Review Summary: a long day's journey into familiarity
It's rather difficult to conjure much excitement over the prospect of a new The Howling Void album. It's not that they aren't enjoyable; they are. But this US funeral doom project is certainly a contender for the least adventurous project in the world. Since 2009, the sole composer/performer behind the project known only as Ryan has released four albums and an EP - which is quite a feat for one man. But the achievement becomes rather tainted by the fact that every single record this guy has done has been intrinsically the same. The only thing that arguably improves with each subsequent release, the Runa EP aside, is the production. As a crippling consequence each record more or less renders the last redundant because they each strive for such a similar goal, any key differences between them fading away due to the lack of desire or confidence to strive outside of a comfort zone.
The musical palette, as before, is a basic but well-executed mixture of huge atmospheric synths playing very simplistic but usually catchy, slow melodies with thick, distorted guitar chords over the back. I'd struggle to call them riffs as 99% of the time they're there simply for texture to compliment everything else in the mix. Add a fairly good-sounding drum machine, but equally as unadventurous as the guitar and you're about there. Only this time the harsh vocals of the previous vocals have been dropped. This has had very little effect on the music adverse or otherwise; mostly because they were barely discernible before. It has been replaced with a male choir that's even less discernible and even more inoffensive, for the fleeting moments that it actually appears. I wouldn't bet against the fact that the choir was present more than I'm giving it credit for and I just didn't notice.
This may sound disingenuous, or that I haven't given this album the due attention it deserves, but this is where the main characteristic of the album comes to light, and arguably this is its biggest strength; it's so difficult not to zone out to. The set of sounds and the way these songs flow is just so easy on the ears and so familiar that it's like comfort food. In all honesty it works; when this album is spinning and you're zoning out it's very difficult to wish it was any other way, and with the improved production it's the perfect complimentary piece to every other album he has done. Each track flows in a very similar way, very slow melodies mostly played on synth go through the motions before an ambient interlude before the melody the track started on returns again. The short interlude tracks add very little and pass by without an impression, and the all-synth track tacked on the end that repeats much the same notes for 13 minutes is as boring as it sounds, but at least he had the decency to put it right at the end as to not ruin the flow of the record. If we're talking about the record as a whole, which is difficult not to do due to everything fading into one, on an oddly underwhelming way it does work. It proves an album like this has its place, even if it's nigh-impossible to give this album a close listen.
But Ryan clearly shows he has the potential to create something far, far more multi-faceted and fulfilling than this. He's obviously a decent composer, and each of his albums has a gem among them that just hasn't been capitalized on due to Ryan so willingly sticking to conventions. The synths, song structures and sound palette on each album is exactly the same if you ignore tiny changes that don't make any substantial differences to anything. His last recording before this one, titled Runa, saw him experiment with faster song structures and folkier synths and where it wasn't necessarily the substantial change I was looking for it definitely did show that he had a willingness to step outside of his own boundaries. Nightfall is a venture back inwards that he didn't really need to take.
Nightfall will no doubt be an uncommon listening for when you're in a particularly sedate mood. It's well performed, well produced and patently average by design, proving that the absence of anything bad doesn't necessarily make anything good. Background music for the melancholic individual - take that for what you will and you'll almost certainly get the most out of this record, for the little there is to it.