Review – Festung Nebelburg: Zwischen den Jahren

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  • Bio: "Black'n' Roll and Pagan Metal clash at Nattulv's solo project Festung Nebelburg and form a frosty, raging atmosphere. The songs about gloomy sagas of the Bavarian Forest and the mystic twelve nights between the years are what Festung Nebelburg stands for: Rough authentic music, originality and Nattulv's links to his home region, Eastern Bavaria."
    - Bandcamp
  • Label: Self-release
  • Release Date: December 28th, 2015
  • Genre: Folk Rock, Melodic Black Metal, Pagan Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Originally known as Nordfrost, Germany’s one-man melodic black metal and folk act shifted gears in 2005 to become Festung Nebelburg. Since then, however, there hasn’t really been much to come from the project. 2007 saw the debut album Gabreta Hyle, issued through Blood Fire Death Productions, which was followed by over seven years of studio silence. However, wrapping up 2015 is the long-overdue follow-up, Zweichen den Jahren, which hasn’t really been receiving much favorable press. But is this something really worth passing up as a number reviewers would have you believe, or is there something a little more that may have been greatly overlooked?

Unlike that 2007 debut outing, Zwischen den Jahren isn’t quite as hostile. Yes, it still has some fiery and aggressive moments, but this entry is a lot lighter and far more refined in comparison. It’s as if Satyricon had taken more of a Tyr or Falconer direction than their current black’n’roll approach. On top of that, you have a far more robust offering that captures the necessary nature atmosphere quite well at times among the myriad of styles incorporated. The cleaner audio quality makes the blackened riffs a bit more emotional when dabbling in that genre, though there’s more folk rock crossed with a Sentenced chill input when not catering to that staple melodic sub-genre, not to mention some random humpa elements a la Finntroll. While the stringed instruments do set the time quite well, it’s the drum kit that stands out the most, helping fill the gaps where necessary in this crisp sounding effort, not to mention to try to deflect attention away from the many detrimental elements, most damning being the dual-vocal approach that is often abused to the point where, if Zweichen den Jahren were a child, children’s services would have to be contacted.

While mixing rougher vocals behind clean singing is a nice treat from time to time, sole member Nattulv will nearly fill-up entire songs this way. There are even times where the aforementioned clean vocals have another layer of clean singing literally on top of them, leading one to immediately suspect bad mastering due to sharing the exact same level instead of being a little lower like the tame rasps to lend support by bulking up the more dominant voice. “Prolog” starts off a typical blackened folk metal composition with plenty of moody hooks at work, but wastes absolutely no time whatsoever in introducing the conflicting vocal levels. It’s impossible to tell if the altered harmonizations are meant to be at the forefront, or if we should be paying attention to the mildly engaging snarls. The chorus, however, enforced it to be the former, presenting a single layer that actually sounds as good as the isolated harshness a bit past four minutes in. As for the rest of the song, if you can pull your attention away from the poor meshing, you’ll find some pretty catchy music all round.

That said, some of the better tracks on here are those that greatly limit themselves. “Drudendrücken” has a solid folk metal presence in the riffs that can incorporate a subtle level of grandeur come the chorus and song’s end. Even the backing vocal layer in the addicting chorus is handled properly this time around and, with the exception of brief overlapping moments, focuses on only having that one layer at work. It works out so well you’ll actually notice there’s a hint of an echo effect you otherwise would never have known existed. Then there’s “Irrlicht”, which is more your standard German rock song with some leads that could be argued as punk rock influenced heading into the decrepid sounding chorus. Yes, the harsh vocals appear once more as an additional layer, but much like “Drudendrücken”, they feel like genuine support given how they compliment the deeper, darker presence in the guitars to become a natural extension of the song instead of just being there for the sake of being there. It’s a stark contrast to the album’s title track which is almost impossible to sit through given how everything just sounds crammed together with little consideration to general song structure and pleasantries to one’s own ears.

Festung Nebelburg

“Thomasnacht”, however, is a bit of a different offering. While there’s been hints of punk influence throughout the release in the riffs of “Drudendrücken” and the two-step fuelled “Vorboten”, this is one that makes its existence pretty apparent, and not in all that bad a manner. That punk rock enthusiasm and presence in the hooks, or what comes off like that style, can be observed throughout much of the first three minutes when not shifting into a more traditional black metal template, and for the most part it works. The lighter presence makes this offering a far more fun and upbeat experience, though you can’t help but feel that jovial atmosphere is a bit forced due to how cluttered it all sounds compared to nearly any other track on the recording. Even “I hob drammt” and it’s more mainstream H.I.M. appeal early on feels like a far more natural exploration of the group’s sound. The additional background rasps, however, could have been left on the cutting room floor, as there really isn’t much of a need for them to exist at all in the main verses.

Look, truth be told, there’s some really catchy, even memorable music to be found throughout Zweichen den Jahren, but it often just feels hidden behind the many layers of vocal styles that often don’t need to exist. Everything basically shares the same volume level, save for a random guitar solo or slower passage, leaving this effort to be far more disorienting, even confusing than it ever actually needed to be. And, no, deciphering which of the vocal styles or particular instrument or instruments are supposed to be accentuated at a specific point in a song is not something one wants to do while enjoying an album not in the avant-garde field, an expression this effort is light-years away from. With a seven-year gap between this and the debut, Zweichen den Jahren stands as a major disappointment from a post-production standpoint, almost making the pay-off to that lengthy bout of silence something of an insult to long-standing fans. Hopefully Nattulv learns from this and not only presents a new Festung Nebelburg album in a far more timely manner, but also hands the recordings off to someone else for mastering duties, if not an entirely new production team all together, in hopes to prevent leaving behind another ok sounding mess of congealing metal meat scraps you’ll find yourself looking for reasons to not revisit anything but the handful of well captured performances strewn about the entire effort.

Festung Nebelburg

Digital review copy of this release provided by Festung Nebelburg
via Metalmessage PR.