Review Summary: Agalloch Beaten at Their Own Game.
As a person lucky enough to travel often, I can tell you that I have been to many countries and also that one of the most memorable for me was far and away Spain. There is such a sense of warmth and welcoming to the nation that is rare is so many parts of the world. The art and scenery overflow with color and vibrancy and the people that I spoke to were all very friendly. Come to think of it, I can't even remember seeing one grumpy looking bloke walking down the streets of Barcelona; everyone just seemed happy. Spanish post-death metal band (I know that sounds pretentious, but just go with me here), Nahemah would have you think otherwise. Nahemah consists of six seriously depressed Swedes who were oddly reincarnated as Spanish metal-heads. These guys then decided to forsake any of their mediterranean heritage and instead create an immensely dark and beautiful soundtrack to winter. There are no flamenco guitars, congas, or atrocious Spanish raps to be found on the disk, instead chilly layers of Cult of Luna-esque guitars, haunting synths and electronics, and cold, detached vocals blanket the listener; these guys sound downright Scandinavian!
Despite such a description Nahemah are a fairly difficult band to nail down to any particular genre (hence the ridiculous genre I assigned them), but if I had to compare them to anything I would have to say they remind me an awful lot of the "gray-metal" stylings of that Pacific Northwestern band everyone loves- Agalloch. If you find it somewhat puzzling that I think so highly of a band that sounds like another group which I have very little interest in, allow me to explain. Agalloch, as I stated in a lovely little review I wrote a while back for their last album, Ashes Against the Grain, I find to be an unusual band with some pretty cool and original ideas, that is held back for the reason that they are consistently unable to put any of them together in away that is even remotely interesting. Nahemah, on the other hand, utilizes many of these similar elements, dark brooding atmospheres, nature themes, multiple loud/quiet changes, and powerful wall of sound dynamics, but executes them all infinitely better than their geographically distant peers.
For as much as Nahemah has in common with post-metal and prog sounds they do a great job not getting lost in their own self-indulgeance. While there are some lengthier songs in the six to eight minute range most clock in at around five minutes and waste none of the listener's precious time with virtually no pretentious spoken parts or ten minute passages of delay noodling. The opener, “Siamese”, is a great example of this, in just four minutes it gradually draws the listener in with dreary guitar strumming, warped string parts, and shimmering electronics, before launching in at full force. The music itself is quite beautiful and is very meticulously layered; riffs, strings, synths-you name it. The many different instruments and sounds the group employs at their disposal fall seamlessly into place creating the hopeless feeling of being trapped in the throws of a violent blizzard. Pablo Egido instantly proves himself to be a fantastic vocalist, switching effortlessly between a heart-wrenching Stanne-like rasp and Katatonia-esque cleans. All together the piece is a very impressive and controlled display of the group's many talents.
The following tracks build nicely upon this platform and their numerous influences. One of such, "Nothing," is especially moving with it's dramatic synth swells reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity's slower tracks ala “My Negation” or “Inside the Particle Storm.” "Change" is the first kind of “epic” of the album that succeeds in every way imaginable boasting a gorgeous Sigur Ros-ean intro, creative prog metal riffs, and a beautifully sung chorus. This is also followed up by perhaps the most memorable track of the album, “Labyrinthian Straight Ways,” which opens barely sounding metallic at all with blaring hammond organs and funky drumming, which both prove to be the veritable “calm before the storm” as rest of the piece hits harder and tugs more vigorously on the heart strings than any other tune on the record, before finally dissipating into a lush electronica influenced outro.
These oddities in the beginning of the track point out two very unique aspects of the group, the first of which being their very creative instrumentation. In addition to the aforementioned organs the band also makes use of chimes, saxophone, various woodwind instruments, and even eastern flavored percussion on many of the tracks. While The Second Philosophy may not sound the least bit Mediterranean, it certainly does sound exotic. The other unusual aspect of Nahemah's sound lies in their drummer's playing. He very rarely uses the typical "snare-kick-snare-kick" beats that are fairly common place in most death metal bands, double kick is also rather sparse, and there are absolutely no blast beats. Rather, he relies much more of intricate grooves, tasty snare and cymbal accents, and tight quick fills to drive the band. He really has much more in common with say, a fusion or rock drummer than an extreme metal one. These two facets, really allow the band's sound to breathe; for however much is going on nothing ever sounds bloated or over the top, it all just flows.
Melody plays a really key role in Nahemah's sound throughout the album. In addition to the bevy of instruments and prominent keyboard parts mentioned, clean vocals make noticeable appearances in every track, in fact some songs like “Subterranean Airports,” “Today's Sunshine Ain't the Same,” and the entrancing closing ballad “The Speech” are almost entirely sung. This is hardly an issue though, considering again the brilliant vocals from Egido, but also given how their songs with all their dynamic twists and turns, just wouldn't sound complete without them. While The Second Philosophy is not without its fair share of rock-out parts, this is definitely not a pump-up or head-bang crazy album. For every crushing guitar squall there is an equally moving clean section that unfolds much like the sun surfacing from the gray clouds of a storm.
The Second Philosophy is one hell of an impressive record from a band that by all means shouldn't be even making such music. Leave it to a group of sunny Spaniards to beat all the Scandinavians and Pacific Northwesterners (AGALLOCH! AGALLOCH! AGALLOCH!) at their own dreary game. Fans of everything from Melo-Death to Post-Metal and even Prog-metal will all find something great to enjoy within Nahemah's sound. So with this in mind, what's next world-class German reggae?