Label: AFM Records
Author: Isabell Köster
The French heavy metal band NIGHTMARE has been around for quite some time. They were formed in Grenoble in the south-east of France in 1979 and have ten albums under their belt. ‘Aeternam‘, which was set for release on 2nd October 2020 on AFM Records, is their eleventh output. For the band it is the beginning of a new era. After the unplanned departure of singer Maggy Luyten (ex-Beautiful Sin, Beyond The Bridge, Lyra) they were compelled to find an adequate replacement. Finding new vocalist Marianne Dien (Faith In Agony), who usually goes by the nickname Madie, turned out to be a pure stroke of luck as she isn’t only an absolute powerhouse on stage, but possesses a unique vocal timbre that suits NIGHTMARE’s epic compositions extremely well.
But now for the main thing, ‘Aeternam’! In a recent interview with Ignite Music Magazine singer Madie revealed that the band’s eleventh release is in fact a concept album that pays homage to the popular horror films of the 80’s and to the long career of NIGHTMARE that also really gained momentum in that decade: “Each song relates to one of these great heroes of horror cinema: Jason, Freddy, Alien, The Thing, Carrie, The Exorcist. The other titles refer directly to the madness of humans as a whole”, she states. ‘Aeternam’ was mixed and mastered in Simone Mularoni’s (Sweet Oblivion, DGM) Domination Studio in Italy. The intriguing cover artwork was created by Mickey from Myth-rid Art and has a mythical, occult quality to it that fits the horror theme perfectly.
The opening track ‘Temple Of Acheron’ starts with menacing guitar riffs and forceful drumming, instantly establishing a punchy pace before singer Madie launches into an anthemic chorus that takes us straight into the world of Greek mythology. “Under the earth, sails of Charon catch the wind / Below we will dwell / Under the earth, the lost souls pay for their sins / We’re burning in Hell” she intones emphatically. “Temple of Acheron – Ritual – Sacrifice / Burns toward the sky /The gates of Necromanteion /Welcoming all those who died” she continues, referencing an ancient Greek temple of necromancy devoted to Hades and Persephone that was allegedly located at the banks of the Acheron river near the ancient city of Ephyra. The site of the Nekromanteion was believed to be the door to Hades, the realm of the dead. The eerie and mythical mood of the song perfectly sets the scene for the rest of the album.
‘Divine Nemesis’ starts with thrashy riffs and frenetic fretwork by Matt Asselberghs and Franck Milleliri. Madie joins in with melodic, but hoarse vocals that suit the gritty vibe of the song extremely well. “Lie again / There’s nowhere to run or to hide / All hope is gone / Die again / There’s no chance of turning the tide / Await a new dawn”, Madie sings fervently in the chorus, thereby underlining the desperate situation the protagonist Carrie (the heroine of the supernatural horror film ‘Carrie’ from 1976, based on a book by Stephen King) finds herself in towards the end of the movie. The second track on ‘Aeternam’ is a perfect example for NIGHTMARE’s undeniable musical skills: In ‘Divine Nemesis’ the French quintet expertly blends heavy riffs, terse drums and catchy melodies with delicate symphonic elements. The result is a gripping metal anthem with a modern twist, but also a traditional feel, at times echoing back to traditional heavy metal veterans like Judas Priest.
The third track, ‘The Passenger’, is dominated by stomping riffs, dramatic choirs and Madie’s raw, evocative vocals. The lyrics pick up the plot of the first ‘Alien’ movie. Accordingly the vibe of the song is relentless and cold like the infinite vastness of space and the deadly creatures that lurk in its depth (“Trapped in space between the stars / Mother Earth left far behind / You’re a million miles away / And now something lives inside / This is what you’ll die for, this is what you’ll die for!”). The middle of the song contains a pretty badass guitar solo that underlines NIGHTMARE’s penchant for playful, energetic power metal.
Next up is ‘Downfall Of A Tyrant’, which is definitely one of the most epic numbers on ‘Aeternam’, gives off a bit of a Sabaton vibe and impressively illustrates the cruelty and inhumanity of war. The song is cleverly structured and starts off with the threatening sound of machine gun fire followed by atmospheric riffing, bombastic choral singing and Madie’s passionate vocals. It is difficult to decide for the listener if the war is necessary to overthrow the tyrant or if it is simply pointless (“FIGHT… And as our shells are raining down upon mankind / We will fight on, we have no… FEAR! / Straight out of Hell our blazing guns will turn the tide / The downfall of a tyrant is here”). The situation towards the end of the song is poignant: the sun comes out, there is beauty in the world, but the bloody fighting continues (“A break in the clouds / A glimpse of the sun / Our heads are all bowed / We reload our guns / The battle rages on”).
