Nervosa – Jailbreak


Prika Amaral is serious when she vows that Nervosa will never die. From the outside, the Brazilian death-thrash titans appear to be in a hopeless mess. Vocalist, Diva Satanica, left in February this year after fronting the band for 2021’s excellent Perpetual Chaos LP. The supergroup line-up that relaunched the band’s career two years ago is no more. Mia Wallace (Abbath/Triumph of Death) did not return for album number five. Neither did YouTube drum sensation, Eleni Nota. And then, there’s the issue of Fernanda Lira and Luana Dametto, both of whom departed the band in 2020 to form Crypta. The latter are on track to land the death metal album of the year for 2023, which leaves you asking if Nervosa can survive yet another incarnation with the odds stacked against them and their rivals achieving instant success.

Napalm Records maintain faith in Prika Amaral as the guitarist and enduring face of the band, but even they must have had reservations about her taking over as the lead vocalist for this record. With the addition of Bulgarian, Mihaela Naydenova, on drums, a second guitarist in Helena Kotina (ex-Paul Di’Anno), and relocation to Greece, this is yet another new line-up. Their latest LP title sounds like a hard rock affair from the 1970s, and they have a twin guitar attack leading the way for the first time since 2010. Is this a band clinging to existence in name only?

On the evidence of opener, ‘Endless Ambition’, Prika Amaral is under no illusions that she must fight for her career. And you can hear it. Every rapid pick of the guitar string and every thud of the snare drum pulsates with a ferocious determination. The band waste no time launching into a Dark Angel thrash assault here, nor does Prika hold back at the microphone. Why did she never see herself as a vocalist until now? Her guttural roars throb with an underlay of savage animosity as the rhythms switch from skank beats to blast beats and venture into the Latin American Tresillo beats introduced into metal by Judas Priest’s famous ‘Painkiller’ intro. You can even hear the mid-register brilliance of the latter’s razor-sharp riffing in follow-up, ‘Suffocare’, where new girl, Helena Kotina, introduces a more advanced lead guitar ability beyond the reach of Prika Amaral on previous recordings.

You must ask the question at track five – how is this so enthralling with so many factors militating against it? Clearly, Prika feels betrayed by her former bandmates who thought they could split Nervosa by leaving her in a company of one. “I won’t forget the ones who stay at my side / Rising fire will never die,” she barks on the rough thrash metal blast of ‘Seed of Death’. Who could she be talking about? (Nod-nod.) Likewise, ‘Ungrateful’ needs no further explanation as it rips through a brutalised Motörhead offensive like Metallica and Death Angel jamming together in 1986. The simplistic chorus of ‘Jailbreak’ ought to fall flat, yet the guitar work reminds you what Megadeth lost all those years ago when Dave Mustaine became a millionaire.

Of course, a Nervosa album always wears its influences on its tattoo sleeve. This one is no different. ‘Sacrifice’ is a thrash metal interpretation of Death in the Leprosy era; ‘Behind the Wall’ could be from any Sodom album; ‘Kill or Die’ thrives on the imperfect brilliance of the early Celtic Frost records. You reach ‘When the Truth is a Lie’ at track ten, and you wonder if this is what Exodus would sound like as a death metal band, only to discover that Gary Holt is the one providing the shredding rock solo. Yet the quality of the guitar riffing deserves the highest of praise throughout. Prika’s wisdom in turning the band into a two-pronged guitar weapon might be the most important decision in the new era of the band’s career. These songs are more chaotic and nuanced with more textures under the shadow of two axes.

The melodies come much easier with two guitars, but the decision to extend this record to thirteen songs leaves the band open to diluting the listening experience with filler material. These come in the last two cuts, where ‘Elements of Sin’ and ‘Nail the Coffin’ sound like outtakes. Neither offer anything different to the adrenaline-surge calibration of death and thrash metal in the first eleven songs. The former starts like a demo recording and makes you wonder if they left it on as one of the first songs they recorded and rehearsed together as a new band. Not even the extravagant brilliance of the weeping guitar solo can save the latter from the fate of a heavy metal pastiche.

Yet with so much to surmount and so many factors working against her, Prika Amaral pulls off an admirable salvage job here. The guest appearance from Lena Scissorhands of Infected Rain and Death Dealer Union is a wonderful way to renew the energy at track ten (see ‘Superstition Failed’). A combination of the classic Possessed malevolence with a pentatonic doom chorus is the last thing you expect, yet the rocking guitar solo and spoken-word vehemence at the halfway point will keep you enthralled when you’re ready to daydream and ponder whether WD40 will be the best cleaning agent for your arm spikes.

Jailbreak could be whittled down to ten tracks with no loss of quality, and it’s in no position to map out a new sound when the band’s survival is at stake. Your instinct is to write it off, but you know this is foolish. Nervosa will not die, nor do you want them to exit from history.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 29/09/2023

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: Endless Ambition, Seed of Death, Superstition Failed

Suggested Further Listening: Sodom – Genesis – XIX (2020), Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion (1985), Hellripper – Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (2023)