It has been nine long years since Rebirth of Nefast‘s last record, Ex Nihilio, a split album with fellow Irish black metal group Slidhr. A lot has changed since then. The black metal project’s mastermind, Irish-born Wann (aka Stephen Lockhart), has since moved to Reykjavik, Iceland and set up the Studio Emissary recording studio, founded the Oration Records label, and put on two successive and successful extreme metal festivals in the heart of Iceland’s capital. He’s been responsible for producing, mixing, and mastering some of the most exciting names in contemporary black metal: Svartidauði, Sinmara, Zhrine, Abominor, Almyrkvi, Mannveira, and Draugsól, as well as Mortuus Umbra, Dysangelium, and Slidhr. He’s also recorded and performed live with Sinmara and Slidhr. The resplendent full-length album Tabernaculum is the culmination of nine years of hard graft; of writing, recording, and producing some of the best extreme metal around, and learning and growing as a writer and a musician.
Black metal certainly forms the core of this band’s sound, but the longer songs on this record often change gears, unleashing crushing passages of blackened doom metal; heavy, droning, and deeply unsettling moments wherever they appear. Other moments threaten to tip over into the death-doom of Incantation. These influences are balanced perfectly, and the strength of the songwriting on Tabernaculum is difficult to understate. The way the songs ebb and flow, the dynamics at play between the chaotic, dissonant aggressive sections and the more subdued, melodic passages; it all feels perfectly balanced and coordinated. The diverse range of textures and ideas that this album threads together is breathtaking. The tasteful, subtle addition of melodic female vocals on ‘The First Born of the Dead’ push the song over the line from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’. The aggressive assault of ‘Alignment Divine’ is majestic in its utterly deranged majesty. The dissonant, deeply unsettling guitarwork and terrifying howls and roars give way to darkness and despair, before returning in all their fury again. But as with the other songs, the aggression and technical ferocity are always placed within the broader context of an utterly suffocating, morbid atmosphere of death. The sense of madness and desperation, urgency and despair permeate this record.
On an initial or cursory listen, it is easy to miss the numerous smaller details that are incorporated into this album, but which subconsciously worm their way into their mind and enhance the various effects or moods of the songs. The sprawling opening and closing pieces ‘The Lifting of the Veil’ and ‘Dead the Age of Hollow Vessels’ embody the full strength of Wann’s songwriting chops. The former’s mellow introduction belies the sinister endeavours yet to come, and the texture of its dirge-like opening crawl is enriched through the use of moaning choir vocals and dissonant chords, and the deeply unsettling, off-kilter acoustic section is a stroke of genius. Despite the subtleties of this opening foray, the black metal fury that follows is blistering, with thunderous blast-beats and disturbing, frenzied guitarwork. ‘Carrion is a Golden Throne’ is absolutely the standout track from this album’s middle section, weaving diverse ideas and motifs into visceral black metal aggression and an occult, morbid atmosphere.
Tabernaculum is a sinister, rich and complex black metal record, capable of both devastating aggression and haunting, unsettling melody. The masterful songwriting keeps the album feeling dynamic and exciting, even at over an hour in length, by weaving together a wide variety of influences and ideas into the album’s musical texture. Tabernaculum is without a doubt Rebirth of Nefast‘s magnum opus; a daring, challenging record, but one which rewards the careful, patient listener.
Tabernaculum is available now in digital, CD, cassette, and vinyl formats either through the artists’ Bandcamp below, or through Norma Evangelium Diaboli.