Artist: Black Tongue
Living in 2018 is essentially synonymous with living in sin. There is no avoiding the putridity that is the byproduct of mankind’s existence. Every day you survive is another day to imbibe in insincerity—to feast on cruelty and animosity and thrive on inflicting terror in misery. We live our lives with the general understanding that after we die, there is nothing. No sense of consequence to govern our actions; no sense of penance or penalty for the punishment we instill unto others. Take that concept—grapple with it, and digest everything you’ve done today, this week or this month that’s been at the expense of another and hold onto it.
Now imagine—what if we’re wrong.
What if, at the end of everything, we’re forced to answer to all the wrongs we’ve committed; to acknowledge a “moral bookie” of sorts and pay up. That soul-smothering realization—that resounding horror and spirit-crushing remorse—is Nadir, the comeback album by UK ten-ton heavyweights Black Tongue. Built around that concept, Nadir is a crippling display of despair in its most pure form: sound. Disregarding years spend practically defining contemporary downtempo deathcore in favor of embracing doom and black metal as their mistresses, Black Tongue lash out with what is easily their heaviest release to date—even if it isn’t heavy in the colloquial sense of the word. Mammoth riffs, spine-crushing sludginess and atmosphere enough to provide life for an entire solar system, Nadir is every bit worth the wait listeners have endured, which should be enough said in itself.
Nadir, defined, refers to the lowest point in a person’s experience—the bottoming out of all their fortunes—and in some ways, this couldn’t be a better fit for Black Tongue’s 2018 release. Conceptually, it fits like a glove and, when it comes to the lowest point of anything, some of the gloom the listener will find lurking in the corners of Nadir is second to none. However, in other ways, the meaning of the word Nadir couldn’t be farther from the record’s true state. Nadir stands the pinnacle of Black Tongue’s discography—and while it may not be the “comeback album” fans of their early efforts may have wanted, there’s no disputing the sprawling allure it has, and the ability it has to transcend genre divisions abundant throughout heavy music. Together, percussionist Aaron Kitcher with guitarists James Daniel and Eddi Pickard have crafted a masterful release that captures the true essence of misery in musical form. From the opening riff to “The Eternal Return to Ruin,” the listener knows they’re in for something different. That dirging style of devastating fretwork continues through “Ultima Necat,” one of the more –core tinted releases on the record and “Second Death,” which goes so far as to boast a mean two step. However, other songs—“Parting Soliloquy” and “Contrapasso” chief among them—see Pickard and Daniel dominating with a metallic fist, using mammoth riffs to flatten the listener while Kitcher’s immaculate percussion provides a sturdy backbone. Kitcher—a far cry from his Infant Annihilator work—doesn’t serve to steal the show often on Nadir, even where some songs do see him blast-beating the listener into a pulp. Instead, he provides sprawling, sequences of spacey, atmospheric percussion that give Pickard and Daniel a chance to fill the soundscape with their riffs. This is true on “Contrapasso” especially (and, of course, their cover of “A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh”). Fear not, fans of the chug—there are still some ruthlessly heavy moments (in the late 2000s sense of the term) to be had throughout Nadir. “Crippled Before the Dwelling Ov God” is perhaps my favorite, with a mid-track breakdown that is eerily similar to the breakdown in “Voices” from their debut EP that dropped so many jaws all those years ago.
But what is a story of suffering and despair without a storyteller? How can we put our feet in the shoes of a man who has undergone spiritual decay without that man’s own voice? While precious few vocalists might even be up for the endeavor, even fewer can do it justice—and none can do it quite like Black Tongue’s Alex Teyen do it. Teyen’s vocal work is a whole league up from his already impressive contributions to the band’s previous records, and his lyricism is conceptually brilliant. From his deafening roars on “The Eternal Return to Ruin” to his eerie-yet-soothing clean vocals on “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh,” and all the way to his bone-chilling, spine-shaking display of talent throughout “Crippled in the House Ov God,” Teyen is a powerhouse of vocal ingenuity. His range has expanded from a previously-showcased penchant for piercing, gut-pummeling low bellows to raw, throaty mids and gurgling near-guttural attacks (and, yes, the aforementioned clean vocals that appear on the album’s cover track). “Black Fawn Temple” sees him flexing his narrative voice, speaking in a bleak and flat demeanor to match the foreboding atmosphere the brief interlude casts upon the looming back half to the record. Nadir, after all, is a story—and Teyen treats it as such—using every song to add different styles, intonations and inflections to his incredible feats of vocal prowess in order to make sure every twist and turn the tales takes is not without impact.
When people have asked me (and people have asked me) what I think of Nadir, it really comes down to this—and it’s going to make me sound bad, so bear with me: I know what I like. I’m a good ol’ chunky breakdowns, fat riffs and more chunky breakdowns kind of guy, nine times out of ten. Can they be done poorly? Yeah. Can I dislike it? Yeah. But a lot of the time, it doesn’t take more than a commitment to crushing music and some emotion to get me to back a release as long as it feels genuine. I’ll stop there and say that, even by those criteria, Nadir is already a stand-out album. But, I’ll continue—in me knowing what I like, it takes something pretty special to get me to re-evaluate my stance on a style, or, heaven forbid, an entire genre. Black Tongue did that with Nadir. Me, previously blissfully ignorant of doom and black metal, have found myself more curious than ever about what other trinkets the genre might hold—as Nadir shone a light (figuratively, as there is nothing light about this record) onto a whole world of opportunities in the sliver of a venn diagram where those genres overlap. So, as a record that urged me to expand my own tastes, I can justify giving Nadir nothing less than the highest marks. But even more, it sees Black Tongue’s triumphant return to the throne overseeing all that goes chug in the night, even if they do precious little chugging to get there. Still heavy, still gloomy, still as pissed off and violent as ever, ladies and gentlemen, Nadir—the truest tale of suffering and woe heavy music has heard to date.
For Fans Of: Dark Throne, Traitors, Primitive Man, Celtic Frost
By: Connor Welsh