NonserviaM “A Spectral Ascension” (2014, Self released)
First of all, a disclaimer: this band is from Penang, I know them very well, and I have seen them play live way too many times. For inasmuch as this could be interpreted as no fair review game, this is my personal opinion based on THE MUSIC, and not the people I usually hang out with. For this reason, this review is detailed, lengthy, and precise. Also, I paid for this CD.
“Non Serviam” was a popular album by Greek black metal band Rotting Christ, but there is no analogy between them and Penang’s band NonserviaM. The Malaysians might have taken the idea for their monicker to comply with the idea of “I will not serve”, more than follow the black metal howlings of the European band. This aspect is quite clear in the lyrics written by singer Leon Low, which set NonserviaM apart from most other Malaysian metal bands. Why? Because they are thoughtful, poetic and smart. With the highest point being the usage of the history of Ibrahim Libya and the Baling incidents in definite hymn “Martyrized”. In fact, in the CD’s booklet, characters from Siddartha Gautama the Buddha to Markus Zusak are cited to better contextualize the songs’ meanings. There’s no blatant, ripped off adherence to the great themes of cheesy metal here: Low grounds his vision into a forest of philosophical meanings he extrapolated from every corner of the world, and dishes them up poetically by reflecting on the quintessential oxymoron of religious devotion against the plethora of human sins.
A positive point, to me, is the way the vocals are pissed off but clear sounding, crisp, and totally intelligible. You can actually understand clearly most of what’s being said even without looking at the booklet’s transcriptions. Some people have complained that NonserviaM sounds too clean, and that Low’s vocals be clean and wimp, but I wouldn’t agree. He’s able to switch from more growled crescendos to a high-pitched, distinctive timbre that comes off as if you had an evil goblin perched on top of your left shoulder, who tries to pry his cold nose into your ear. At times, Low’s reminded me of a Dave Mustaine without the screech and with more testosterone, but this could just be my personal opinion.
Now, after so much I said about the vocals and the lyrics, here comes the music. “A spectral ascension” has been recorded between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and mastered in the USA by Rob Caldwell at Audio Sarasota, Florida. This man’s culpable of boosting sound for the likes of Cannabis Corpse, Iron Reagan, Exhumed and Ghoul. You can certainly hear how NonserviaM gained from Rob’s touch production wise. They really set an all new level among other Malaysian productions, and I believe it’s a crime that this record had to be self-produced. Anyways, it is hoped that a real label picked up this CD, as there are only 500 copies pressed, and they most likely end up being all sold locally.
NonserviaM defines themselves as a melodic death metal band, and as much as I don’t hear much death metal going on here to be honest, there’s plenty of gut-grabbing melody. The kind of melody that enters from your nostrils and freezes around your brain, pounding riffs between the walls of your skull for days. The ace songs here are definitely “Martyrized”, “I am Eternal”, “Insidious Nihilistic Regimental Indoctrination” and “Faith Devoided”. They come off as an alternation of speedy parts with blast-beats and other slowed down sections that add momentum and give Low a chance to unleash his inner demonogoblin. And just when it’s coming too near to you, peeking his nasty nose into your aural cavities, the music speeds up again and you are again safe. At least until the next chorus kicks in, and the feeling of brain death slurs back, drowning you into a pool of sexy riffs. Wow.
Truth be told, I heard much more classic metal influences in “A spectral Ascension” rather than any death metal. For example, I can hear a potent resemblance to Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” intricate riffing and pseudo-orientalist guitar licks throughout this whole ascension to the world of the dead. In “Amongst the Scorned” and “Faith Devoided”, I felt like the pharaoh was there, sitting next to me and pointing me the way to his harem choked full of brown skinned, scantily clad beauties. “Make yourself at home, have your pick,” he said as Vinoth’s and Gary’s guitars pummeled a carpet of exotic electric snakes before my naked feet. NonserviaM are “death metal” when they speed the tempo up, but very classical – almost as their philosophical influences – when they lift the pedal from their metal, and drive more Canadian than Vietnamese style.
And who cares, after all? I guess we have found ourselves a winner. These guys try to play a blend of the best of what they want, and to me, that’s what matters most in music. Nobody can reinvent the wheel, but kudos to those who try to spin it in their own peculiar styles. NonserviaM certainly do, blending tradition with scarce innovation which powerfully reflects in the composition’s variation of tempos and styles.
Now, there has to be some criticism here, for nothing’s perfect. In my opinion, the problem with NonserviaM is their choice of using electronics and keyboards. Payden is a great musician, and at times his keyboards – which are never too oppressive, I must say – help layer very appropriate dimensions to the song’s soundscapes, and that’s totally fine to me if they like it… BUT… using two full tracks, including the opening “A Spectral Ascension” which gives the name to the whole album, to run amok with electro-manipulations it’s way too much. Particularly “Dreamscape:Desolation” sounds like Moby had decided to cover Deep Throat’s soundtrack after a curry mee overdose. Why do you want to use such a sterile sounding drum machine when you could have recorded a full symphony of real metal with your own real instruments? Again, some of the keytar sounds here make me feel like I’m the assistant on the set of Linda Lovelace’s fantastic debut which started the porn genre in the 1970s. I’m certainly gulping down as I’m asked to hold the camera on a close-up of Harry Reems’ hairy anus. Jesus Christ, save me. It’s the two most awkward minutes of the album, that give “Dystopia” into a not deserved sloppy seconds, and makes any metalhead’s cock go limp.
Besides the porn movie set’s horrors – which don’t help set a good introduction to such a powerful album either -, I would conclude that “A Spectral Ascension” sets a new standard in Malaysian metal, and it will be hard for other bands to top or follow. For inasmuch as you can either love or hate them, NonserviaM stands tall above a sea of Malaysian metal mediocrity. Why? Because they invested time, money and effort to come up with an opus quasi maximus. And yes, some of them might be a bit too concerned about their hairstyles and heavy metal poses in real life, but I’m talking about their MUSIC here. With “A Spectral Ascension”, they have carved their own niche into the Southeast Asian metalscape, standing at pair, if not above, most other more incensed international metal acts. This is among the best recorded outputs from the developing world I have heard so far in 2013-14: labels and fans, please take note. This band’s hot.
LISTEN TO A PREVIEW OF “A SPECTRAL ASCENSION”: