There has always been a tension between the more irreverent and serious sides of Hybrid Nightmares. On one hand is the clearly black metal band’s refusal to “restrict themselves to any one style of metal” and insistence that they “are able to capture a sound that transcends genre”; on the other is their irreverent presentation and the the firmly tongue-in-cheek live shows which have seen them become one of Australia’s most renowned extreme metal acts. Having made their name with an ambitious four-EP suite, detailing the rise and fall of a utopian civilisation, the band’s first full-length effort, The Almagest (2017), tipped the scale in the other direction – with the quintet donning what appeared to be some kind of space-football uniform and plunging into the deep end of caricature. With their new EP Obelisk, however, the Melbournians finally seem to have found a comfortable balance, while also delivering what is easily their strongest material to date.
While there is an inherently ridiculous nature to metal’s more extreme subgenres, Hybrid Nightmares’ whiplash approach often made it difficult to decipher exactly how they intended their music to be taken. Obelisk does away with a lot of this tension through its plain presentation. Rather than grand landscapes and quirky costumes, the EP’s cover bears a single black symbol set upon a white background, with the band collectively donning black shirts with the same symbol in white for the accompanying publicity photos. This stark presentation allows the listener to do away with any pre-conceived notions and respond to the music on its own terms, and what’s revealed within is rather impressive. Moreover, in between Obelisk and The Almagest, the band underwent a line-up change, which saw their songwriting process re-aligned around the central trio of guitarist Ben Plant, drummer Adam Chapman and vocalist Lachlan “Loki” Robson, and their output, likewise, appears all the all the focused for their efforts.
Hybrid Nightmares have long resisted the “black metal” label. However, the band tip their hand with a list of influences that reads “Enslaved, Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Behemoth, Satyricon, [and] Cradle of Filth” and Obelisk is most certainly a black metal record. It’s clear-yet-coarse production, which comes courtesy of Chris Themelco (Orpheus Omega), hints at the genre’s early years, while its bombastic songwriting brings to mind Dimmu Borgir’s more recent output. In particular it recalls their 2007 opus In Sorte Diaboli – due as much to its focus on melody and hard-hitting riffs as its spoken, narrative interludes, which further recalls Cradle of Filth’s unsung masterpiece Damnation and a Day (2003). The more melodic focus perhaps brings to mind In Flames‘ Lunar Strain (1994) more than it does Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast (1996), but Obelisk is nevertheless a black metal record through and through.
Obelisk also greatly benefits from the return to a more streamlined setting. “Star Fortress” opens the record in ballistic fashion, with Robson’s distinctive vocals vividly detailing a fantastic battle. Although each member of the band delivers an outstanding performance, Robson remains the standout throughout. His rough yet always intelligent vocals give the EP a distinctive narrative through-line, which can often get lost amid more abrasive deliveries. “Drink of the Waters” is another fast-paced offering, whose almost-disco hi-hat beat lends the track a kinetic momentum reminiscent of Assassins–era Nachtmystium, before ramming headfirst into the crushing, down-tempo groove of the album’s standout track “Ex Mortis”. “Portals” is another melodic offering, while “The Mystic” returns to riffier territory to close things out. The EP’s five tracks are built around a similar core, but each is distinctive and memorable in its own way. While sections that were perhaps intended as refrains came of more like a dearth of ideas in Almagest‘s accentuated setting, Obelisk’s EP format encourages efficiency. Its five tracks feel highly polished as a result and are likely leave the listener wanting more.
Hybrid Nightmares have come out on top of what could have been a really challenging chapter in the band’s career. What could have proved a damaging change in line-up has left the band more focused, while the return to the EP format has once again allowed them to put their strongest foot forward. Add to that the fact that the material on Obelisk simply outclasses anything the band has offered up in the past and you’re looking at irrefutable proof that Hybrid Nightmares deserve the prominent spot they’ve carved out for themselves within the Australian extreme metal scene.
Obelisk is out now and can purchased using the bandcamp link above.