Greece is recognized as one of the cradles of democracy and art, a rich and storied land whose history spreads far back into antiquity. In terms of worldwide Heavy Metal scenes, the small nation by the Aegean Sea has stood as one of the most vibrant birthplaces of extremity on earth. With roots spanning back to 1991, the Death and Doom Metal collective known as Nightfall has bewitched its fans to the tune of nine studio albums. On the 5th of March, 2021, the Athens-based group will bestow At Night We Prey into the ether via Season of Mist Records. What does the iconic tenth album in the band’s history promise to its faithful hordes?
The music on At Night We Prey is not easily categorized, and because it is crafted so well this is one of its strengths. Beckoned into existence by Bassist/Vocalist Efthimis Karadimas and guitarist Michalas Galiatsos (who left the band between 2003 but returned in 2020), the band lays down a foundation of Death Metal for its tenth studio album, enriching the compositions with a generous helping of bombast and atmosphere. “Witches” will satisfy fans of Black Metal with its ritualistic introductory percussion (courtesy of recent addition Fotis Bernardo from Necromantia), but this is weaved around a set of Death Metal riffs and alterations in tempo from slow and brooding into blast beats.
Compare this with the gothic elegance of the title track, its spoken/whispered vocal lines and dreamy guitars building along a foundation reminiscent of older Tiamat, Moonspell, or Samael. Karadimas’s enunciated half clean, half growled chorus gets under the skin, making this an anthem for all those who prefer to walk in darkness, when the moon is out, and most people are behind walls. Nightfall is unafraid to explore this vibe in a Trip Hop interlude, before the guitars return and an eldritch Satanic chant concludes the song in velvety grace.
Album closer “Wolves In Thy Head” sounds preeminently Greek, evoking an animalistic surge brought home by soaring moonlit keys. There is a feeling of looking back, of knowing who you are by remembering what drove you in the first place. Nightfall is adept at manipulating their tempo to maximize mood. The transition just over halfway in is superb, and anyone worth their bulletbelt will simply revel in the awesome guitar tone on display on this album.
A female chorus greets the listener on “Meteor Gods,” clean guitar tones and a beautiful set of cascading riffs building tension in dramatic fashion. But Nightfall is not here to noodle, and they never let much time transpire before Bernardo hammers down some blasting sections. In a world where much of Extreme Metal’s albums remain beholden to a particular pace, varying but not straying too far, it is refreshing to hear a band weave complex timing changes into a song so successfully. Dreaming guitar solos nearly halfway in are just a bit low in the mix, behind the drums and the female choruses. This is a small criticism, however, as the whole of the song is damned magnificent.
The pillar of Nightfall here in 2021 occupies the bloody fields between goth and black metal on a chariot of Death Metal. This is displayed liberally throughout the album, and the dynamic balance between the styles is exemplified liberally as well, but on a song like “Giants of Anger” the results are especially grandiose. Satisfying riffs and double-bass drumming underpin mournful keys, the stygian growl of Karidimas augmenting the whole. Well-placed vocal phrases spoken alongside him add a massively effective touch to the verses. This is a nightmarish little touch and ups the haunted horror aspect of the album quite well.
Nightfall has crafted one of the finer albums of the year, pouring a great deal of effort into something which pays homage to the ’90s Symphonic Death and Black Metal sound so beloved in the underground. For both its elegance and its gnashing vampiric teeth, Cryptic Rock gives At Night We Prey 4.5 out of 5 stars.