Nazxul
Iconoclast

No matter how long you’ve been into underground metal, it seems there are always bands you’ve missed along the way. I started delving into the scene too late to discover this Australian act’s 1995 debut, Totem, but I’ve since caught up after receiving Iconoclast to review. Totem is worthy of its reputation – an epic, majestic nightmare that mixes black metal, death metal and murky occult sensibilities – a spiritual ancestor to later genre-benders like Akercocke’s Choronzon. After that first full-length, Nazxul left behind a highly regarded EP and then not much more. A handful of splits, a live release, and apparently, a lot of frustrated fans.

And now, fourteen years later, Nazxul has reformed and released a new full-length. Problem is, it might as well be a different band, because Iconoclast sounds markedly different and cleaner than the inscrutable, alien darkness of Totem. Not that this is a bad thing, though – Iconoclast is a terrific black metal album, suffused with the atmosphere, melody and majesty of once-peers like classic Emperor and Gehenna.

Album intro “Apoptosis” creeps in with a chorus of plucked and fluttering strings, like spiders skittering over hollow corpses. It’s delicate and unsettling, and a welcome change from the pompous bombast that frequently opens many symphonic black metal offerings. And then “Dragon Dispitous” swoops in on clattery wings, gliding through a thunderstorm swollen by a near-constant backdrop of ominous keys. Again, it’s less the screaming gothic grandeur of a band like Dimmu Borgir than it is the mysterious wall-of-sound approach made famous by In the Nightside Eclipse, although much clearer and pristine. Actually, Nazxul’s haunting melodies and regal symphonics most remind me of a mostly-forgotten third-wave black metal act called Mactatus, and their gem of a debut, Provenance of Cruelty. If you know that album, you’ll also draw the comparison almost immediately.

The rest of the album is just as grim and authentic, with a mostly midtempo gait that’s carried along by some truly murderous, gargled vocals. “Black Wings,” like “Dragon Dispitous,” is another relentless, dramatic attack, while “Symbol of Night and Winter” rides in with a ground-shaking gallop, then slows to a stately prowl. “Oath” and “World Oblivion” are dark, soaring processionals, seemingly written for Hell’s generals. And “Stain of Harrow” peaks with a screaming, triumphant blare. There are also a number of short instrumental tracks, as effective and transcendent as they are spare, like Blut Aus Nord covering Vangelis. Album closer “Threnody” is my favorite of these, though, as it most resembles a piece of dread-soaked classical music than the other, more ambient interludes.

So whether you’re one of the patient Nazxul faithful or an neophyte like myself, you’ll definitely want to check out the band’s return to the scene. And even if you don’t like keyboards in your black metal, you’ll find Iconoclast’s use of them classy and serious, with a sound that manages to be lush and restrained at the same time. Another worthy addition to 2009’s already stellar line-up of black metal releases.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 15th, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Great review GG. Haven’t heard the early stuff, but i’m liking this one quite a bit. Very atmospheric!


  2. Commented by: Iniquity

    I agree with elguerosinfe, great review it really summed up what to expect with this band. I really miss this stuff, it’s my favorite style of black metal when done right.

    Nazxul has created a terrific album!

    I’m going to check out their compilation, “Black seed” and “Totem” also.


  3. Commented by: vugelnox

    This doesn’t match up to the greatness of Totem, and like was mentioned sounds like a near completely different band, but even so its a rather enjoyable slab of black metal.


  4. Commented by: ceno

    Excellent review, Jordan. You’ve intrigued me as always. I’ll be checking out this album for sure.


  5. Commented by: gabaghoul

    dammit I just realized I meant to use neophyte in the last paragraph and put acolyte instead.


  6. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    ill fix, you noob


  7. Commented by: gabaghoul

    n30phy73, not n00b kthxbai


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