I first came across Nexion at their performance at Oration Festival MMXVII in Reykjavik. A friend of mine knew them, and made me aware that they were well worth seeing. Their blistering show suggested a band with real experience on stage, despite having not yet released any recordings under the name Nexion. As it transpires, vocalist John Rood is also in Fenrismaw, while guitarist Jóhannes Smárason used to perform live with Svartidauði, and fellow guitarist Óskar Rúnarsson plays in Blood Feud. As with many of Iceland’s bands, there is cross-pollination. But Nexion‘s new music differs quite substantially from much of the black metal that has erupted from the little Island in its approach to blackened death metal. Read on for the review, as well as an interview with vocalist Josh Rood.
The boundaries between death metal and black metal, at one time fiercely policed, have in recent years become increasingly blurred. The role of tremolo-picking, blastbeats, shrill screams, downtuned guitars, and many other commonplace musical characteristics now seem to have disseminated far and wide in the metal world. Nexion further blur the line in an unwavering commitment to aggression, darkness, and the occult. If you put me on the spot and demanded I made a comparison, I might suggest that it sometimes reminds me of Behemoth‘s album Evangelion. That said, Evangelion is a perfect example of a great album brought down by sterile production. In contrast, Nexion‘s EP sounds great. Handled by Studio Emissary’s Steven Lockhart, the album has a very organic, natural sound. Every instrument is given plenty of room to breathe, and the album avoids the temptation of compressing the whole thing to hell. It plays a pretty important role in helping this record succeed, because for a sound as abrasive and inhuman as Nexion‘s, a poor production job could leave the record feeling lifeless. Yet in the Lockhart’s capable hands, the true unmediated malice of the music shines through.
The death metal and black metal influences the band channel complement each other well. While the death metal side is crushingly heavy and aggressive, the black metal influence adds an additional layer of disturbing atmosphere. The opening track ‘I. Of Genesis’ opens with aggressive drumming and downtuned riffs, jarring chords and hoarse growls and bellows. The dissonant riffs are menacing, but it’s the absolutely pummeling death metal groove that the song settles into that really impresses. The song’s explosive second half, replete with throat-shredding screams, blastbeats and blackened tremolo-picked riffs, sends the song off with a bang. ‘II. Of the Coiling Void”s devastating black metal riffs and vicious vocal attack are an abrasive one-two punch, but the disturbing atmosphere is utterly engrossing. The closing crescendo is an emotionally powerful moment of haunting, dissonant black metal beauty, the kind that Iceland’s metal scene has become famous for mastering.
‘III. Of the Pestwielder’ delivers a further fix of blackened death metal aggression, with passages of haunting black metal riffs, crushing brutality and dissonant flourishes. This is the song that perhaps reminds me the most of Behemoth‘s Evangelion. The closing track ‘IV. Of the Final Throes of Creation’ is a violent and unpredictable piece of occult music. The frequent eruptions of fury and madness are disturbing and visceral, while the eerie blackened riffs take on an almost mystical, ritualistic quality against the droning background vocals and powerful drumming. It’s a memorable end to an extremely strong EP, and it certainly left me wanting more.
What follows is a fascinating interview with vocalist Josh Rood, touching on the band’s early days, their influences, and the concepts and themes tackled on the record.
How did Nexion come to be? What motivated you to form it?
That might actually be a better question for Jóhannes and Óskar. For my part, I was actually contacted by a mutual friend, who told me that some friends of his were looking to form a new band and that they needed a vocalist. He was referring to Jóhannes and Óskar, and informed me that both had previous experience with black and death metal bands here in Iceland, and that this might be something worth checking into. I had performed vocals for some years in Upstate New York with the band Fenrismaw, but since I had moved to Iceland I had been without a band. That was about two years before. I decided to meet the guys and try out. I don’t think there was ever any question that I wanted to be involved after meeting them, listening to their ideas and their approach to song writing, music, and their general outlook. The musical chemistry was there, so I went all in. This was during a very early period, and at that time it was only Jóhannes, Óskar, and a few guys from other bands who were mostly filling in. I joined, and we went from there.
What is the precise meaning behind the band name ‘Nexion’? What is it supposed to reflect about your music?
