Recently, I’ve been handed a term by a friend and I’ve found myself using it a lot. That term is “Pringles metal,” which they used to describe death metal stalwarts Cannibal Corpse, who have built a 30-year career on a credo of reliability and a penchant for turning out an LP’s worth of good, economical riffs every few years like clockwork. Today I offer it at the shrine of music criticism in this review of the new album from Spanish power metal band Nightfear (not to be confused with the New Jersey death metal punks of the same name, although Cryptasm is pretty good and you should check it out).
“Pringles metal,” as a term, is something everyone can intuitively understand: in the same way that Pringles are delicious but have absolutely zero nutritional quality and offer little in the way of a substantive gustatory experience, a Pringles metal band is one that absolutely shreds but in no way brings forth a new experience or could ever be described as “novel” in their approach to music. It’s important to keep in mind that this designation is hardly a value judgement; some of metal’s most enduring and beloved acts – Slayer, the aforementioned Cannibal Corpse, and latter-day Judas Priest – all fall clearly into this camp. (For up-and-coming Pringles metal acts, look no further than Gatecreeper and Power Trip). Being a Pringles metal band has more to do with an outlook on songwriting and a willingness to stay safely within established stylistic confines than actual quality of music. And, as my friend ended their thesis on Pringles metal and Cannibal Corpse originally, “sometimes you just need some fucking Pringles.”
Nightfear are unequivocally a Pringles metal band, Apocalypse a Pringles metal record beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Madrid quintet trade in a style of power metal that recalls the soaring, all-guns-blazing sound of European greats like Gamma Ray and Helloween, but occasionally temper it with the more rhythmically-honed American style that bands like Liege Lord and Iced Earth perfected on this side of the Atlantic. What this results in is a sound that is percussive and heavy while almost constantly going at a breakneck pace. The opening bars of first song “We Are Back” signal exactly what’s coming as the drummer leads with aplomb into a barn-burner of a first verse that barely eases off the gas as it crashes into the pre-chorus. It’s not until almost halfway through the song that we get a break from this – a triumphant chorus leads into a powerful groove, and by this point, so much momentum and tension has been built up that this about-face genuinely feels explosive. The track rockets back into high gear soon enough and stays there for the next three minutes, making its follow-up, “Shine,” seem tame in comparison.
As much as “We Are Back” is a hell of an opener, it’s in the second and third tracks that we see Nightfear really flex their muscle and writing ability. “Shine” and “Living Your Life” are both far more dynamic tracks, switching ably between crunchy verses and high-flying choruses. Make no mistake, though, these are hardly slow songs; ironically, if there’s one place where Apocalypse is actually weak, it’s in an insistence to avoid the oft-maligned token ballad. Nightfear have a staggering amount of energy, and while they maintain a high level of quality across Apocalypse, it’s easy to just get tired. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten past the first four or five tracks and had to just give my ears a rest for 20 minutes to a half-hour. This is a real shame, in part because having too much of a good thing always sucks, and in part because the back half of Apocalypse has some of its most powerful moments. The closing mini-epic “Angels of Apocalypse” has some of the best guitar solos on the record, and the comparatively dark mood of “Nuclear Winter” shakes up the band’s formula in a perfect way. Knowing these moments might be lost on those who don’t find any reason to return is saddening.
Not much is left to say in the aftermath of Nightfear’s bombardment; the band run themselves and their listeners ragged by the end. Still, though, it’s an album of slick, well-written power metal, and the biggest problems with Apocalypse are that Nightfear clearly wear their influences on their sleeve and have too many good songs to choose from. While the record is certainly “Pringles metal” to the highest degree – it is as much a safe album as it is anything else – Nightfear have honed their craft within this box to a remarkable degree and what’s on display here is an immaculate collection of power metal songs. If you need your fix of loud, proud, unapologetic power metal, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse than Apocalypse.
Apocalypse is available now via Fighter Records.