NephrenWhen someone said to me `Dune influenced death metal’ I leapt at the chance to give this a listen. Call me strange if you like, but I enjoy metal albums with overblown fantasy concepts. With a lavish sci-fi cover, and a seizure-inducing write up in the promo sleeve, this looked like an intriguing prospect indeed. Digging a little deeper into a band I knew nothing about, I discovered that Nephren Ka are a band from Auvergne, France, and this is in fact their second Dune-inspired album. If they try and match the output of the legendary Frank Herbert, they had better start writing quite a few more albums!

Nephren Ka are death metal through and through, be of no doubt about it. Unlike other concept bands, there are no forced `Middle-Eastern’ style scales or unusual ethnic elements to the music as such. Instead there is a lot of blasting brutality, guttural vocals and frantic energy to this album. What is interesting to me is the sheer diverse range of death metal on offer here; it’s almost a thick, nasty amalgam of the entire history of the genre from its early beginnings to the present day.

There is plenty of pure, brutal death-grind, with heaps of blasting and abrasive aggression. However, the band also have one foot in the older death metal territory, there are plenty of dark, atmospheric riffs, and chuggy, choppy heaviness. Repeated listens to the album sprung so many different band names to my mind, it made my head spin; there are some mournful, melodious guitar harmonies which me of old European bands like Mercyless, grim, leaden riffs like old Hypocrisy, choppy, angry sections like early Sinister (and so on).

In my experience, it’s a grower – not really aided by the slightly rough production. Nephren Ka are pretty creative with their song writing; not opposed to combining modern brutal death-grind with dark, simplistic, hypnotic passages which are really quite atmospheric, and also throwing in some quite amazing technicality (reminiscent of bands like Psycroptic). With a better, cleaner production I think Nephren Ka would be given the chance to really shine, and the incredible atmosphere in some of their songs and passages would really come to the forefront. With this undoubtedly brutal, yet rough and ready production, it sucks out some of the feeling in my opinion. Of course, it is all about budget, and chances are, the production I imagine in my head for a Dune-inspired death metal requires a budget of fantastical proportions as well.

This band show a lot of promise, and I look forward with interest to more from them. In the meantime, this album has some great, dark, heavy moments on it, and repeated listens do produce their rewards.

(7.5/10 Jon Butlin)