Generally, my lyrics take on concepts of existentialism, nihilism, eschatology, and the darker aspects of the human experience. I prefer to use mythology, ritual and religion as the medium for relaying those concepts, since religion and mythology are in many ways how mankind has tried to deal with them throughout the ages. With Nexion I didn’t want to use any already extant mythology in my lyrics. I didn’t want to use the Christian/Satanism cosmology. I didn’t want to use the Norse or Greek or Mesopotamian myths like most bands do. These religious systems are already codified and very hard to reshape into something else. I had previously decided to experiment with inventing mythology to reflect my own views, including ritual and esoteric experiences. I was trying to create a cosmos that reflects my own perception of the cosmos, and then use that as a medium to discuss other subjects. This was an idea that meshed well with the perspectives and artistic approaches of the others, so I began bouncing lyrical ideas off of them while they wrote music, with the two influencing each other, until they merged into something solid enough to name.
The end result, I think has a lot of “occult” elements. I chant at times and speak in reverse language. I talk of entities and deities and temples and realms that nobody outside the band recognizes. The artwork likewise depicts scenes from an unknown mythology. From an artistic point of view, it felt like some kind of mythic or cosmic reality that didn’t exist anywhere else had become self-contained in our music. So we decided to take a name to represent entrance into that. So we decided we wanted a name that that symbolizes entrance into that “new” cosmic realm that seemed self-contained in our music. We decided to go with “Nexion”. The word very simply is used to mean a portal or a gateway. It has been used variously within the occult to refer to openings to other realms, so we felt that was fitting.
Your other band Fenrismaw deals with Norse mythology and heathenism, yet Nexion seems to relate to much darker, more esoteric and occult concepts. What inspired the change in approach?
Yes I made a conscious decision to move away from Norse themes after I left Fenrismaw. Not because Norse religion or heathenism has any less meaning for me, but because I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to with Fenrismaw.
Mythology, religion, ritual, culture: These things must all have a dark side, because humanity has a dark side. My objective with Fenrismaw was to try and take “Norse religion”, and draw out some of the darker aspects of it. But also a band represents the chemistry of all of the members, and the lyrics are a synthesis of sound (the music) and language (the lyrics). Fenrismaw was very thrashy, had a lot of old school elements. The lyrics are kind of in that vein as well.
With Nexion, I wanted to remove the restraints of all extant religious systems. Religion is, in a way, a lens through which people view reality. I wanted to create a lens that reflected “us”. Nexion would be our own vehicle. The occult and esoteric concepts are there because on a whole the theme in Nexion is more personal, and the music that the guys make opens darker conceptual avenues to explore.
What would you say are the central ideas, concepts or themes at play within Nexion’s EP?
The basic idea behind the EP was that it is a sort of dark, nihilistic parody of the natural cycle, the mythic cycle, and the cycle of life. The narration begins with a sort of gift bestowed upon the “protagonist”, in which that individual is given the ability to see through four doorways, or portals, each one containing visions that reflect a certain stage in that “cycle”. These four doorways are of course the four songs on the EP. Beyond that, I prefer to allow the listener to have their own experience.
How does the artwork relate to the album’s themes?
We asked Jose (our artist) to read the lyrics and let them bring out whatever visions they give him. His style is very cultic, so we had complete faith that he would be able to “bring to life” the lyrical concepts. I don’t want to analyze his own interpretation of our lyrics too much, but the artwork is, in part, from “Of The Pestwielder”, as seen through a gateway or……Nexion.
How did you find Oration MMXVII? Did it meet your expectations, and did you find the atmosphere conducive to your music?
We thought it was amazing. The atmosphere and the selection of bands both combined to create an almost ceremonial event. The atmosphere was exactly what we would have wanted and were honored to be a part of the experience. As far as the type of bands at the event, we’re on the less atmospheric end of the spectrum, with a more aggressive, death metal drive. But we felt that every band’s sound complimented the others.
I want to thank Josh Rood of Nexion for taking the time to speak to me and to provide such thoughtful responses to my inquiries. You can purchase Nexion’s EP on Bandcamp here. It will be released in physical formats in the following months.