09 May 2020 (released)
26 May 2020
As we go hurtling into a new decade, metal continues to branch off to these mind-blowing new tangents. The descendants of the progressive metal of the '70s went off the deep end, incorporating increasingly complex jazz structures, broadening the textural atmospheres, and down-tuning to cavernous depths. At the same time, music incorporating synthesizers was gaining attention rapidly. With the otherworldly textures created and the technologically-intertwined future implication involved, it was inevitable that the music would take a turn toward the dark and dystopian. These styles ran more or less parallel for ages, with prog metal favouring the old school organ of cathedrals and castle-invoking piano over synthesizers. A few bands have dipped their toes into a hybrid through the years but it's only now that artists are truly taking advantage of this powerful union.
The dizzying prog-metal project Nyxem takes mile-a-minute (synthetic) guitar sweeps and heart-racing drums and pairs them with the fantastical and harrowing sounds of synthesizers to weave a deeply complex, mind-blowing sound. The San Diego-based artist covers the same groundbreaking, frenetic space that artists like Animals as Leaders and The Algorithm have occupied over the last few years with an added flair of the phantasmagorical soundscapes that have pervaded the world of video games. Behind the Veil of Light is a bold step forward with heavier guitars, richer analog synths, and a renewed surge of adrenaline.
'Ra in Thy Rising' kicks off the album on an uplifting major tone, hitting those revved up highs of a good Iron Maiden pumpin' tune. Grandiose synth pad backed choruses elevate to the next level. A vintage 8-bit video game solo of fluttering arpeggios paints the track's finale in rich technicolour. The subsequent 'War Engine' takes the frenzy up another notch. The guitars dredge deeper in dangling low-chugs while the synths whoosh out of control at a fever-pitch. This is the soundtrack of your favourite fighting games on steroids. Nyxem mastermind Jonah Hontos goes off on a whirlwind tear, showcasing his astounding keyboard talents.
From there we are given a brief reprieve from the lightning speed siege and drawn further into the realm of the surreal. 'Trees of Eternity' lures us in with round, bell-like tones, like being led through a supernatural planet's enchanted landscapes. This builds to a cascading series of guitar sweeps building a deep sense of wonder. 'Above the Abyss' finds some Canon-like chord changes before sinking into a haunting whale song section, the guitars waning and honking like great beasts making their way across the vast oceans of the planet.
The swinging sea shanty tilt of 'Divine Madness' evokes the early Mastodon of Leviathan. Gritty and driving but with enough synthy vibes to keep it in the chimerical. 'Abraxas' gets into darker realms recalling Tosin Abasi's deep-diving chugs over the chaotic tornado of notes swirling above. 'The Secret Flame' pushes into the fury of speed metal, verging on Dragonforce territory. 'In the Name of Baphomet' rounds out the album nicely with a demented segue of wonky keys leading into a 'cathedral at the earth's core' throwdown.
There are a handful of words that are greatly overused in the world of album reviews and critic's writing in general. One of them perhaps out-cliches them all. It's used to describe everything from a marginally exciting drum fill amidst a dreadfully boring album to a seldom offered sandwich at a fast-food restaurant. However, if this word is ever appropriate, now is the time. Nyxem's music is epic.
Behind the Veil of Light takes the propulsive thrust of progressive metal and merges it with synapse-stunning synths to create a massive visionary soundscape.