Album Title: Abyss Rising
Label: Despotz Records
Date of Release: 18 February 2022
My attention was first drawn to Nightrage back in 2003 when they released their debut album, ‘Sweet Vengeance’. Always on the look-out for a great slab of melodic death metal, I was drawn by the fact that the band was co-formed by Gus G of Firewind fame at the time. As if that wasn’t enough, the drumming was handled by The Haunted’s Per Möller Jensen, with Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates behind the microphone. I was further persuaded to give them a try thanks to a guest appearance from Tom Englund of Evergrey. Long-term readers will be shocked by that revelation, I can tell. It remains a great album, one that I still listen to when the mood takes me and time allows.
However, the debut remains the only one of their records that has found its way into my collection. Over the ensuing 19 years, Nightrage have undergone significant line-up changes with Gus G and Tomas Lindberg departing due mainly to competing priorities. In fact, only the co-founder Marios Iliopolous remains in place to this day. Joining him in 2022 are vocalist Ronnie Nyman, guitarist Magnus Söderman, bassist Francisco Escalona, and drummer Dino George Stamoglou.
Partly because of the line-up alterations and the fact that the next couple of albums failed to really ignite my enthusiasm, Nightrage is a band that I lost contact with. And it’s not just me, it seems. The melodic death metal genre can be a busy and competitive place, and Nightrage seem to have been the victims of this reality, always remaining just off the radar of the masses. Nevertheless, they have carried on in the underground, releasing a further seven albums after their excellent debut.
‘Abyss Rising’ is the ninth full-length studio recording and once again, it nearly evaded my attention, due to being released on one of the busiest weeks of the year so far. These guys need a bit of luck it seems. Hopefully this review will help because now that I have listened to it on and off for a few days now, I have to say that it’s really rather splendid.
The music might not be the most original, but as I’ve said many times before, it doesn’t have to be in order to be good. And Nightrage waste no time in grabbing my attention with a fabulous opening one-two that have be grinning from ear to ear. A brief drum solo ushers in the title track, before a sharp and catchy riff gets in on the action. Nyman’s rasping vocals, in the Lindberg vein suit the music well, before a killer chorus takes centre stage, led by a lovely lead guitar line. I’m reminded of Arch Enemy in their earlier days when they were still good.
The second of the two opening songs is entitled ‘Swallow Me’, and it’s a groovy little sucker. It features clever clean guitar effects that are vaguely reminiscent of mid-era In Flames to accent the heavier, more aggressive riffs. The song makes great use of dynamics too, with plenty to grab and then hold your attention, not least a pronounced use of light and heavy sections, a cool lead guitar solo, and catchy melodies aplenty.
There is a school of thought that say that Nightrage blow their best two songs at the beginning of the album, with everything that follows struggling to match their quality. It’s a hypothesis that stands up to scrutiny at the beginning, but which then becomes less and less accurate the more time you spend with ‘Abyss Rising’. The opening two tracks might well deliver some of the catchiest of Nightrage’s music, but there is a lot of quality to be heard at other times too. In fact, the only real misstep that the band make, is to insert no fewer than three short instrumental pieces into the album – one ‘interlude’, one ‘instrumental’ and one outro. I can make peace with the ‘The Divergent, Instrumental’, as it is at least a charming palette-cleanser that features some excellent, melodic lead guitar work. But ‘Portal Of Dismay, Interlude’ is almost entirely pointless, offering nothing except a few vaguely dystopian sounds for just under a minute.
But back to the positives, and there’s lots of material to choose. ‘Nauseating Oblivion’ carries with it some nice, aggressive riffs, an insidiously catchy chorus and some unexpected clean vocals later in the track that are a welcome addition because they’re not sickly-sweet or overdone. ‘Falsifying Life’ has a nice pace to it, as well as some strong melodies that will hit home for fans of ‘Whoracle’-era In Flames. If I’m honest, throughout ‘Abyss Rising’, the In Flames references are the biggest and most dominating, not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it just backs up my previous comments about originality and it is worth mentioning as it might be a make or break for some of you reading this review.
‘9th Circle Of Hell’ however, mixes things up well, with a dark vibe initially, before hitting hard with a cracking slab of melodeath that I must’ve not listened to properly to begin with, whilst ‘Cursed By The Gift Of Sight’ comes blasting out of the blocks at high speed, dialling up the aggression somewhat in the process, complete with strong lead guitar solos and a sense of real urgency.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the ride upon which Nightrage have taken me. ‘Abyss Rising’ may lack a fully fleshed-out identity of its own, but what it does, it does really very well indeed. Everything you could want from a melodic death metal album is present and correct – as such, you get strong incisive riffing, aggression, power, and plenty of melody and groove to keep you hooked and ensure you come back for another listen. And if you give ‘Abyss Rising’ a listen, I guarantee you’ll come back for more. You never know, this might be the album to raise the Nightrage profile too…I certainly hope so.
The Score of Much Metal: 89%
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