Nightrage have been a favorite of mine in the melodic death metal field for about fifteen years now. The guitar writing formula of Marios Iliopoulos (founder/main songwriter) is very unique in my opinion. Many MDM bands suffer the fate of falling into the genre mold far too early in their careers. As such, these bands are often labeled as “cookie cutter” or generic right off the bat. But thanks to Marios, and more recently, the guitar skills of Magnus Soderman, along with the vocals and lyrics of Ronnie Nyman, Nightrage are hardly a band to simply be lumped in with all the others.
This fact continues to be apparent on the band’s latest album, Wolf to Man, set to be released on Despotz Records on March 29, 2019. Compared to its predecessor, 2017’s The Venomous, Nightrage have kicked it up a notch in terms of aggression. I’m currently giving the album a second listen just to be sure, by I’m fairly certain there are no clean vocals on this, the eighth studio album by this Greek/Swedish quintet. However, the same can’t be said for the guitars. Marios is still holding true to his signature combination of infectious melodies and lead riffs, dark clean passages, ripping solos, heavy thrash riffs, interesting chord selections and in some cases, odd time signatures in more driving sections. All of this, combined with Magnus’s increased writing influence on this album, makes Wolf to Man stand out against not only other MDM bands, but other Nightrage albums as well.
Vocalist Ronnie Nyman first appeared on 2015’s The Puritan. At the time, his vocal approach was given a lot of slack by diehard fans. MDM elitists didn’t want someone who didn’t look or sound the part fronting Nightrage, it seemed. Ronnie certainly does have an abstract sound when delving into the realm of melodic death. In his earlier music videos with the band, he seemed to have more of a hardcore look to him and his vocal style was a tad higher and “crispier” than many fans of the traditional genre liked. At first, I was taken aback, but after three albums, I’ve heard Ronnie’s development in Nightrage, and it’s truly been a remarkable thing to witness. The vocals on Wolf to Man are predominantly in Ronnie’s mid to higher scream range, but his tones are much more consistent this time around. You can hear the improvement in his delivery on each track. Furthermore, Ronnie’s also developed certain raspy cadences, reminiscent of the man, the myth, the legend, Tomas Lindberg. Whether this was intentional or not is irrelevant. What I’m hearing is a natural voice modulation that happens when you’re screaming over this style of guitar playing and drumming. It’s something that I have personal experience with and I’m thrilled to hear a more natural MDM sound coming out of Ronnie.
By now, most Nightrage fans have heard the debut single off Wolf to Man, “By Darkness Drawn”. I particularly like the thrash style verses and chorus melody in this song. It’s great for a first single, by I must divulge, this might be the “lightest” song on the album. People who think the entire album is going to be just like this song have a big surprise coming to them. In fact, tracks like “The Damned”, “God Forbid” and “Arm Aim Kill” are very heavy for modern Nightrage. I don’t think we’ve really heard punishing riffs like these since 2011’s Insidious, but you’ll just have to judge for yourselves.
The concept of the new Nightrage album is based on a Latin proverb that translates to “Man is wolf to man”. Basically, human nature is toxic to human beings and we seem to be content with destroying ourselves and the planet we live on. In my most recent interview with Marios, I was told that 2017’s The Venomous was technically the beginning of a multi-album concept about dark side of mankind and our eventual demise at our own hands. Wolf to Man was designed to take things even further down that rabbit hole, hence the harsher screams, heavier strings and stronger drums.
Speaking of which, Nightrage is welcoming a brand new rhythm section to their fold this time around. Francisco Escalona (bass) and Dino Stamoglou (drums) are both fantastic additions. Marios had also said in our last interview that Dino is 22, so while he’s obviously phenomenal behind the kit, he’s also bringing a younger, rejuvenating energy to the band that you can really hear on this latest album. For awhile there, Marios was the main creative force, but it seems that this newest Nightrage lineup has completely earned his trust. The writing on Wolf to Man was evidently a big group effort and in my opinion, it’s helped break a lot of the band’s predictable habits to make room for some new paradigms. Many of the riffs, particularly in the title track, “Wolf to Man”, stay heavy and quick in a lower register, providing an old school thrash sound behind some fun melodic overlays. It’s a slightly different sound for Nightrage, but it’s nothing too outside the box. This is obviously just what happens with Marios and Magnus get together and split writing duties.
Wolf to Man is a twelve song epic. It was a fun ride to say the least, and I can only hope that this lineup sticks it out and continues to write great melodic death metal together. With any luck, come March 29, the MDM masses will give this album a chance and feel the same way. I’m giving this album a 9/10. The only reason I can’t give it a perfect score is because I can’t shake the idea that this lineup hasn’t yet unlocked their full potential. Nightrage have once again fallen into the pattern of releasing an album every two years. So, my hope is that in 2021, they will put something out that will completely blow Wolf to Man out of the water.
As of now, they’re staying true to form and tipping the scales between classic melodic death sounds and modern formulas. It’s a breath of fresh air and the genre needs more releases like this. Thanks for reading.
Left to right: Dino Stamoglou, Magnus Soderman, Francisco Escalona, Marios Iliopoulos, Ronnie Nyman