(We welcome guest contributor Lewis Edwards, who wrote the following review of the new album by the Greek band Nox Formulae.)
Few bands in black metal manage to strike the balance between originality and familiarity, and those that do usually tend to go through the “trial-and-error” process before crafting that perfect sound. This couldn’t be any further from the truth for Greek legion Nox Formulae, however, whose debut album The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy is an unforgiving lesson in how to take influence from your contemporaries while simultaneously creating something genuine and distinguished.
Intro “NOXON” sets the tone for the rest of the record, with its steady, ritualistic percussion creating a sense of unease from the very start. This unease turns out to be well-founded, as “The Shadow Smoke” then rips through the air with its brittle, trebly guitars and reverberated background notes. It’s a truly memorable way to open up an album, reminiscent of the way in which Darkthrone pummel the listener after a foreboding intro in their quintessential album, A Blaze in the Northern Sky.
This turns out to be one of the most visceral, aggressive moments on the record, for the rest The Hidden Paths meanders in a similarly-aggressive yet more controlled direction. Terrifyingly-titled “Nahemoth Death Plane” features a slower, more doom-influenced approach, with lumbering, wailing guitars making up the first few minutes of the song’s runtime before veering off into an eastern-sounding mid-paced section which is vaguely (and perhaps oddly) similar to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s more recent output. It’s this ability to vary the dynamics of any given song which is the quartet’s main strength, as none of these songs appear to stagnate.
Praise must also be awarded for the production on The Hidden Paths, as it is almost perfect. The aforementioned trebly-sound of the album’s guitars help the band to achieve a sense of frosty eeriness which is noteworthy even for black metal’s infamously high standards, and the bass is mixed to absolute perfection, providing a thick platform for the more crisp sound of the guitars. As well as this, the drums are mastered flawlessly, providing enough of a presence to drive more urgent moments in songs like “Yezidic NOX Formula” and “Voudon Lwa Legba” while avoiding the overbearing pitfalls that many black metal percussionists fall into.
For a debut release, The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy is an assured, refined, and generally well-crafted piece of work by Nox Formulae. The band use genre mainstays such as blast beats and tremolo picking sparingly rather than as a main feature, meaning that when they are used, they are used to their full effect. The fact that Nox Formulae aren’t afraid to simplify things by taking a step back and focussing on the groove of a song means that the faster, more blast beat-driven sections of the album feel that much more intense, and it’s perhaps this that speaks volumes about the maturity the band has demonstrated with The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy.
Dark Descent will release The Hidden Paths To Black Ecstasy on September 16.