Gallic debutants, Naraka, are an amalgamation of French scene veterans with a zeal for symphonic metal and include the heroic, Franky Costanza (ex-Dagoba), behind the drum kit. They’re not short of connections, judging by the personnel involved on their first full-length record. Ex-Machine Head legend, Logan Mader, did the mixing and former Cradle of Filth vocalist and keyboardist, Lindsay Schoolcraft, also makes a guest appearance. Securing a support slot with the mighty Fleshgod Apocalypse will do them no harm, either. This is a band in the ascendancy.
It has become something of a cliché to start a symphonic metal album with a cinematic mood piece using spiccato violins and sinister string bows, but Naraka’s decision is a wise one to go with this introduction in preparation for the metallic thrust of ‘Cursed’. On first listen, the latter relies on the awesome rhythmic precision of Costanza’s sixteenth-note grooves, but the guitars are too quiet in the mix and Théodore Rondeau’s low vocal rasp feels like a subdued version of David Vincent (ex-Morbid Angel). However, things start to make sense on ‘The Black’, which gives you the time needed to get acquainted with the 90s groove metal tone of Sepultura’s Chaos AD. It’s as if the seven-string guitar and modern tunings did not exist and we’re back in Logan Mader’s era as a fresh-faced axeman with Machine Head. Their fellow Frenchman in Gojira are the inspiration for the riffs, although Rondeau comes to life here and experiments with a strange voice box introspection towards the end as if Mike Patton is with him in the vocal booth.
Yet the biggest strength of In Tenebris is the way it evolves and gets better with each song. ‘Of Blood and Tears’ borrows Fleshgod Apocalypse’s resident soprano, Veronica Bordacchini, and delivers a masterful bridge and chorus resplendent with a howling growl of “I’m dying!” from Rondeau. You’d think Septicflesh are doing a makeover of their favourite Bolt Thrower album, but the sinister keyboard strings are villainous in their mood, much like the typical film score for a Hollywood interpretation of the gothic novels of the eighteenth century. Close your eyes and you can see cobwebs and dust patches in a haunted studio with the band members huddled around a Ouija board. The same morbid fascination powers through ‘Darkbringer’. This is another spooky mix of death metal and imperious orchestral arrangements that would not be out of place on the latest Ex Deo record.
Lindsay’s Schoolcraft’s contribution to ‘Mother of Shadows’ is worth the wait when we get to track number eight. As a classically trained composer, she illuminates the gothic metal with her sorrowful serenading and harp skills and provides a wonderful change of key for the chorus at the moment when you think the song has nowhere to manoeuvre. Cradle of Filth will miss her creativity and might regret her departure when they hear this track.
Only one thing prevents In Tenebris from becoming an instant classic, and that’s the guitar mix. Naraka need Logan Mader to give them a louder and weightier guitar production, as he did with Gojira on 2008’s The Way of All Flesh. Instead, it suffers from the same problem as Carach Angren’s last album – the crunchy palm-muted hooks could be a lot more vicious with a livelier mastering. The chunky riffs on ‘Sleeping in Silence’ deserve a much better presence in the mix.
For a debut record, In Tenebris has many merits, chief among them the standard of the song writing and the exquisite execution of Franky Costanza’s drum work. You can forgive the guitar mix with gems such as ‘Of Blood and Tears’ and ‘Darkbringer’ lodged in your head. This is a fine effort and one that will put Naraka on the radar of metal’s biggest record labels when they start on album number two.
Release Date: 08/10/2021
Record Label: Blood Blast
Standout tracks: The Black, Of Blood and Tears, Darkbringer
Suggested Further Listening: Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years of Nero (2021), Bolt Thrower – War Master (1991), Gojira – The Way of All Flesh (2008)