Nibiru - Qaal Babylon album review

Italian psychonauts firm up the portal to madness

Cover art for Nibiru - Qaal Babylon album

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Italy’s ritual psych doom scene appears to be frothing at the mouth at the moment. With Fuoco Fatuo’s latest bad trip, Backwater, still ringing in our ears, and Ufomammut releasing their eighth album, who could imagine something even darker and stranger coming out of Italy in 2017? Nibiru have the added advantage of looking like genuinely dangerous and terrifying men, creeping out of the crumbling backstreets of Turin to expose the ugly darkness seething beneath that great cultural hub of Roman Catholic civilisation. The band have been obsessively employing ancient occult languages since 2013, frontman Ardath intoning words with meanings lost in time in an extraordinary variety of guttural ululations, eerie whispers, portentous croaks, desperate grunts, plaintive yells and shuddering gasps, while his satisfyingly barbed and rusty guitar tones reach their optimum form here. The drums are briskly hammered with tribal conviction, synth squalls ebb and flow with their own mad logic, while the bottom-end seems to dip in and out of a sucking black hole. The arrangements and dynamics have developed rapidly from their early hellish free-for-all to something far more disciplined and impactful, while still maintaining the spontaneous, uneasy atmosphere of intercepted broadcasts from an alien torture chamber. Qaal Babylon’s improved command of structure and pace give the songs a mysterious and unorthodox newfound narrative flow, moods and visions dissolving and reshaping with a well-timed change of chord and tempo. It’s an experience not unlike the dramatic unfolding of a giallo movie, the listener suddenly swept from a wistful reverie to a back-alley knife fight. There are moments of stillness, mounting trepidation and jolts of terror, neatly placed, such as the imperial blastbeat unloosed after eight minutes of Faboan’s transcendental plod, or the despondent, claustrophobic grind of Bahal Gah unexpectedly opening out to blissful wintry vistas in the last three of its 16 minutes. So, another immersive, hallucinogenic canvas from the Italian school, but Nibiru here reach new levels of full-blooded conviction and commitment to their own bizarre impulses. It has to be admired, even if the result does do your swede in.

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.