Unexpected instrumentation – no guitar… piano-led… yet blatantly heavy.
This is Nefariant: Jason Lekberg, vocalist; Paul Cibrano, pianist; Daniel Martinez, bassist; Andrew Maciejewski, drummer. They create what they term “brutal elegance”, a new way of metal-working. Each member of this band brings decades of experience in metal, all of which is apparent in Nefariant’s work – yet transformed by time, knowledge, and fervor for new horizons into a vibe that is simultaneously authentically metal and something entirely novel. This is the place where the charred heart still dares to beat.
Noct is the new album by Brooklyn’s Nefariant. It is a journey of its own as well as being the second and central installment of a soon-to-be-completed trilogy of inter-related albums, (of which 2022’s Fowl was the first). Noct is more than a collection of recent compositions, but it’s not a “concept album” as the term was developed a half-century ago, either. Its unity lies in its various songs’ diverse-yet-connected aspects.
The band’s defining feature is an elemental accord between word and music. The “brutal elegance” they espouse describes their embrace of contradiction in sound, lyrics, and visual presence (on stage, in video, and beyond). It also points to the complexity of each composition – not always technically (although that too) – but structurally: clean vocals and growls in antiphonal dialogue; piano and/or bass figures where the common expectation would be guitar licks, drums-as-melody-and-narrative, and so forth. It is given to the listener to participate actively in Nefariant’s intricacies in order to savor the band’s full range.
The first song, “Beg”, sets forth this non-simplistic approach: “Don’t beg”, states the singer to a potential lover at the exciting beginning of their relationship, because he won’t beg… and yet the pleading in every new lover’s heart is obvious. The music expresses the flexing alpha-swag the would-be lover (and any of us, really, when presenting ourselves for a new lover’s consideration) displays at such a moment even while simultaneously revealing all his self-conscious vulnerability.
In his philosophical treatise “On War”, von Clausewitz said “war dreams of itself”. The eponymous song sounds like the story it’s telling: the march goes on, much at the end as it was in the beginning, without clear goals or guarantees of victory or defeat. It essentially uses the sounds and signs of war to declare war on war. The insistent beat does not change and seemingly cannot end. In its aversion to melodic flights of fancy, the song warns us against romanticizing our own deaths/defeats in whatever great struggle engages us.
“Legend” is perhaps the most personal (and therefore, paradoxically, the most universal) of the songs on this album, built on Daniel Martinez’ father’s dying words to him. It’s a finale of sorts as well as a passing of the torch for the beginning of the next phase; timeless, yet intensely bound to a specific, hyper-aware moment. It evokes an ancient, all-but-forgotten past, and the renascence of that legacy in the child, the embodiment of the future.
“Bury You” also dwells in a place between (or beyond) life and death, a Goth love song. Someone is burying their beloved – but is that beloved actually dead, or is the lover reveling in a morbid (and strangely beautiful) necrotic fantasy? The music incorporates empty spaces, ambiguities, with vocals landing between piano riffs, embracing the void suggested by the loss (quite real, whether fantasized or actual) of the beloved. Conversely (and perhaps ironically), the next song “Gravedigger” is all-too-real and concrete. Paul Cibrano asked Lekberg to write a song about suicide and its effects on the survivers. The result is half a dialog as one friend talks another out of the final, despondent act. The core of this song is the narrator’s anger at the friend, his repeated exhortations “You better dig!” [i.e. your own grave] paralleled by the repeating riff led by the piano. “Helpless” appears to be about a break up but encompasses all broken relationships. As with “Gravedigger” but in a different context, “Helpless” confers dignity on an icky situation by rejecting the usual platitudes and trivializations. The heaviness of the drums compared to the sparseness of the other instruments and the lyricism of the vocals portrays a situation in which the narrator’s heartbeat (that is, suppressed, unspoken emotions) far outweighs what he can say in his helplessness.
In “Kenotic”, Nefariant draws a clear connection between interpersonal and universal relationships: the title word itself is highly controversial to translate, there being no one single answer. It refers to the “emptying” Jesus Christ underwent to become human, and so is often understood as the “fatal flaw” that brought death to the divine. Here, it addresses a chaos-inducing person (who doesn’t know one of these?) who has obliviously destroyed their own life and many lives around them. The singer-narrator expresses regret at the wastefulness of such a person even as he struggles with one inner voice among many that wants to re-engage with them.
In this song as in all their songs, the structure and the sounds are as nuanced and fraught as the thoughts and emotions that engender them – the melodies acknowledge their dependence on the dissonances, the Yes caresses the No, and the chiaroscuro is the overriding constant. Such is the heart of the brutal elegance that is Nefariant. - Willaim Berger