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Nihilist - Nihilist (1987-1989)
Review: If speed metal bands interpreted hardcore punk in a heavy metal way, Swedish death metal interpreted heavy metal in a punk hardcore way, fusing the mix of melodic and chromatic progressions of bands like Discharge with the fills and structure of heavy metal. The result sounds like earlier crossover attempts but keeps the metal sense of the theatrical, which is aided by the tendency of tremolo-picked power chords to flow into melodic phrases that replace the simpler rhythms of rock and enable drums to recede to an ambient role of chronograph more than lead instrument, and shows us how death metal grew from its roots to a unique technique and sound that became instantly recognizable.
One attribute of this music is an attempt to make it both texturally and dynamically more intense than rock, and since it is death metal, the implement of this method is the phrase. Phrases leap across the scale as tempo stalls to create a sensation of bottomless falling, or explode upwards in staccato bursts of chromaticism arrayed across a modality of open harmony distant enough to create a melodic sensation. The hybrid, inexact, churns through metal's heritage as if trying to find a common attribute between its parts from which to make a new language; the fill from Metallica's "Seek and Destroy" shows up as do riffs demonstrating a clear heritage from both death metal pioneers like Master and heavy metal stalwarts Iron Maiden.
Vocals fit the more mature pattern of death metal which was developing overseas but combine it with the more breathy vocals of bands like Sodom, creating a deepvoiced guttural that contorts to fit the rhythm confining the duality of guitar and vocal phrasings. Where Nihilist break away from the death metal mold is in use of layers to reveal an underlying melodic tendency which they then reduce through conclusive or "promenade" riffs in the style of Black Sabbath, boiling down and underlying conflict and revealing underneath it a truth expressed in basic melodic riffs. Nihilist essentially continued in Entombed, sans bassist Hedlund who went on to form Unleashed, and used this songwriting strategy to great advantage.
These conclusions thunder into the songs and feature their most eloquent and masterful developments, creating the sense of transition and ultimate wisdom that, alongside the melodic lead rhythm riffing, became the core technique of black metal bands to follow. This ability to connect multiple riffs to a developing melodic line and have the resulting transition be coherent in the protean conceptual model death metal requires from its listeners where each development makes sense in the context of the whole and so can be understood only after it happens, more than any specific technique, guaranteed that Nihilist and its parallel act Carnage would create the foundations of a new school for the developing genre of death metal.