Black Shape of Nexus / Lazarus Blackstar: a very complementary sludge-doom pairing

Black Shape of Nexus / Lazarus Blackstar, self-titled, Germany, Alerta Antifascista Records, split LP AA94 (December 2013)

I confess I haven’t been following Lazarus Blackstar’s career all that closely since I last reviewed something of theirs way, waay back in 2012. But LBS – well, don’t you just love a band that calls itself “Lazarus Blackstar”, I mean has anyone else ever thought of using the names “Lazarus” and “Blackstar” together on the same recording and survived to tell the tale? – has been chugging steadily along with a full-length and a couple of splits released since I cast my jaundiced eye over their work and then flitted onto something else more … well I was going to say “interesting”, wasn’t I? … like the dilettante I am.

On this split with German doom band Black Shape of Nexus (who I haven’t heard before), LBS present a powerful and deep sludge doom front with Mik Hell singing in a lower swamp-monster guttural register than I remember. The LBS guitar drones are slower, deeper and harder than six-feet-deep graves and not for the first time do I wonder if the Boys from Bradford really did sign a Faustian pact with Satan that they’ll have to pay for later when they finally achieve the fame and fortune they deserve with a name like theirs. “Command and Control” is a tortuous meander through subterranean labyrinthine tunnels, the outcome of which can only be damnation and despair. There is a desperate edge to the singing and howling and the choppy riffs and wandering melodies help create an air of paranoia and claustrophobia. “Whispering through Broken Teeth” is an even deeper and slower chugga-lugga with rugged chunky riffs and near-inaudible gut-rumble vocals. The guys take their time dragging listeners through a twisting serpentine soundscape that includes a multi-tracked choir of the damned and a strong feeling of dread.

Compared to LBS, Black Shape of Nexus have a thinner and raspier sound but the music is just as 10,000-tonnes-of-concrete heavy and sludgey as the English band’s side of the split. “Honor Found in Delay” turns out to be varied in pace and style with galloping rhythms in part and good use of alien special effects – the only issue I have with the song is that the vocals are very thin and spidery for such a strong and robust (and at 10 minutes, long) song. “Always and Only” is a muscular pounding (and punishing) bass-led carve-up of solid chunks of deep sound.

Both bands present well here and whichever of the two appeals more might depend on where the individual listener originally came from, whether from Sabbath-influenced doom or brutal industrial / post-metal fusion with strong hardcore and ambient elements. (Or maybe even from the world of German expressionist painting, film and music, avant-garde / experimental jazz and a love of Hollywood gender-bending actresses Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn, unlikely though that seems.)  I found BSoN more hard-going and tortured than LBS, and the German band can sometimes come over as a real test of nerves and patience. The strangled singing is probably a throwback to BSoN’s hardcore influences and I did find this hard to reconcile with such powerful if sometimes lumbering music.

For anyone unfamiliar with either LBS or BSoN, this split is a good introduction to both bands with all their strengths and weaknesses highlighted by the strong contrasts they present to one another.

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