It’s time to get out your black, burning candelabras and best laying chickens ready to be slaughtered because ’tis the season of occult black metal and Nightbringer is back. With our very own Martin Harris quite rightly lauding the excellent Eleven Dragons by Acrimonious last month, it’s fair to say that anyone casting doubt over the vehemence of the BM underground could well end up with rotten, pucifying egg on their faces in 2017. Because there are some career defining releases coming out of the shadows right now – and this is Nightbringer’s most striking and glorious release yet.

I was almost ready to burst when I heard the last Nightbringer full length Ego Dominus Tuus – willing it to get over the line from the excellent piece of work it was and into realms of utter greatness it was threatening to become from the opening bars. Was the clinical, calculating precision with which it was delivered all too much? Or the fact that I could not, on a number of occasions, get bloody Emperor out of my mind the more I listened to it? Either way there were a few too many distractions. Not in itself a bad thing, you may say, but Nightbringer is no clone and the man behind the band Naas Alcameth is a dark minded genius indeed. So it were already well past the point when historic influences should be cast aside to make way for Nightbringer. All it would take is that spark for this high minded project to exceed the sum of its parts.

In fact The Dreaming I from his side project Akhlys – released only six month later – proved that was possible in shrill and blackened spades. So it was with barely concealed glee and not a little trepidation that I seized on this latest copy from one of Colorado’s blackest sons. Whereas many occult black metal releases can be a little fussy and self indulgent, testing even the most committed followers of left hand path. Terra Damnata casts all that aside for a much more direct approach. What that does is that it leaves Naas Alcamath more than enough time and space to release the unbridled emotion that was always threatening to emerge from Ergo Dominus Tuus and never quite did.

This time round Nightbringer issues forth with the kind of precision velocity that is enough to make the average black metal fan weep. Indeed, Terra Damnata only slows down when it really needs to rather than to throw in unnecessary musical punctuation: if the tears of dark joy are already flowing after cerebral cortex damaging tracks like As Wolves Among Ruins, then the more measured pace of the dreamlike The Lamp of Inverse Light might just make your head explode. Terra Damnata also manages, this time without giving too much of itself away into the bargain, a nod to Emperor – all those swirling black metal lead riffs. There’s also elements of Dimmu Borgir in here too (Of The Key And Crosses Bones) and even Marduk (on Misrule) but never letting go of the essential Nightbringer-ness of it all.

But it’s also bursting free of the chains of the past. Stripping out all the unnecessary noise and distilling all that high frequency, high octane and high emotion down into 50-odd minutes that feels like half the time. Yes, Terra Damnata is a giant of a black metal album, Nightbringer’s best (and, yes, also probably their most accessible) and proves that when the aim is true, musically and philosophically speaking, wonderful things can happen when dark forces hear the call and the incense is burning bright.

(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)