Review: Dekadent – The Nemean Ordeal

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If you remember from your days as a mythology nerd, Heracles (Hercules in the Roman tradition) was driven mad by Hera and killed his wife and daughter. Stricken by grief, Heracles visited the oracle at Delphi to receive his penance. He was instructed to serve a king for twelve years and do whatever requested. The result is known as the Twelve Labors, one of the most metal sagas in Greek mythology. The first speed bump Heracles coasted over during the Twelve Labors was the Nemean lion. A shape-changing beast that, disguised as a woman in distress, lured unsuspecting warriors into its cave where it devoured them and gave their bones to Hades. Its claws could rend any armor; its golden fur was impenetrable. For Heracles, no problem (ignoring a minor issue with getting a finger bitten off). Heracles simply strangled it to death with his bare hands and skinned the golden pelt with the lion’s own claws. Dekadent’s fifth album, The Nemean Ordeal, takes its title and narrative from this episode and crafts an album worthy of its namesake.

Hailing from Slovenia’s capitol city of Ljubljana, Dekadent have been tooling around the metalverse for over thirteen years and play a brand of atmospheric, melodic, deathened, doomened black metal unlike any I’ve heard. Where most bands in any of these categories prefer to wade through melancholic waters, Dekadent’s general atmosphere is uplifting and occasionally downright triumphant, mirroring the Herculean victory of its title. The general mood reveals itself immediately through the opening transition from short intro track, “Paean I,” into first proper song, “Shepard of Stars.” “Paean I” weaves delicate synths with periodic toms and steady cymbal rides to open. As the synths dissipate, “Shepard of Stars” blossoms with a pounding double bass fill and scaling leads, conjuring daybreak over distant mountains.  It’s an impressive moment that sets the soaring tone permeating The Nemean Ordeal and distinguishes it from its genre brethren.

This is not to say that the album is bereft of darker moments. Indeed, Dekadent’s deft interlacing of shadow and light through carefully structured songcraft is another reason this album stands out. For instance, “Solar Covenant,” the centerpiece, and longest track of the album, begins with a contemplative and dreamy melody augmented by occasional bursts of brass before descending into the depths with Bolt Thrower-esque riffage. Although the original melody emerges on the other side, it comes through evolved and colored by its descent.  “Levantine Betrayal” adopts a similar structure but combines it with the best metered vocal work on the album, a soaring crescendo, and crashing climax. It’s my favorite song on the album and a testament to the emotive highs Dekadent can accomplish.

The final two tracks shake things up a bit. “Escaping the Flesh So Adamant” is the fastest paced song, beginning with blast beats and tremolos giving way to mid-paced breaks before finishing as furiously as it opened. Closer “The Nemean Ordeal (Death of a Lion)” introduces a filthy Morbid Angel riff that would have been right at home on Domination and finishes with the most soulful, expressive lead work on the album, which is remarkable considering The Nemean Ordeal is filled with soulful, expressive lead work. Vocalist, keyboardist, and lead guitarist, Artur Felicijan, deserves special commendation for his contributions here.  His grasp of captivating and emotionally evocative melody reminds me of what Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ is able to accomplish. That is high praise and he deserves it.

While The Nemean Ordeal is definitely a success, picky production dorks may have some issues with it being a bit crowded and having an uneven mix. The bass is inaudible and, when it appears (rarely), it sounds like rhythmic scratching.  The keyboard occupies an inconsistent position in the mix, sometimes at the fore and others nearly imperceptible. As a matter of taste, some may find fault with how prominent the vocals and rhythm guitar feature but I would not be among them. The Nemean Ordeal is also almost entirely a mid-paced affair so if you’re looking for a violent, angry blasting (no kink-shaming here), you’ll want to look elsewhere.

All things considered, I’m willing to forgive any potential flaws in production choices because the ultimate product transcends them. Dekadent has delivered an album that makes me feel hope and optimism, a difficult feat considering my overall pessimistic outlook and the state of this planet. And they accomplish this while acknowledging the precarious path one must take to succeed. They went into the lion’s cave, beat the shit out of it, and emerged wearing its golden fur. Heracles would be proud.

4/5 Golden Tufts ov Toilet Beasts

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The Nemean Ordeal released July 6, 2019 by Dusktone Records.

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