I admire all attempts to evolve black metal – but appreciate that sometimes, the harder you try, the more unblack metal it’s gunna sound. That’s just the way it is. So, for example, there’s a big difference experimenting within the sound compared with incorporating so many elements onto the end of the basic formula. The Negative Bias have clearly set out to shake things up a little with a promise to break down some walls – or ‘break the borders’ of atmospheric black metal – and leave us to pick up the pieces. Setting aside the fact that Narcissus Rising, and particularly the opening track of the same name, does nothing of the sort, this is pure and simple black metal with a few bells and whistles and heavier bass sound (similar to more recent Helrunar) that has been done before by countless, mainly German, bands I could muster. We are presented with two giant tracks – both breaking the 20-minute mark – and with various influences lobbed into the mix from the ever twiddling scales of Emperor, here very much in the breakneck Icelandic style, intermittent breaks that nod to Deathspell Omega (and that chugging heavier sound) and breathlessly spoken word sections that ooze the countless occult black metal legions that have plagued my stereo for both good and bad in recent years.
So far not so new other than the crisp and clear, very Germanic, black metal production which somehow just doesn’t feel appropriate even now and leaves The Negative Bias feeling brutal and muscular – no doubt to boast more heavier death metal influences. Add in some fairly un-atmospheric chanting and non-descript ambient passage that inexplicably arrives out of the blue to pad out the title track to a length on the very limits of what I can take and we finally arrive at the end of the first track. The second track begins with a bit of a blast and some nice signature changes early on and with another 20 minutes to go there is ample opportunity here to redefine the trajectory and bring things back. Which they absolutely do achieve.
Put the slightly irritating hollow chanting aside, and the second of the two tracks takes us on a journey that tries to loosen the shackles of a hackneyed black metal formula plus a few weightier influences which The Negative Bias so clearly tried to peddle during the first track. Time, as it should do when listening to this style of music, feels more fluid in this latter part of the album and the band more at ease with itself as the pace slows and descends into a more purposeful ambient section. A cavernous, Darkspace expanse of drifting electronic noise feast that takes up more than half the second track and still leaves me wanting more. It feels like we are finally getting somewhere after the directionless first half and then we’re back down to earth with a gentle ambient breeze blowing behind us. Given the intention to redefine things, I’m not exactly sure what I’ve just heard and why. The Negative Bias is clearly driven by a purpose but quite what that is isn’t easy to grasp and in the end I’m just wondering what would have happened if they’d carried on with another couple of twenty minute tracks so I could learn more of their ways.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)