As much as Nightbringer’s career-defining Ego Dominus Tuus impressed me in my capacity as a good-for-nothing, chin-stroking writer, I never quite bonded with it in the way I’d initially expected. True, it’s often the case that reality fails to match those wistful dreams ahead of a big release. But, at the same time, it simply fell short of providing the sharp blow to one or more of my body’s vital organs which I’ve come to expect from the best extreme metal. I just couldn’t shake the image of Yngwie Malmsteen’s evil twin collaborating with a reformed Emperor in some twisted, sacrilegious, alternate dimension. It was undoubtedly a grand vision and, for the most part, well executed. So what was the problem? Was it the mix? Those endlessly scale-dancing guitars that just couldn’t seem to leave me alone to wallow in the musical maelstrom? I’m prepared to engage in the debate, if anyone is interested in the job. But perhaps the challenge is now redundant even as I throw down my grubby and suspiciously stained gauntlet. Because, as if in answer to my consternations, self-doubt and depth of analysis that surely proves once and for all that I’ve got too much time on my hands, Nightbringer main man Naas Alcameth has come up with a solution. Take all the mastery of the blackened arts that was on display on Ergo Dominus, switch the miasmic fog machine up to 11, and fiddle with the mix so that invasive lead guitar, an instrument that is still very much in command here, by the way, slots in perfectly and glove-like with the rest of the sound.
The Dreaming I is, as Naas clearly intended, like some wonderful, chaotic and nightmarish dream-like state. A whirling, complex soundscape where the framework is both nebulous and riddled with mesmerizingly powerful structures at the same time. It’s a classic roots-in-Emperor scenario but with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight and production techniques. That’s all combined with the titanic song writing talent and scope that Naas Alcameth brings and it set us up nicely yet again. But Akhlys has far more reliance on the interplay between the leads than on Emperor’s keyboards and, in fact, this is so thick with swirling sound that it verges on the atmospheric at times. Those five tracks melting into one constantly shifting sonic pattern and bridged by darkly rumbling noise. Very similar stylistically in many ways to the nuts and bolts of Nightbringer, which perhaps won’t come as a surprise to anyone, with all those ceaseless, driving tremolo riffs. But The Dreaming I also takes a firm step towards Darkspace territory and only just stops short of pure atmospheric black metal ambience in those endlessly swirling arrangements by virtue of its energetic restlessness and those driving drums. In fact, that is the reason I prefer this over Ego Dominus Tuus: because this is simply a pure, unadulterated blast of captivating and cold black metal but with the perfect balance of sound that draws you into the vacuum of Naas’s horrid and enthralling dreams. It’s full of the same blasting sound as Ego Dominus and begrudging, razor-like melodies. But it’s also exists as a single experience with no distractions and which effortlessly takes on a billowing three dimensional form.
The result is a cohesive whole that doesn’t feel laboured or bound by any attempts to impress. Just a vortex of captivating sound that more than makes up for the mild, stabbing disappointment I felt for the worthy Ego Dominus Tuus. If this really is the product of Naas Alcameth’s sleeping mind then I suspect he must spend most mornings waking up to some very damp bed sheets indeed. Sweaty bollocks aside, this is a fantastic piece of black metal and one which will help further guild the glorious pedestal which Alcameth should rightly be placed upon.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)