The Second Philosophy
hen European metallers go sensitive, they do it boldly. They wheel out acoustic guitars and B3 organ, light candles, and uncork fine wine. American metallers are more reserved in their quiet. Isis, for example, is the audio equivalent of a naked light bulb, framed in film stock to convey that this is art. Neurosis, too, doesn't have its name for nothing. Europeans toast their fallen warriors; Americans hint at walking wounded.
These are generalizations, of course. American bands like Queensrÿche and Agalloch appropriate the majesty of their European forebears, while the Continent is filled with Isis-alikes trying to convince girls that they're really not that metal. But herein lies the difference. European metal draws from rich, violent, pagan history. American metal doesn't have these traditions, so it either apes them or relies on art values, like dynamics (Isis) or minimalism (Sunn O)))). Though Green Carnation's The Acoustic Verses is twice as lovely as Pelican's last record, hipsters would gravitate towards the latter; the former has a romantic quality that connotes "heavy metal."
Nahemah could bridge this gap. On its second album, this Spanish band has captured the epic sweep of Swedish metal, but given it an electronic, modern twist. The result is like Depeche Mode gone metal—deep, dark, yet accessible.
The band wasn't always this skilled. Its 2001 debut, Chrysalis, was unfocused, touching on symphonic black metal, goth rock, and melodic death metal. However, it contained elements of Nahemah's present sound, like lush keyboards and pianos. In six years, the band firmed up its songwriting, lost its black metal rasps, and seemingly found its vision.
The Second Philosophy is the sound of a band that listens to Radiohead and Opeth equally. But Nahemah doesn't force these aesthetics together. Thom Yorke's fragility and Mikael Åkerfeldt's death growl would make a toxic mix. Rather, the band uses electronics to add atmosphere to a guitar-based core. This idea is not new, of course. Metal bands have used keyboards since the '70s, but they've rarely done it this organically. The electronics weave in and out of the arrangements, adding accents and textures. For example, "Nothing" has droplets of melodies that almost become hooks (think of the string flourishes in Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again"). In the bridge, the keyboards cast thick, spiraling lines over a turbulent guitar undertow. The song then recedes to eerie piano notes before flicking melodic droplets one last time.
For all their ornamentation, the songs are quite solid. They feel that way due to stately tempos that never rise above mid-paced. With its melodic chords and clean singing, "Subterranean Airports" could be a radio hit, if not for its eight-minute span and beefy guitars. These songs take their time, sonically evoking through length the emotions most pop songs only reference lyrically.
"Phoenix" is the jaw-dropper here. It plays out like a soundtrack, with mournful guitars marching over drums reverbed like gunshots. Spoken word vocals and a distant saxophone slide by like a rush of memories. The song breaks down to a moment of lucidity, as clean tones ripple over ominous strings. Reality then hits—guitars crash in, keyboards keen, death growls proclaim end times. Yes, there are death growls here. This is a metal album. Those who let that scare them away will miss out on some deeply moving music.