Nightbringer/Acherontas-The Ruins of Edom
Considering that I have been voraciously devouring anything and everything American black metal luminaries Nightbringer have put out since the day Lucifer Trismegistus first viciously carved the sigils of Satan unto my unsuspecting mortal form, it is needless that amid a sea of terrific releases I was anticipating this year, this was high upon the list. Nightbringer is, quite simply, one of the greatest American black metal bands currently still in operation, utilizing vile yet grandiose riffing that takes the usual chthonic atmosphere of black metal to a far more dangerous level. Acherontas too, is no mere acolyte in the scene, crafting darkly melodic overtures that draw heavily upon the riffs of such Swedish legends as Dissection and Necrophobic, while adding a more dissonant aspect that puts them firmly in the “Orthodox” black metal camp.
The resulting split could in some sense be considered a display of consistency on both bands’ part, yet I could not help but feel that for me personally, it represented the hitting of a creative rut that most great bands eventually stumble upon in their careers. The split opens on the Nightbringer side with a cavernous, ritualistic dark ambient piece that serves as an effective, haunting introduction to Mare, the first true metallic track on the release. In the tried and true spirit of a Nightbringer song, tremolo-picked melodies whirl (dare I say waltz?) like possessed dervishes over a blood-soaked mountaintop, equal parts nocturnal and blistering, while blasting drums simultaneously hammer away at the foundations of your sanity.
The race towards perdition eventually slows down and culminates in a paean of dark triumph, providing a satisfying conclusion to this blasphemous assault. While Mare was undoubtedly the most enjoyable piece on the split for me, in the end it still felt like an inferior rehashing of the scorching style they had perfected on Apocalypse Sun, albeit with every element that made the latter release great toned-down and condensed into more accessible form. The song’s relative predictability and straightforward song structure ended up only making me crave the more mystical, jarring realms of their past releases, despite it being in all regards a solid track.
That being said, the second Nightbringer track would prove far more lackluster in form. The Grave-Earth’s Son drags itself into nonexistence with its lack of song dynamics and plodding pace. While similar, slower numbers had worked well for Nightbringer in the past through the sheer majesty of their melodic fervor, Grave-Earth’s Son simply just sits there and stews in menace, but ultimately doesn’t deliver the conclusive bite that would have made the song stand out for me. While certainly not lacking in the trademark Nightbringer atmosphere, the song proved to be a narrative to nowhere, not aggressive or purposeful enough for its own good.
After another long dark ambient interlude that, while serving its purpose effectively, felt anticlimactic as the epilogue of a below-average Nightbringer performance, it’s finally Acherontas’s turn to spread their miasma over hallowed ground. And they do so, in great form. Layil is a monstrous track that takes the mystical diabolism of Vamachara and adds a degree of dissonant urgency not unlike what we have heard in French luminaries Deathspell Omega’s work. The riffs are relentless in their shifting nature and pummel the listener like molten meteorites. Yet they never become too convoluted for their own good, and ultimately serve as mere conduits for a powerful atmosphere of unearthly blackness. The track eventually pulls itself into a subtle yet beautiful melodic riff that draws this symphony of darkness to a close. In contrast to Naas Alcameth’s monstrous howls however, Acherontas’s vocalist seemed rather meek, especially in the context of Layil’s more bombastic nature. This minor irritant only slightly detracted from my overall appreciation of the track.
Alas, the moment of triumph is all too ephemeral, as the Acherontas side draws to a close with yet another ambient outro that seems all too anticlimactic. In the end, The Ruins of Edom falls prey to its own lack of ambition, yet is framed in a grandiose manner that belies the rather brief moments of triumph within its enclosure. While the release does contains its flashes of brilliance, I cannot help but feel that so much more could have been accomplished through this unholy alliance.