Do you love Nile? Would you love them even more IN SPACE? Would you love them most of all if they incorporated snippets of other death metal genres? If yes, Nephren-Ka and their second album La Grande Guerre de l’Epice (The Great Spice War) are just the tickets you need to ride the death metal train to the death metal station.
The band takes its name from Lovecraft’s “Black Pharao”, but ever since their first EP they are exclusively focused on Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel series Dune. An original concept, and surprisingly fitting for a death metal band. You can only do the violence/guts/porn angle in so many ways, and it’s always nice to see bands expanding the conceptual dimensions in ways that are neither predictable nor hipster shit. Dune has enough intellectual substance to be interesting, but also enough sub-cultural appeal not to feel like something from the culture pages of The Economist (though there is a great Folio Society edition, but old-world culture snobbery is way awesome and not hipster – these are facts and not opinions).
Something else which would not be featured on the navel gazing pages of the magazine that merges polite political correctness with warmongering like an aging hippie turned neocon, is the music on La Grande Guerre de l’Epice. The foundation is pure brutal death metal, with melodic guitar lines regularly gracing the heavy, tight drums punching through heavy, distorted strings. The aforementioned similarities to Nile are obvious, if the band name hadn’t given this away before the album even got going, but they are also somewhat superficial. Nephren-Ka throws a lot of other stuff into the mix. That stuff includes, but is not limited to, old school death metal passages, forays into thrash and black metal territory and even a couple of slam style break downs. The vocals are all over the place – usually growling and grunting, but everything from pig-squeals to thrash metal shouting makes at least a couple of appearances over the course of the album. To the strict death metal nerd this may give a slightly schizophrenic impression, but to those of us who also dabble in other genres it is rather refreshing.
Nephren-Ka aren’t reinventing the burial ground here, but their eclectic mix of death metal elements do make for a very exciting album. Whether exploding in a technical, hyper tight blast beat segment or taking us for a ride over the surface of Arrakis with a sweet, quasi-Arabic lead guitar melody, La Grande Guerre de l’Epice keeps things interesting, powerful and fucking brutal. The album is released on October the 13th on Dolorem Records.