The one thing that the German metal scene has taught us is this: just because you show up late to the party doesn’t mean you ought to be ignored or shunned. Two prime examples of this principle still shine through today. The first involves the forefathers of the German metal scene, the Teutonic thrash bands. Of the three Teutonic thrash bands, Sodom was the last to release a full-length album, turning out Obsessed by Cruelty in 1986, a year after both Kreator’s Endless Pain and Destruction’s Infernal Overkill. Today, Sodom is arguably more influential than both of their contemporaries, due to Sodom’s crossover into the black metal style.
The second example is similar, but it relates to the younger wave of metalcore and melodic death metal bands that Germany has turned out in recent years. Among those bands, Neaera hit the scene many years after both Caliban and Heaven Shall Burn had already made names for themselves, and they even arrived after bands like Maroon, Burden of Grief, and Deadlock had already begun releasing material. Yet, somehow Neaera has managed to outstrip virtually all of their contemporaries and put themselves on the same level as Heaven Shall Burn, recognized as the top-tier bands from the German melodic death metal genre. Neaera’s sixth album, Ours is the Storm, has the potential to put them over the top, if they can prove that they are able to stay innovative and highly skilled after almost a decade.
From a composition standpoint, Ours is the Storm is the best material that Neaera has ever released, without any question. The technical aspect of Neaera’s playing style has increased tremendously, moving beyond the bounds of normal melodic death metal and metalcore to include elements that most bands in the German scene have eschewed. Guitarists Tobias Buck and Stefan Keller move well outside their comfort zones on several tracks, most notably “Ascend to Chaos”, “My Night is Starless”, “Back to the Soul”, and the phenomenal closing track “Guardian of Ashes”. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of drummer Sebastian Heldt and bassist Benjamin Donath turns in its tightest and most inspired performance yet, ascending to technical heights that they had never before explored. Sure, it may not seem like that great of a leap when compared to bands like Into Eternity or The Faceless, but among their peers, this is an achievement that (surprise) only Heaven Shall Burn had previously attained. If it is maintained on their next release, this technical side could become a trademark of Neaera’s sound, which would give them even more distinction in their scene.
The sole blemish on this album, unfortunately, comes in a form that is immediately noticeable and immediately prominent. Sadly, it also comes in an area that has always been Neaera’s strongest selling point. Vocalist Benny Hilleke has always been and will always be the most dynamic screamer in the German scene because of his range, and he does not disappoint on the low end, delivering his guttural roars and primal growls with the same vehemence as ever. His high screams, though, sound strained, almost forced, on many songs. New listeners won’t notice it, and it’s not a damning point on the album. Veteran fans, though, will remember the quality of the screaming vocals on 2008’s Armamentarium, and will likely notice the difference quickly. Starting right from the title track, it is clear that Hilleke’s screams don’t reach their expected peak, and when he does try to hit those peaks, the screams get strangled and sound unnatural. Thankfully, this doesn’t occur on every song, as Hilleke’s screams are in top form on the aforementioned “Ascend to Chaos” and “Guardian of Ashes”. On other songs, such as “Slaying the Wolf Within”, the strain in the screams is masked because the vocals are layered with Hilleke’s low growls, so the negative impact on the song overall is nullified. However, it still remains the only imperfection on an otherwise fantastic album.
Setting aside the vocal concerns, it should be obvious that Neaera has reached new heights with Ours is the Storm, and the future looks bright for the band. This album is the musical expression of Neaera’s dauntless spirit, never giving up and always seeking to do more with the tools they have. If the band can maintain their newfound technical prowess, and if Benny Hilleke can get his voice back into its usual form, then Neaera may finally begin to reach the international level of recognition that Heaven Shall Burn and Caliban have enjoyed for the past decade—a much-deserved accomplishment for a highly deserving group of artists.
// Notes from the Road
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