F U L L . R E V I E W S
In today's resurgent scene, Nifelheim's story is not new: a second wave black metal band that disappeared after amassing a respectable, if somewhat overlooked catalogue, and now makes a triumphant return with a new LP, 'Envoy of Lucifer'. The band is still led by Hellbutcher and Tyrant, the co-founding Gustavsson twins, who continue to write nearly all the band's material, while new members have been recruited to help them strut their stuff. On guitars are the axe-men of Necrophobic (Johan and Sebastian), and on drums is Peter Stjärnvind, member of divers other projects and here referred to as 'Insulter of Jesus Christ!'. (As it happens, his moniker is a song title of Damnation's, a black metal project of his with the equally accomplished Richard Cabeza. Their 2004 'Destructo Evangeli' album is a throwback riot.)
These next-decade comeback efforts make for a nice spread in the print rags, but rarely do they result in relevant new music. Audiences catch up to the trick, the star power fades, and eventually the band is old news--again. In Nifelheim's case, though, they never had too illustrious a legacy to begin with, so the success of 'Envoy of Lucifer' would have to come entirely on its own merit, and it is here that their story takes off.
Though far from groundbreaking, 'Envoy of Lucifer' is genre-defining in the utmost sense, and after twenty years in the business, the Gustavsson twins are more on-point than ever. Brandishing the gauche monikers and musicians' chops with equal vigor, 'Envoy of Lucifer' brings us a refreshed and even wry Nifelheim that has learned to balance cult credibility with downright good songwriting. In the time-honored Swedish way, the twins churn out engaging hooks that waver between the quaint and insidious with classic cadences and tri-tone riffing. Sebastian's lead guitar is comparatively insouciant, passingly intoned, and his soloing can invokes Ice Dale, Steve Jones, and your favorite sweep-and-shredmaster with equal ease. At the fore is Hellbutcher, whose gravely voice (occasionally breaking into a gurgle) sounds a bit older for wear but no less vile or rhythmically keen.
Compared to the band's older work, 'Envoy of Lucifer' is generally a cool affair, with on a few tracks that they clash and bang like old Dissection (the title track being one of them). These arrangements are more mid-tempo and basic, adhering to the typical intro-verse-chorus-verse-bridge formula, and although these are often warning signs of a band that's mentally checked out, Nifelheim circumvent stagnation with a handful of tricks. Firstly, the analog production, which contributes to the stripped-down, vintage atmosphere. The gain crackles but doesn't suffocate, and we can actually hear the drums pushing air. With more frenetic arrangements, this openness would become muddy, and then obscure the embellishments that are 'Envoy of Lucifer's other hidden ace. Whether it be through the resonant baritone slipped into 'Claws of Death', the well-placed guitar slides throughout, or the self-consciously long grunt in 'Evil is Forever', nearly every track has a quirk that identifies and distinguishes it. Most are simple, some hardly even noticeable, and all allow help to achieve the most evocative possible result from the simplest of components.
Some obstinate orthodox fans may be concerned with how Nifelheim have moved on from their rudimentary roots, where stuttering drum grinds and chopping tremolo riffs were the order of the day. But these changes only enhance what was already there--natural grooves and undercurrent of humor--and are what make 'Envoy of Lucifer' stand out in a somber crowd. So, even though this 'Envoy...' will feel too flippant to some, the rest of us should enjoy it as a salacious delight.
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