No one on Earth has ever said, “You know what we need more of? Melodic, atmospheric black metal.” And yet, here we are with Mavradoxa, nailing that melodic mid-paced black metal to the bone on third album Nightmarrow and you know what? I dig it. I dig it quite a bit. More than just another band hitting the same notes as everyone else, there’s a strong melodic bent and a tendency to shy away from more overt black metal moments to craft something that feels melancholic and personal, with a strong sense of place owing to their upstate New York region. I can do with more music like this.
The band is relatively new, seeing as they put out their debut, Sojourners, in 2016. With “Tempest of Dreams” it’s immediately apparent where the band sits: firmly in the camp of studious, folk inspired bands like Falls of Rauros, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Agalloch. But Sojourners and its follow-up, 2017’s Lethean Lament work a more somber, doom-inflected mood in its structure that works really well. There’s a progressive tendency and some really nice mixing work going on in epic tracks like “Crimson Waves of Autumnal Flame” and “Across the Nival Grove” which are essential to making the tracks work.
Also essential is the interplay between musicians, and the duo of Lux (vocals, drums) and Nival (guitars, bass) create a full broad sound that belies the fact that it’s only two people creating it. Fleshing out the band to a four-piece, Nightmarrow has a more grandiose, bombastic sound, hitting its drama square while maintaining the crux of what you want out of your melodic black metal.
“Maple” is a call to arms for Nightmarrow. Chunky chords spill out as a march brings everything forward. The triplet feel gives the song a nice push, and really serves to highlight one of the strongest things on the album: Lux’s drumming. It would have been easy to just plug ahead with blast beats and heavy handed rock beats, but the songs on Nightmarrow all demonstrate a mindfulness as to how percussion should work within the framework of a song. Does that mean no blasting? Of course not; but every hit and crash has a methodical approach that – far from feeling premeditated – feels truly organic an “in” the song, if that makes sense.
The rest of the album fares just as well, with standouts being the rawer, more in your face “The Carrion Shade” and the epic folk metal of “Black Crystal Snowfall.” In the case of the latter it’s a great melding of majestic riffing and keeping the aggression in check. Surrounded as the song is by the briefer interludes “Rustling Leaves” and closer “Umbra” the second half of Nightmarrow feels like an extended suite, one that rises and falls like the seasons, and taken as a whole is the best thing the band has done to date.
It may seem at odds for such an Autumnal album to come just as Spring approaches to renew life, but Mavradoxa’s trick with Nightmarrow is that the album works no matter what time of year it is. This is the kind of melodic black metal I come for, and this one will keep me interested for a while to come.