Released by: AFM Records
Release Date: January 20th, 2017
Genre: Heavy/Power Metal
Magali Luyten – Vocals
Franck Milleliri – Guitars
Matt Asselberghs – Guitars
Yves Campion – Bass
Olivier Casula – Drums
2. Of Sleepless Mind
3. Tangled in the Roots
4. Red Marble & Gold
7. Dead Sun
8. Seeds of Agony
9. Inner Sanctum
11. Starry Skies Gone Black
Up until recently, French metal band Nightmare had been a band with two very distinct eras, starting out in 1979 and releasing a couple of albums in the 80’s as a heavy metal band, before disappearing for a long time and then returning in 1999 as more of heavy/power metal hybrid. While bassist Yves Campion has remained the one constant in the band, being the only remaining original member, perhaps the most important part of the band’s sound in recent years was Jo Amore, who joined the band as a drummer in 1980, before taking over the mic when the band returned in 1999, while his brother David played the drums. The band released seven full-length albums during this period, and between the heavy riffs and Jo’s unique vocals, they established themselves as a major standout band in the genre, with such albums as The Dominion Gate and Genetic Disorder being especially impressive.
But, of course, good things often have to come to an end, and so as shocking as it may have initially seemed, in the long run, it probably isn’t terribly surprising that in 2015, following the release of The Aftermath in the previous year, both Amore brothers left, to be replaced by Magali Luyten on vocals, and Olivier Casula on drums. And so begins the third phase in the band’s history, starting with their latest full-length release, Dead Sun, released already in Europe and to be released in North America in January 2017. One thing I can say right off the bat: This version of the band has picked up where the previous version left off, and if anything I’d describe it as probably their best work since Genetic Disorder in 2007.
Stylistically, Nightmare has always leaned towards the absolute heaviest, most aggressive side of power metal and with their previous album The Aftermath they were only getting meaner and harder hitting, throwing in some occasional thrash riffs as well as some more modern elements to keep their sound fresh. Unsurprisingly, Dead Sun pushes even further in this direction, and is easily their heaviest release to date, with many tracks featuring some hard hitting thrash riffs throughout, especially the title track and “Red Marble & Gold”, which both very much feel like mid-paced thrash songs most of the way through. The guitar work seems even more prominent than ever before on this album, with some instrumental portions getting very technical at times, though the songwriting remains fairly straightforward and catchy.
Some of the band’s better-known albums had strong symphonic elements, but while those haven’t been removed entirely, they only appear very sparingly here, most notably on “Inner Sanctum”. At the same time, while the music leans more towards the heavy metal side of their music compared to some of their more recent works, this is still a very much a power metal album, and so every song still has some great melodies as well and a ton of room for the vocals to shine through.
Which brings us to the biggest change, of course. I remember in my review of The Aftermath I said I could never imagine hearing this band without Jo Amore, and while that was certainly true at the time, as surprised as I was to learn about the change, I was equally excited when I saw the band had brought in Magali Luyten. For folks who haven’t heard her before, she mostly sings in an alto range and she has a very powerful, very rocking voice that fits this style of music perfectly, and she does an equally great job of handling the heavier parts and the more melodic parts, which makes her a perfect fit for the band. At times she adds in some grunts that come very close to death growls, and these give an extra edge to the music, though her main vocals are certainly powerful enough on their own.
The album gets off to an excellent start with “Infected”, a track which starts out with a bit of an atmospheric instrumental sections mostly led by the guitars, before the riffs fully kick in and it turns into a very heavy, riff filled mid paced track, with just a bit of a thrash feel during the verses. Magali immediately shows off her powerful voice and some of those grunts I mentioned earlier, before really taking over with some more melodic vocals during the chorus. This track and the excellent lead single “Ikarus” do a great job of showing listeners what to expect from the album: Very heavy, mostly mid-paced heavy/power metal with some very obvious thrash leaning at times, and vocals that alternate between very aggressive and softer but still very powerful. I mentioned the thrash elements being strong on this album and they are at their strongest on “Red Marble & Gold”, which is an assault on the ears right from the start, and it also has a really good instrumental section in the second half. It’s perhaps the band’s heaviest track to date, and also one of the highlights on the album.
Most tracks on this album are fairly similar and this is largely an album more focused on the overall sound, though there are some little surprises throughout, like a nice use of a kids choir on the slower, more laid back “Seeds of Agony”, which also uses some electronic sounding keyboards at points, as well as the darker, more traditional heavy metal track “Indifference”, another slower track which also has a slight doom metal feel to it, and it’s certainly a change of pace from the thrashy feel of much of the album.
On the faster side of things, a few of the tracks speed up partway through, though the fastest tracks, on the whole, are closing track “Starry Skies Gone Black”, one of the more melodic tracks on the album, with an excellent solo section later on, “Tangled in the Roots”, a heavier track with fast verses and a slow, but very memorable chorus, and “Serpentine”. The latter of these really stands out, not just for its thrashy riffs, though those are certainly memorable and impressive, but because the band brought in guest vocalist Kelly “Sundown” Carpenter to sing on the track and he helps give it an extra edge while sounding great together with Magali.
Sometimes change can be a bad thing for a band, but other times it can work out great, and thankfully Dead Sun is an obvious example of the latter. As much as I’ve loved previous albums by Nightmare, they’ve proven that they’re capable and willing to move on after a big lineup change, and they’ve delivered yet another excellent album that pushes them even further towards the heavier side of the power metal genre while adding in some thrash elements. Obviously, longtime fans of the band shouldn’t be scared away by the change in the singer, while fans of the hardest hitting kind of power metal are also highly recommended to give this album a listen. Hopefully, the latest era of Nightmare can last a long time and produce several more albums of this quality.
Reviewer: Travis Green