posted on 6/2008 By:
Urban Cancer was apparently originally recorded in 2006 and ended up shelved thanks to a series of label snafus. Fortunately, Nefastus Dies managed to get this one properly supported and out the door on Candlelight imprint Siege of Amida so that you can actually find it in stores after two years in limbo. I’m sure glad they did—Nefastus Dies win points with me from the outset for playing black metal but flouting virtually all of the usual black metal conventions. Armed with a modern, non-grym production courtesy of Yannick St-Amand and Alan Douches, and eschewing everything from corpsepaint to Satanic lyrics, these Canadians draw on a diverse background (members of Ion Dissonance, Unquintessence, Ether, etc.) in crafting a very enjoyable and actually fairly distinctive black metal effort. Imagine Dissection or maybe very early Dimmu Borgir adopting Anaal Nathrakh’s stupidly fast rhythm section.
Now, those are flattering points of reference, and Nefastus Dies is definitely a little less than the sum of its parts. Even so, Urban Cancer was a pleasant surprise for me. Though I enjoy black metal, I’m often put off by its tradition-bound and elitist adherents. Fortunately, as a genre it seems to be opening itself up to greater variety and weirdness, thus allowing for the existence of bands like this one. These guys trade in lengthy, melody-laden compositions driven by Scythrawl’s (stage names being the final vestige of black metal goofery here) hyperactive skinsmanship. Guitarists Void and Auriel steal the show here—they weave countless windswept harmonies and despondent arpeggios, impressing with their taste and execution more than their originality but impressing nonetheless. Though the guitars (as usual) steal the show, keyboardist Iraabbas might be the band’s cornerstone. He plays his role perfectly; his left hand fills in for an absentee bass guitar while his right provides the melodic foundation over which the guitars rage. More importantly, he does so while remaining unobtrusive—Nefastus Dies never strike me as deserving the ‘symphonic’ tag with which they’re frequently associated. For his part, Scythrawl’s drumming is straightforward brutality. He pretty much blasts all out more often than not, often reaching inhuman gravity-blast tempos, and his performance is very solid despite horrendous over-triggering.
So the instrumental unit is hard to complain about—in all likelihood, Ill Fate's vocals will be the turning point for most Nefastus Dies listeners. Honestly, the guy is sort of a mixed bag. His most-used delivery is a strained, wildman howl that thankfully spares my ears another album of reverbed-out black metal croaking. Ill Fate's often short on enunciation, but his intensity more than makes up for it. Unfortunately, he attempts a few other vocal styles as well, and here things start to go awry. His death growl is decent but definitely underpowered relative to his higher vocals, but the real issues arise when Ill Fate attempts some inward-breathing pig squeals. Now, I actually like the idea of using inwards in black metal. It’s a different tack and metal needs as much different-ness as it can find. Sadly, though, Ill Fate just doesn’t have the vocal chops to make it work—his inwards aren’t so much squeals as an extremely high-pitched and grating squeak that completely diffuses the intensity of Nefastus Dies’ music whenever it appears. Evidently the guy is actually a guitarist/bassist by vocation and has been doing vocals for something like a year or two, so it’s entirely possible that he will further refine his voice on later releases (and fortunately he’s sworn off the inwards). For now, though, he’s the occasional weak link in Nefastus Dies’ chain.
All in all, Urban Cancer is an unusually strong release for a band who have faced as many lineup changes and organizational shenanigans as these dudes have. From what I’ve gathered, this disc tells the story of a band still working its sound out—a number of its tracks have been reworked multiple times since the band’s early incarnations. To me, this suggests that Nefastus Dies’ next album could be truly devastating—in short, ‘potential’ is written all fucking over the place. Keep an ear open, fellow metal dorks.
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