divine chorus – he can come up with moments of absolute beauty. The buoyant guitar melody before the maddened, crazed ending is really gorgeous as well. This could refer to something like Satan demanding his due, and again, it hints at resurrection (“All bow now for the bastard son,” and particularly the last lines, “Brimstone scorn without praise/wick of my psalm set ablaze,” another very nice turn of phrase).

“Truth is Treason In An Empire of Lies” is by far the longest track at over 8 minutes. The first verse has almost a “For Whom the Bell Tolls” kind of feel, but then it smooths out and lengthens. The middle section lightens a bit and becomes less dense and more melodic. He reprises the first part and makes it even faster, if that’s possible, and drifts it out with some surprisingly tender acoustic guitar. This might be the most interesting track lyrically in that it has a certain level of optimism and self-empowerment in the face of adversity – “Here in life as in death/There is a guiding light/From within to begin,” it reminds. It asks if you will defend yourself against oppression (“Are you privileged enough to die for the life you desire?/Or is the call for sacrifice too much to light your fire?/Will you cower naked in your den?/Or will you seek to find the source?/And cast them out!”). And it drops in one particularly thought-provoking line, “A dark heart is not born blackened/It is scorched in the flame of betrayal.”

This is a one-of-a-kind effort by a one-of-a-kind musician.

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

NOX AETERNUM (USA) - Dancing To The Mellifluous Song Of Sorrow (2020) (Lyrics) (HQ) - YouTube

4 Star Rating

1. Departure of the Immaterial
2. Dancing to the Mellifluous Song of Sorrow
3. Execution of Death Wishes In Cold Blood
4. A Culling Communion of Ash and Teeth
5. Beg the Sickle To Which She Binds (A Hedgerow Against the Grain)
6. Feeding the Soil with the Ardent Burning of Cain
7. By the Docile Touch of Plummeting Skies
8. Homage to the Mortuary Effluvium
9. Obscurity Transcended Through Torn Flesh and Worn Spirits
10. Shedding Skin Under Cold Vestments
11. Truth is Treason In An Empire of Lies
Andrew C. Hart - All Instruments
Record Label: Independent


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