by Mark Hensch
United States black metal exhibits a tendency towards experimentation and New Jersey's N.I.L. (Nihilism is Liberation) is no exception. Following Krieg's brief dissolution in 2006, vocalist N. Imperial created N.I.L. as an outlet for his lingering mental tension. Consolidating N.I.L.'s lineup with guitarist J. Marcheski, N.I.L. released a self-titled debut album in 2007, the likes of which boasts tons of primitive, ambient black metal.
Each project offers catharsis but in different manners. If Krieg marks a release via rage, then N.I.L. displays tranquility through the numbness of apathy. Chilling, glacial and fuzzy, N.I.L. is an album of indifference and indecision. Highly atmospheric, it captures the bland acceptance which follows embracing futility.
In addition, it also allows Imperial some room for minor experimentation. Opening cut "Plague Doors Rusted Shut" is a solid example, fusing dreary guitar lines with eerie mandolin chords and then wrapping the union in quiet fuzz.
After this, the majority of N.I.L. treads a path of repetitive and cloudy black metal a la Velvet Cacoon. "Here I Found No Shelter," for example, trudges down paths of weary riffs and monotonous percussion, the rhythmic thump of bass notes adding the only reprieve from the drudgery. Alternatively spooky and relaxing, folks will love it or hate it with no middle ground between them.
As "I Quenched My Thirst with Dust" kicks in, it becomes apparent variety is also not N.I.L.'s strongest suit. Though "Thirst" and follow-up track "Sinking" speed up the album's tempo, neither song wanders far from the foggy, hypnotic style of "Shelter."
"Serpent Circle," meanwhile, unleashes a soft hum soon eclipsed by urgent acoustic guitar. The ringing these two echoes produce when combined produces a pleasant drone, the likes of which calms and entrances.
Up next is "Bad Houses," a Big Black cover and one of the record's largest mistakes. This noise rock song translates poorly into the black metal formula, sounding either hokey or overwrought depending on the moment. Even worse, it is not particularly interesting as a cover or an original song. Whatever the intent, this one merits a skip.
Strangely enough, "Negative Frequency Entity" is not only a moment of redemption but the album's strongest moment. Re-entering earlier moments of haze, "Entity" showcases the added bonus of melancholy guitar melodies which drift in and out of the mix. Imperial's amorphous vocals, meanwhile, shift from his traditional howls into wavering shrieks, furthering the song's unique atmosphere. The end result is a track which is tranquil yet traumatizing, brutal yet baleful.
Following this, "Leaving the Self Behind" closes the album with a solid mix of passion and passivity. It alternates between wallowing in the despair of distorted guitar sludge while at other moments it races through raw, dirty black metal runs. The end result is a mixture of black metal and funeral doom, representing all the best qualities from each with none of the pitfalls.
Though nothing has happened with N.I.L. since its 2007 debut, there is enough merit to keep the band interesting should Imperial revisit it. Black metal fans who enjoy Velvet Cacoon, bedroom bands or soothing, fuzzy black metal a la Wolfshade should seek this out.
Plague Doors Rusted Shut
Here I Found No Shelter
I Quenched My Thirst with Dust
Bad Houses (Big Black Cover)
Negative Frequency Entity
Leaving the Self Behind
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