‘Crystal Lake’ starts off with a haunting guitar riff and is a cool heavy ballad in the style of an 80’s love song. Lyrics wise, the song is cleverly arranged as it sounds like a love song, but turns out to be the exact opposite: The insane crooning of serial killer Jason Voorhees, the protagonist of the ‘Friday the 13th‘ movie series who tries to lure in his victims. You really get goosebumps when Madie tenderly declares “And now you’re bleeding / Nobody can hear your cries / I am your everything now / Fading consciousness, you die / You are my everything, everything now”, creepy! And perfect for the month of Halloween.
‘Lights On’ was released as the second single and also features one of horror cinema’s icons: the notorious Freddy Krueger of the ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ film series (“Under the sheets laying paralyzed / Terror greets another sleepless night / Wide-open eyes, heart’s pounding in your chest / In your dream waits an unwanted guest”). The song draws you in with its driving beat, punchy riffs, its lavish orchestral instrumentation and Madie’s hypnotic performance.
In the title track ‘Aeternam’ we are off to a fast and thrashy start. Then Madie’s piercing vocals and the powerful riffs hit before she launches into the anthemic chorus (“Into the realm of the unknown / They’ve past the point of no return / A place beyond life and death… Eternity / In search of life everlasting / Ad Vitam Aeternam”). In terms of content, the song picks up the plot of the film ‘Flatliners’ and the protagonists’ quest to discover what lies beyond death and their search for immortality. In general, ‘Aeternam’ is one of the most complex and progressive songs on the album and showcases all the band’s strong points.
‘Under The Ice’ is a fun journey into the heart of Antarctica that references another horror classic, namely John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ from 1982. The eighth track skilfully juxtaposes heavy riffs, energetic growls and Magie’s gentle vocals in the spine-chilling chorus (“The creature lives inside of you / It’s copied your mind / There is nothing that you can do / Your fates are entwined”), which turn more aggressive in the verses. The energetic track inclines heavily towards extreme metal, but is rounded off by a passionate guitar solo that firmly steers it back into power metal territory.
‘Black September’ sees front woman Madie return to a more abrasive vocal style, vigorously belting out the lyrics in the verses – she sounds a little softer again in the chorus (“Shallow graves in foreign lands / Rivers of blood upon the sands / Burnt to smoldering embers / There’s no escaping black September”). Befitting the martial music, the lyrics deal with the bloody conflict between the Jordanian Armed Forces and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in September 1970. Along the hard-hitting riffs the growls return as well, certainly making ‘Black September’ one of the heaviest tracks on ‘Aeternam’.
The final track ‘Anneliese’ is undoubtedly my favourite. Thematically and musically it has a distinctly gothic feel about it. It starts off with a historic and pretty creepy recording of the exorcism of German Anna Elisabeth ‘Anneliese’ Michel that dates back to 1976. As listeners we directly witness the exorcism and Anneliese’s terrible struggle to keep her sanity. Madie impressively embodies the desperate and deeply disturbed Anneliese (in reality she was diagnosed with epileptic psychosis and had a long history of psychiatric treatment) who is confronted by a priest (clean male voice by Matt Asselberghs) who is seemingly trying to help her – but is actually abusing his powerful position to push his own agenda – and the devil, who tortures her and wants to claim her soul after her death (growling male voice by Mick Caesare). Anneliese’s palpable suffering and her frenzied pleas for help really get under your skin (“Oh Father please, absolve me of my sins? / When it’s dark, the voices are back / Father please, can you tell me where I’ve been? /Oh Lucifer! He’s here clad in black!”). The song is an extraordinary composition and structured like a short piece of (gothic) musical theatre that culminates in Anneliese’s death (“Clad in black… / I am the snake inside your soul / I will live forever inside you / Die little girl! Die!!!”). The real Anneliese died at the age of 23, after having suffered through 67 exorcism sessions performed by the Catholic Church, which is an absolute scandal!
NIGHTMARE’s very own brand of organic power metal is heavily infused with gritty thrash, hard-hitting melodic death and opulent symphonic (sometimes even gothic) metal. Rookie Madie has proven herself to be an extremely energetic and versatile singer who will firmly guide the band into a new era. On the whole, ‘Aeternam’ can be described as an extremely dense and varied release that solidly establishes NIGHTMARE as a unique force in the (female fronted) power metal genre.
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