For many bands, summer is the perfect time to record music and to rehearse for live concerts in a boiling garage or studio. The festival season and the holidays allow many musicians to take time off to focus on implementing new songs to their set list or to push their capabilities as players. Where most players seek to play more technically dexterous music, a few friends of mine wanted to master a song that was simultaneously simple yet physically exhausting to play. Nihilist and Sodom both fit the bill perfectly but we would settle on “Sentenced to Death” for its brief periods of respite between the bursts of rapid picking. Though we thought of this song as being a basic and minimalistic slice of powerful metal, after our wrists and arms had been decimated completely, we came to realize that the true power of this song is not the constant madness but the final flurry that manages to go even beyond the insanity before it.
The song works around pairs of chromatic groupings all held down by the low note of attack of the C#. The piece alternates tempos of 163bpm and 238bpm (possibly due to the lack of a metronome and the drummer having free reign to dictate the pace) which give this song a very natural feel as it isn’t forced to stay in the realm of “square” tempos. The song’s modus operandi can bu summed into a three note chromatic ascent that is cut up by a minor second for closure. The composition builds upon those ideas before breaking out into an incredible solo supported by a more developed tremolo picked melody. Most bands would choose to return to the main riff and end the song on the final chorus. Nihilist escape such a convention through an easy but mind blowing trick.
After the solo, the band decompose the song by playing the underlying melody but cut down to two power chords per bar while keeping the same tempo. Eventually they arrive towards the root note which is then held down for two bars as the drums announce at the staggering tempo of 283bpm that something great is about to happen. The band come in full force and rearrange the main riff by shifting the second chromatic pairing up four tones and only using it once while completely removing the initial chromatic pairing. This gives the song a sense of finality as the main idea has evolved into its final form and conjures the individual who is sentenced finally being killed quickly and mercilessly. Just when the listener believes that there is no way this piece becomes even more frantic, the guitarists switch the power chords for octave chords that subdue the chromaticism and end this song in a dual state of complete brutality and an almost consonant state of closure. The perfect ending for a swift execution.
Climaxes in songs need not be complicated, Nihilist prove that with a bit of vision and the willingness to work on established ideas rather than trying to introduce newer motifs, any piece of music, no matter how simple can be pushed into a unique work of art with the right ending and more importantly the necessary tools leading to that ending.