A New Constellation
posted on 6/2009 By:
A quick check of the googles for Nahemah will yield several results that tag the band as progressive death metal. There has been some mild but entirely warranted debate over how appropriate this label is, especially as the term inevitably spurs Opeth comparisons. Truth be told, aside from their use of the dark/light contrasts, the Opeth comparisons may be invalid and there is much more progressive in Nahemah’s current sound than there is death. That isn’t to say that they don’t get heavy, but they do it with atmosphere as opposed to brutality. Aside from the vocals, there isn’t much death here at all, and these actually flirt with atmospheric hardcore stylings and frequently veer into clean crooning. Thus, you can count Nahemah among the increasingly immeasurable number of metal bands with progressive tendencies who have opted to move away from the metal and toward the softer, cleaner trappings of prog-rock (Katatonia, Anathema, Opeth, Enslaved, Isis, Mastodon, etc., etc., etc.).
A New Constellation builds from where The Second Philosophy left off. Similar to that album’s approach, their third focuses on atmosphere, with heavy riffs and hooks largely foregone in favor of extended, repetitive progressive passages that are heavily accented with post-rock musings and layered instrumentation. Nahemah make extensive use of a wide array of musical accoutrement ranging from heavy reverb in the percussion to assorted keyboards, including organ and piano effects, to alto saxophone. The sax isn’t new to the band’s repertoire, but it is much more prominent on this album. At times it makes a solid contribution to the aforementioned atmospheric aspirations of A New Constellation, lending credibility to the album’s ambiguous warm melancholy. Other times, though, such as on the ambient piece, “Air,” it evokes an unwelcome frivolity reminiscent of the instrument’s unfortunate co-optation by 80’s pop ballad ear candy merchants. To much greater effect, “The Perfect Depth of the Mermaids” incorporates talk box effects (think Frampton), to simulate what a merperson might actually sound like singing underwater (may sound silly, but it works really well).
Lead-off track, “Much Us” sets the tone for the album well with a lilty, wah-laden, near-disco-riffed guitar intro layered over reverbed rhythmic strums, low, breathy synth, and undulating, slowly rising organ and orchestral touches. While a couple of tracks definitely stand out (“Much Us” and the evocative “Follow Me”), A New Constellation is thoughtfully conceived and arranged, so that it manages its 48 minute run time with an easy grace. It is usually the coarser vocals, indistinct and narrowly defined, that fold a wrinkle into the tapestry, although this record is nimble enough to maneuver around this on the whole.
The cymbals sound pretty tinny and the high-end keyboard tones are often given too much space, resulting in their feeling a bit superfluous and even annoying, especially on “Absynthe.” Aside from this couple of qualms, A New Constellation features a fine production in which myriad tonal textures flow into, out of, and around each other with remarkable fluidity. The rhythm section is given special treatment, allowing the bass guitar and drums to propel the songs, often retaining an impelling force even during lighter moments, according the other instruments adequate room to flit about the ether without sacrificing depth or breadth. Lead melodies are pretty sparse and usually quite subtle, but elegantly executed; the guitar solo on “Follow Me” is simple, slow, and undeniably beautiful.
It’s impossible to know for sure, but markers point to Nahemah’s continued egress from the heavy to the more comfortable, diaphonous expanse of the progressive. Their work thus far has revealed an introspective evolution and, if they continue to embrace it, they’ll likely find it much easier to breathe having finally shed the admittedly undeserved Opeth cloak altogether.
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