By Matt Hinch
Many times I’ve read about how such and such a band scared the life out of so and so the first time they heard it. I’ve never really had that experience. I just thought that gory, evil, disgusting and horror fueled stuff was “fuckin’ cool!” rather than actually scary. That is, until now. Verdonkermaan by Dutch black metallers Nihill is the first album I can admit to scaring me. I still think it’s “fuckin’ cool!” but I won’t listen to it alone at night. Mostly due to one particular moment but I’ll get to that.
The album opens with ghostly howls setting the stage for the terror within. A swarm of angry undead killer bees infiltrate your ears as the incessant snare mimics the furious beating of your heart. Even when “Vuur: the deathwind of resurrection” opens up into a galloping riff, the feeling of discontent remains. The chill created by the relentless static buzz of the guitars has nothing to due with temperature and everything to do with depravity and soullessness. Deepening the sense of dread are the beyond demonic utterances of the vocalist. (I prefer not to speak his name lest I become terrified of anyone I know who shares it.) While “Spiral: the tail eater” is a slow paced tune, it’s no less grim. Lead by prominent bass and droning waves of icy sound, the ominousness is claustrophobic. The sense that you need to escape before something terrible happens deepens with each passing beat.
The album’s cornerstone, “Oerbron: returning to the primal matter” is the bleakest and most terrifying. Cacophonous tremolos and that blasting snare such the very life from the room. The room happens to be the one in which the listener finds themselves strapped to a chair surrounded by all manner of instruments designed for maximum pain and suffering. Your eyelids are cut off so you are forced to witness previous acts of malevolence displayed on a litany of screens. The tormentor berates you in a voice gargling with your blood collected in a chalice. Howls and shrieks reach a fever pitch over outright noise before a diabolical laugh followed by screams that nightmares are made of. The most paralyzing moment of the whole album. The stench of those screams wafts the sickly sweet odour of death right through the headphones.
The ambient “Gnosis Pt. IV” features whispered voices and random noise far in the distance. If feels like what filters into the consciousness of a fever dream after you’ve fallen into a horror induced coma brought on by the previous track. Awareness is regained on album closer “Trauma: crushing serpens mercuriales”. Mechanically insectile in tone, it plods along dragging you to your doom. With guitars as fuzzy as your brain after such torture, you’ve no choice but to comply until the suffering is over.
The end is nigh but the pain continues unabated. Broken, beaten, scarred and bloody, Verdonkermaan is the aural equivalent of the worst Hostel/Saw environment imaginable. It’s bleak and cold, devoid of sustaining life and terrifying to its core. For all that, it’s a stunning and unforgettable album. After everything it puts you through, you still come back for more like some twisted take on Stockholm Syndrome. I doubt I’ll ever be able to erase that scream from my memory but I’d still put that track on repeat. I’ll leave you with this, the final lyrics on Verdonkermaan: “…therefore we say thanks, to gods, in hell.”