(Here’s TheMadIsraeli’s review of the new fourth album by the Swedish band Nonexist, which is being released today – August 28th – by Mighty Music.)
By my measure, Nonexist are one of the most criminally underrepresented European death metal bands in the entirety of the genre metal. They are so criminally overlooked I’d wager that ignorance of them should count as a human rights violation. The project, spearheaded by longtime Swedish scene vet Johan Reinholdz of Skyfire and Andromeda fame, has been one of metal’s best kept secrets since 2000. Originally a two-piece band consisting of Johan and ex-Arch Enemy vocalist Johan Liiva, the project has been consistently dedicated to preserving an image of melodic death metal at its most pure and un-compromised.
What do I mean by that? Well…
My friend Andy Synn has talked before about the idea that now there is “melodic death metal”, and there is “melodeath”. A lot of the old melodic death metal bands, like Soilwork, really AREN’T death metal any more. Elements of their old sound still exist, but consequently “melodeath” as a term has come to really represent anything that is in the orbit of the style and its origins. It’s more focused on the melodic and traditional heavy metal aspects than the death metal and has tended to have more mainstream appeal.
Nonexist, by contrast, is REAL melodic death metal. They are death metal, representing the atonal and vicious qualities of the style, while also incorporating melodious hooks and neoclassical elements as a contrast. This combination has been kind of lost by a lot of bands who nowadays think they do melodic death metal. Nonexist is one of the bands around today still doing the real deal. It is my hope that, with Johan Reinholdz now a guitarist with Dark Tranquillity, his association with the band might shine more light on his work in general. Today though, we’re obviously going to be talking about the project’s newest record Like The Fearless Hunter.
There is a significant change this go-’round for Nonexist, in that the new album is the first that doesn’t include Johan Liiva. Minus a Mikael Stanne guest appearance on “A Meditation Upon Death”, and guest appearances by Rogga Petersson (Merciless), Chris Amott (Dark Tranquillity, ex-Arch Enemy) and Markus Johnsson (Eucharist), this is a solo effort from Reinholdz, vocals included. Of course, nothing has changed here sonically beyond the vocals, but I know people who knew of Nonexist were fans of Liiva’s vocals. So of course the first question is whether Reinholdz can replace Liiva and do a good job on the vocal front?
The answer is easily yes. Reinholdz strikes an interesting balance with a Bloodbath kind of aesthetic, and as a matter of fact, he hits an in-between of two of Bloodbath’s vocalists, those being Mikael Åkerfeldt and Peter Tägtgren. Like The Fearless Hunter is an all-out aggressive album and arguably the project’s most vicious album to date, so this change in vocals actually feels really appropriate to accompany the music, especially given Reinholdz propensity for writing some of the most intensively propulsive riffing you’ll hear in melodic death metal.
Opener “Strictly Sadistic Intent” comes out of the gate swinging with a technical death metal riffing flurry that could’ve come from mid-period Decapitated, with the torrent of ferocity only contradicted by the song’s contrasting melodically triumphant chorus. Nonexist’s music is this beautiful ballet of contradictions, discord and harmony constantly interweaving with each other. I’ve always been a fan of metal that thrives on paradoxical song-writing, and Nonexist is a clear master of this practice.
“Together We Shall Burn” is a pretty good sophomore song, a majestic galloping behemoth with a triumphant battle refrain sandwiched between a riffing aesthetic the equivalent to being crushed under tank treads. It contrasts pretty well against the records opener, showing that this is a band of many different moods and approaches. This is further established when “Dark Satanic Mills” comes on, a ripping fast as fuck tribute to legendary endurance thrashers Dark Angel that ends on an orgasmic Black Sabbath-ian breakdown.
The next two tracks are majestic songs of mournful elegance. “Embrace From A World Below” is a powerful, slow lamentation with black metal style tremolo’d melodies and contemplative chugs underneath. It hits me in a way a lot of prime Dan Swanö music has, and it also is the only instance of Reinholdz doing clean vocals, using a very baritone vibe in the same way Swanö has done. The best part of this song, though, is how it explodes into a torrent of blasting and intense technical riffing out of nowhere, completely shattering the music’s contemplative nature. It also boasts a pretty emotive riveting solo section that wonderfully bleeds right back into where the song began.
The song after, “Litany Of Poison”, is just a pure explosion of anger driven by mournful melodies combined with classic Swedish chunky yet fluttery passages. As a song, it’s just pure Swedish metal pedigree at its most undistilled. Same thing for “A Meditation Upon Death”, which might be my favorite melodic death metal song of the entire year. Not just for its composition, because the combination of Reinholdz vocals with the guest appearance of the legendary Mikael Stanne is an undeniably potent one..
I don’t want to go on too much longer. This record is fantastic. It’s the sort of agonized pissed off morose yet bloodthirsty old school meets new school mix of death metal in both its melodic and atonal forms that I live for. One of the best records of the year. Also check out the rest of this band’s catalogue if you’ve never heard them before. I mean it.