Nightmare (Fra) - The dominion gate 3/5
1. Temple of tears
2. A taste of armageddon
3. Messenger of faith
4. Secret rules
5. The dressmaker
6. Endless agony
7. Paranormal magnitude part ll
8. Circle of the dark
9. Haunting memories
11. The dominion gate
12. The watchtower
In the year 2001, reunited French 80s metallers Nightmare unleashed their masterpiece comeback CD, 'Cosmovision', coming across like a unique European-symphonic blend of American stalwarts such as Jag Panzer and Vicious Rumors. Nearly every song was a killer. If a finer French metal CD than 'Cosmovision' has been released in this millennium, I have not heard it. After a devastating performance that I witnessed at the New Jersey Metal Meltdown in 2002, Nightmare appeared poised for a richly deserved breakthrough in international heavy metal circles. But then things changed. Founding guitarist Nicolas de Dominicis departed. The follow-up to 'Cosmovision', 2003's 'Silent room', was a concept album that turned darker, weirder, less immediate, more twisted and less satisfying than its predecessor. Then another longtime member, guitarist Jeannot Strippoli, bailed out. A couple of years of silence ensued, finally to be broken with the recent release of 'The Dominion gate' by the retooled Nightmare.
Those of us who were praying for a return to 'Cosmovision' form can keep dreaming, as 'Dominion gate' represents a continuation, and indeed an acceleration, of the experimentation first heard on the 'Silent room' CD. The songwriting has become darker and downright disturbing in places (check out the gruesome "Dressmaker" for a particularly wrenching example). The band's reliance on electronica, filtered vocals, and gothic elements to create a dark vibe has expanded. Not only do keys and effects consume an increasingly large fraction of the band's sonic landscape, but Nightmare even saw fit to import beauty and the beast style singers, in the form of guest spots (multiple songs each) by After Forever's Floor Jansen and Sander Gommans. The creepy keys are particularly irritating because they distract the listener's attention from the fine guitar work and the liner notes fail to credit anyone for playing the keys, which are sometimes the most prominent instrument on display. In short, we have a recording that places one foot in the modern/experimental camp, which is sure to alienate and disappoint some longtime fans.
But it would be misleading to characterize 'Dominion gate' as some kind of radical departure. It's a progression, to be sure, but nothing more. Numerous elements of the sound that made 'Cosmovision' such a brilliant CD are still present. Gifted singer Jo Amore (who was Nightmare's drummer during the 80s incarnation before converting to the mike for the reunion after the original vocalist passed away) still possesses a distinctive, powerful, pleasing set of pipes that place the unmistakable Nightmare stamp on everything here. The decidedly old-school axework of recently recruited 6-string slingers Alex Hilbert (in his 2nd appearance for Nightmare) and first-timer Franck Milleliri is tasteful, melodic and well constructed. The epic, rich, mixed-gender operatic choirs that sound like no one else (maybe a bit like Therion) remain a cornerstone of Nightmare's style. So, notwithstanding that Nightmare have one foot in an updated sound, their other foot remains solidly in traditional territory.
Perhaps contrary to appearances, I do not believe that change is necessarily bad or that bands are somehow sell-outs if they evolve musically. In this case, however, it's the form and nature of Nightmare's evolution that is problematic, not the fact of evolution itself. Although a solid foundation of well done traditional metal remains, every stylistic change on display is for the worse. A couple of pieces of advice come to mind. To anyone wishing to check out some Nightmare, start with 'Cosmovision'. Absorb it, memorize it, worship it, then move forward (or backward for that matter) to fill in the Nightmare catalog. To Nightmare, please 86 the gothic stuff, the B&B guest singers, the annoying keys, and the "Dead skin mask" type lyrics. Instead, ramp up the killer guitars, let Jo Amore rip, and give us a CD's worth of material like "Circle of the dark" or "Heretic".
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