Having not heard any of the three previously self-released albums by Australian act The Nihilistic Front I was luckily provided a crash course of some of their older material thanks to a compilation put together by Stu of their new label Aesthetic Death. What I got was four crushing and somewhat painful to listen to tracks of epic sludge-laden hatred which left me waiting with “horror” for the new album to arrive. It seems a bit too quick but that has now happened and I approached Procession To Annihilation with extreme caution although I gazed at the gorgeous monochrome devastation on the cover for ages and thought how wonderful the portrayed scenes of carnage would look on gatefold vinyl. Putting it into the CD player I expected that this was going to read a fantastical length of play filling up almost every spare mega-whatzit of data but saw surprisingly the playing time was a scant 45 minutes over its four tracks. Can’t be that bad I thought, a mere walk in the park, child’s play even. This was going to be easy to endure right? Err no not really and after the first play I found myself crawling over to release the disc wondering if my head had actually caved in!
‘Confronted By The Obscure’ slowly crunches in with everything sounding mighty and jarring. Drums slowly pound, guitars squeal away and there is a monolithic rumbling to the disembowelling bass tones. Vocals are quick to enter and slowly are expunged in elongated deep hoary growls almost off the scale of being human. There is an underlying melody about it and it is dealt out in a cataclysmic fashion. Musically this bridges quite a few gaps being strong in the sludge department as well as containing elements of doom death and funeral doom. There are even some backing high pitched vocals rising in the background that would fit in on a grind or crust track and when you think about it all these styles would admirably herald the apocalypse; putting them all together is simply dangerous! There are some really shrill guitar cadences coming out the speakers during the slow crush and these work perfectly in line with it adding sharp dimensions to the trembling musical seismic quake. Some of the underlying textures and flurries here are really worth turning the volume knob right up for, even if the neighbours disagree! There is absolutely no pause just a slow-down and sudden surge into an industrialised drum flurry to announce the title-track. The whole album almost plays as a continuous piece in effect but the tempo change has certainly been noted and this is slowed down death metal now including some throat shredding cadaverous retches to compliment the craggy low end. Suddenly there is a surprise as things fall out the mix and the mood and hefty weight lightens with sampled antipodean voices filling in the void and some clean singing. We have moved a little and it’s like a contrast between Godflesh and Jesu but it is just a respite before everything slews back in and some sledgehammer drumming and what sounds like an angry giant throwing a tantrum really raises the levels.
I really want to turn the black slab of vinyl over now but coruscating noise and no musical let up sees third track ‘Opaque Shadows’ moodily casting its particular darkness over proceedings like a dark shroud. One gets the feel that the two people behind this Gaz and Chris Newell have laid down the complete album in one take; it’s the way the music fluidly moves from one hefty movement to the other. I am sure they had plenty of breaks, the listener has no such respite but music is meant to challenge and this is one album that is well worth gritting the teeth for and clinging on for the duration. It’s the backing, almost chanting, spoken effect vocals on this one and the melodic pitch that defines it and there is plenty of time to get caught up in the number and feel it powerfully coursing through you as you wait for the final part and wonder what that is going to contain. There is a brief unexpected pause before ‘A Working God’ brings down its wrath and parts of this are much more expansive with some clean choral vocals harmonically etched out amidst the otherwise brooding fervour. It’s still heady and obtuse but the two styles work as contrasts like a burst of light through black bruised skies and an acoustic break is just as bleak but offers a moment of hope before its dashed as the album draws to an angered conclusion and silence once more descends.
Procession To Annihilation certainly lives up to its name and is a punishing album albeit a highly rewarding one for those of us it is designed for. My only annoyance really is the fact that the band are from a place that makes seeing them live highly unlikely. Can’t have it all though and it’s probably just as well as witnessing this live is probably quite devastating.
(7.5/10 Pete Woods)