Album Review: NIK NOCTURNAL Undying Shadow
With the increasing presence of metal musicians popping up on Youtube; album releases from these channels were certainly inevitable. Nik Nocturnal, whose channel consists mostly of covers, has also released a few albums on the side. However, the guitarist has truly outdone himself on his latest LP, Undying Shadow. I'll admit, there's a certain stigma to being a Youtube content creator in comparison to an artist in a writing, recording, and touring band. Approaching this album, I was in the headspace that it may not be of an equal quality in contrast to the typical records I critique. Boy, I was wrong. Every song on here could easily compete with any modern metal act—both composition and production-wise.
It should be noted that Nik Nocturnal presents himself exclusively as a guitarist on his channel and thus a majority of these pieces are instrumental and guitar-based songs. However, Nik succeeds in using his instrument as a replacement to fill the void of a vocalist. For those in need of some growls and melodic clean singing to accompany their metal; fear not for there are a few tracks on here that include big-name guest vocalists. There's also a good chunk of instrumentalist features from other acts that add some spice to the meat as well.
The suspenseful "Marrow" intro pumps up the djent hype for "Hysteria," which merges Periphery with After the Burial stylistically. Next up, guitarist Dmitry Demyanenko (Shrokan) appears on "Labyrinth" and absolutely kills it. The dynamics between these two guitarists going at it on this track is mindbending, especially that quick lick at the 3:45 mark. "Dear Phantom" is the first track on the release to feature vocals; which threw me for a loop after being immersed in eight minutes of instrumental music only to be served a song with vocals. Nonetheless, Andy Cizek does a pretty decent job on the piece and while the chorus is a tad whiny for my cup of tea; he overall proves to be diverse with deep growls and tasteful cleans.
The next vocal piece is “Mire” —the peak of this album in my opinion. The layering of Shrokan singer Andrew Ivashchenko's melodies over the guitar work is absolutely immaculate. The breakdown at the end was just the heaviest and sweetest frosting on top. It is moments like this make me seriously wonder why Nik isn't in a band full-time. “Nefarious II” ventures into deathcore territory. Guitarist Baptiste Vegier (Betraying The Martyrs) slams down chunky grooves during the hardest-hitting song on the album. Towards the end of the record, guitarist Florestan Durand (Novelists) helps out on the slightly jazzy "Raven" and vocalist Ben English (Invent, Animate) closes out the record strongly with "Remnant."
In the end, I honestly feel moved. To me, this sounds like the best effort I have heard from a prog, metalcore, djent, deathcore, post-hardcore, etc. act in a while. In all honesty, it makes perfect sense. Nik Nocturnal's mastery of covering so many songs of differing styles has definitely shaped his understanding of what works and in what capacity. Undying Shadow is a melting pot of the many artists that Nik has covered over the years where the best parts of the group are isolated and paired amongst hundreds more. This release is proof that 2018 will be a year with magnificent releases from the most unlikely of places.