Having spent a substantial part of my life in the Middle East I’ve always kept an eye out on the developing metal scene in that part of the world. Suffice to say I was quite intrigued by what Dubai’s first ever death metal band Nephelium had to offer. The band was formed by guitarist Alex Zubair and drummer Alan Madhavan during the late 90’s and although they have since relocated to Toronto to join forces with Devlin Anderson on vocals, James Sawyer on guitars and Flo Ravet on bass it did little to dampen my curiosity.
While their countrymen in Nervecell seem to take a relatively more basic approach to death metal Nephelium throw in everything but the kitchen sink on this six track record. To their credit they pull it off spectacularly and show tell tale signs of seasoned musicians who have honed their skills to perfection.
While technical death metal has never really been my forte since I have always preferred the simpler and rawer sounds of early 90’s death metal, I couldn’t help but be completely impressed by every single track here. The technical skill is outstanding and played with real finesse and emotion, which is something that a lot of death metal nowadays seem to forsake in favor of sheer brutality while the production is organic and meaty rather than the overly slick jobs that bands tend to favor in this day and age.
The songs themselves are memorable and the band seem to know exactly when to rein in the intensity and pummel you with a devastating riff or a crushing groove. Even more impressive are the guitar solos, which are of the highest quality and bring to mind some of the dark yet melodic and emotive lead work of bands like Death, Immolation, Morbid Angel and the like.
Tracks like ‘Halls of Judgement’ and ‘Merciless Annihilation’ are some of the most finely crafted pieces death metal I’ve heard all year. Massive riffs intertwine with rapid fire blasts and complex arrangements topped with the monstrous vocals of Devlin Anderson, all the while drawing fleeting comparisons with long time Chicago death metal veterans Oppressor and the legendary Morbid Angel. The stellar guitar solos on ‘Halls of Judgement’ alone are worth the price of this album and then some.
It’s hard to find any weaknesses here but the most striking feature must surely be the length of the tracks, which sees the shortest ones clock in at 5 minutes while two of the six tracks stretch out to a massive 8 – 10 minutes in length. Despite this the songs just never seem to get boring or too drawn out, which is something that makes this release really stand out from the rest of the pack.
Hopefully this album will get the accolades it deserves considering it practically wipes the floor with some of the more established names in the death metal scene. Any self respecting fan of death metal or heavy music in general must really do themselves a favor and check this release out. This is top class through and through.