Long-running Greek heavy rockers Nightstalker will release their seventh album, As Above so Below, next month on Oak Island Records. Now at the 25-year mark since their 1991 demo and with origins that reach further back than that, the Athens-based outfit led by vocalist Argy and bassist Andreas Lagios also return to European shores in terms of their label; their last offering was 2012’s Dead Rock Commandos (streamed here) on Small Stone, and before that was 2009’s Superfreak (review here) on Meteorcity. As Above so Below finds the four-piece digging into unpretentious heavy rock vibes, their nine tracks/42 minutes straightforward to a point one would almost be tempted to call unassuming were it not for the quality of their craft and hooks, which is apparent from opener “Naked Fire” onward in the focus on catchy choruses, grade-A riffing and placing Argy‘s vocals forward in the mix ahead of Tolis Motsios‘ guitar, Lagios‘ bass and Dinos Roulos‘ drums.
Establishing an early shuffle in the leadoff, As Above so Below builds outward as it continues on from those organ-inclusive classic heavy rock vibes in a variety of moods across songs like second cut “Space Matter,” which seems to be in direct conversation with the underlying rumble of early Kyuss but ultimately becomes something more psychedelically daring in the guitar, and “Zombie Hour,” with a darker atmosphere, some howling from Argy in the chorus and harder-hitting finish. By then the course is set. Nightstalker make no attempts to hide where their heart lies stylistically or to coat their impulses in irony — this is heavy rock for heavy rockers, and the rest be damned.
“The Dog that No-One Wanted” is a standout for its background vocals and repetitions of the hook, “My girl’s so/My girl’s so beautiful/My girl’s so beautiful to me,” which in the context of the song makes me think it’s actually about the titular dog, so points there for charm, and while centerpiece “Deeper” is shorter, it also ranges a little further melodically, earning its place. Because Nightstalker are so solidified in their processes, because their songwriting is so apparent, their work can be deceptive and come across as flat on the first listen, but it’s not. It’s just professional. “Deeper” is a good example, with its interweaving lead and rhythm guitar layers, Argy‘s vocals in a call and response echo, and a push toward the finish that surprises with the amount of energy behind it.
One almost turns around and says, “Hey wait a minute, this kicks ass.” That’s been my experience all along with Nightstalker, and it holds firm on As Above so Below, but it’s really just a result of the band knowing what they want to do and then executing that flawlessly. To wit, “Forever Stoned” is pulled off with such a smooth groove and its hook is so well delivered that one might almost miss the nuance in Lagios‘ bass performance, or the little flourish of effects that are added to the vocals. Things like this add appeal to multiple listens, and as the subsequent “We Belong to the Dead” starts off its more brooding first half with just Argy and the Motsios, the full rush kicking in around the halfway mark, the momentum that Nightstalker have built for themselves is all the more palpable as they head into the rolling riff that ends out and leads to closing duo “My Electric Head” and “Blue Turns to Black,” both the only tracks on As Above so Below over six minutes.
But for the fact that Nightstalker have such a clear penchant for structure, I wouldn’t necessarily make much of pairing the two longest cuts on the album at the end, but it seems plain that they’re going for immersion at the finish line with “My Electric Head” and “Blue Turns to Black,” the former working its way into one of the record’s most vital stomps and the latter bookending the organ arrangement of the opener with one of its own for an overall grander feel. For what it’s worth, immersion is what they get. It’s not hypnotic jammy psychedelia by any means, but what Nightstalker bring to their material at the finale of this seventh offering resonates as an expansion of the earlier forms of “Zombie Hour” or “Deeper,” in addition of course to “Naked Fire.” By the time the organ rings out to cap “Blue Turns to Black,” they’ve come a deceptively long way from that boogie-down opener, but more than a quarter-century on from getting together, Nightstalker know exactly just what the hell they’re doing, exactly just how the hell to do it and exactly why. As Above so Below is a direct affirmation of that and its arrival is welcome.
Below, you can stream a track premiere of “Space Matter” from the album and see some brief comment from Argy on what the song is about. Nightstalker will tour Europe in Spring 2017.
Nightstalker, “Space Matter”
Argy on “Space Matter”:
“I always thought that everything is made from the same materials. We are stardust and water. We are all living on a closed spherical blue planet, spinning around in deep space!
This album is all about the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the good things and bad things that we experience in our life.”
Andreas Lagios (Bass)
Tolis Motsios (Guitars)
Dinos Roulos (Drums)