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Light of a Dead Star (2002)

Nehëmah is a French black metal band that claims to have formed in 1992. Without a great amount of background information to work with, this comes off more as wishful thinking than anything else. This may have been the year during which Corven got his first guitar as a childhood Christmas present, and the 1995 demo was probably something quite similar to Nargaroth's early material; in other words, likely a lot of misinformation in order for the band to somehow claim roots back to the second wave, putting them in league with the very bands that they so strongly emulate here on this 2002 release, Light of a Dead Star.

My initial exposure to this band came as a recommendation from a friend. However, said person's taste was more geared toward modern releases, so I hardly took this very seriously. After more prompting, I finally gave in and checked this album out, though I cannot say that I was surprised. Mild irritation may be the most accurate description, summed up well by the first track. The album's intro is three excruciating minutes of flames, with annoying synth that gives off more of a Star Trek vibe than anything medieval or dark. This is not quite as comical as the intro to Graveland's In the Glare of Burning Churches, but it is three times longer and thus worse in the long run.

The music owes a lot to the early Norwegian scene, bearing strong influences from the likes of Darkthrone, Mayhem and Emperor. There is also a bit of mid-period Marduk in here, with some of the slower parts bearing similarities to the Nightwing album. While reminding one of older bands is nice, the material here does not always hold the listener's attention. The guitar riffs are rather straightforward, but often lacking any real power of their own, partially due to the horrible mix. That is not to say that the melodies are one-dimensional, as the band does succeed in creating a morbid atmosphere, at times. The songwriting also displays a higher level of ambition than many other bands of the same style, as the members of Nehëmah at least push themselves to the extent that you can tell that they were reaching for something higher. "In October Nightshades" is a good example of this band at their very best. The tempos vary, with slower sections coming along to really allow the riffs to breathe. During these moments, the bass is more audible in the same sense as on the early Watain material, and adds another dimension to the sound. Unfortunately, the synth does not seem to compliment the music very well, actually working against it in some cases. In most cases, the drumming is not overdone, except for on tracks like "I Will Sleep with the Dragon", in which the double bass and near-grinding method kills much of the song's potential, only being salvaged when things slow down long enough for the aura to be felt properly. The vocals are actually enjoyable, with Corven's approach hearkening back to Nocturno Culto's performances on the early Darkthrone material (Under A Funeral Moon, in particular), though occasionally he strays too far and ends up sounding like Legion instead, which is not a good thing. There is also limited use of clean vocals, though nicely buried in the sound in a similar manner to Emperor's initial attempts at utilizing a clean voice. One has to give the band credit for at least mixing things up and not taking influence from one single band. Instead, bits and pieces of various groups can be heard.
It is odd, however, that Nehëmah shows no connection with earlier French bands. It would almost seem natural to hear a little Mütiilation or Vlad Tepes influence, but this type of sound is completely absent. Perhaps, Corven and his bandmates had little or no knowledge of these bands, since their focus was strictly on the Scandinavian black metal scene.

As for the production, it sounds a little too modern for the material. It is not over-produced or possessing the slick, plastic sound at all, but it definitely betrays the record's era and does not help the band in its quest to capture the early-to-mid '90s black metal sound. It almost sounds as if it could have been recorded in Abyss Studio, at certain points. The guitar tone is somewhat cold, but the drumming is so horribly high in the mix that it stomps all over the riffs, more times than not, and this is obviously worse during the faster parts. The vocals are at an appropriate level and the amount of reverb is enough to help with the desired effect. While not suggesting that this should have been done with a more necro mindset, the band definitely would have benefited from working with someone with a better feel for the music.

Light of a Dead Star is a solid effort, though not anything to get too excited about. While it may exhibit more potential than other records of the time period, from fledgling bands such as Armagedda, it never fully realizes that potential. Nehëmah fails to reach the ambition they aspired and listeners would be better advised to stick with the classics and not go to any great lengths for this.
(13 Sept. 2011)

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