One of the sad facts about music is that there is simply too much of it. There's too much for us, as fans, to be able to hear even a fraction of what's out there (trust me, I hear more than my fair share, and even that is a mere pittance compared to what is released) in our quest to find the next album that will speak to us on untold levels. The same is true for musicians, for whom there is too much music to compete against for their work to stand much of a chance of reaching the people to whom that music would speak on those levels. If you've ever caught yourself wondering if it's possible to have too much of a good thing, the answer has been proven to be yes.
Nightfall comes to me in this manner, a band that has been around twenty years, released several acclaimed albums, and spawned musicians who went on to projects I've more experience with, yet the mothership had remained hidden to me all this time. In a world with more music than I could ever listen to, Nightfall slipped through the cracks.
“Phaeton” caught me off guard, swelling with dual guitars, then turning into what I can only describe as theatrical death metal, a composition with the rhythmic patterns that instantly brought to mind “Gutter Ballet” era Savatage. It was not at all what I expected, nor was it something I had really ever thought of as a combination before, so I was intrigued enough to be excited to hear what the rest of the album would hold.
Sadly, no other moment captured my attention like those opening bars did, not even the remaining minutes of “Phaeton” itself. That's not to demean the rest of the music “Cassiopeia” has to offer, because there is much to praise about the album. It merely means that capturing the attention of a jaded reviewer is an unusual achievement that merited notation.
The thing that makes “Cassiopeia” work is it's adherence to a different set of rules, throwing the conventions of death and black metal in the trashcan of irrelevance. There are elements of various strains of extreme metal running through the album, but they are kept tame, letting them serve as color to an otherwise traditional orchestrated metal album, and not the other way around. It's an approach that heightens the viciousness when those elements appear, and allows the rest of the album to live in a place that can appeal to people like me, who aren't inclined to sit and listen to fifty straight minutes of blast-beating brutality.
“Cassiopeia” is one of the best sounding death metal albums I've had the opportunity to hear, on a few levels. The production itself masterful in power and clarity, shining the music enough to be pleasurable, while keeping in enough grit to maintain its status as extreme music. Likewise, the tones chosen are integral to making the album work as well as it does. The guitars are powerful, yet subtle enough to let the playing remain expressive, while the vocals are as close to the perfect balance of evil and intelligible as they come.
Nightfall is in an awkward position. “Cassiopeia” isn't going to appeal to hardcore death metal fanatics, because it veers away from the boilerplate too often, and it won't appeal to traditional metal fans either, because it's extreme roots shine through. What we're left with is an album that succeeds in it's own right, but is doomed to remain in the underground, because appealing to everyone is no longer an option, not in this fractured metal landscape. And thus it is, with oceans of music pouring down upon us, the ones that try to reach the furthest are the ones most likely to be carried away by the tides.