Hybrid Nightmares is a five-piece extreme metal band from Melbourne, VIC, Australia who combine elements of technical death metal, black metal, and other familiar subgenres into their sound. Almagest is their first full-length album, and their second overall release since they formed in 2008. That metric of two releases in nearly ten years might seem odd for an up-and-coming band, but one might suspect that Hybrid Nightmares chose to refine their sound over time. It is likely, if not certain, that they dealt with line-up changes over the years. Whatever the case might be, Hybrid Nightmares used their time wisely, and Almagest shows all the promise that a new band should show on their first album.
Hybrid Nightmares’ black metal credentials come from the use of tremolo picking, vocalist Loki’s mid-to-high-pitched screams, and the use of sub-Devin reverb levels. Loki also does some clean singing, alternating between a straightforward sound and a tortured groaning style. Guitarists Ben and Mick seem to have too much self-respect to emulate a black metal guitar tone. They show good judgment in using just the right amount of distortion. Many of their riffs consist of big chords that ‘blast’ out after an ultra-fast run of pedal notes, the latter of which are underpinned by Batty’s very precise double-bass drumming. This riffing convention recalls 80s-era thrash metal. Add in some acoustic guitar passages to complete the 80s similarities (“Saturni” has an acoustic intro that all but screams ’80s’). That having been said, Hybrid Nightmares pepper their songs with carefully-written leads that nod respectfully towards modern tech-death.
Thus, we have a band that offers something old and something new, lots borrowed, and everything well-written.
The title Almagest refers to Ptolomy’s ancient treatise on the movement of stars, which in the 2nd Century A.D. was considered the greatest compendium of scientific knowledge, a book that inspired future research into astronomy and mathematics. This release appears to be a concept album about a Renaissance Italian ‘automaton’ (i.e., a robot) who is forced to learn all of humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos with ‘a lack of perspective or bias.‘ Hybrid Nightmares compare this story to Dante’s Inferno, also about someone sent to discover an utterly new place.
Hybrid Nightmares get right down to business in opening track “Terra,” a five-minute song that goes through twelve measures in 30 seconds, with two variations of a tritone riff before the vocals begin. One might expect a concept album to open with more grandeur, but this level of directness has an even more profound effect. Stylistically, “Terra” alternates between kvlt blasts and tech-death lead flourishes; then they insert an acoustic interlude halfway through the song, complete with sinister whispering before the double-bass-infused madness continues.
This rapid alternation between playing styles within the same song, and returning to the song’s main theme, seems to be Hybrid Nightmares’s modus operandi. The frequent changes make for many fun segues between songs. Indeed, second song “Luna” begins almost as a seamless passage from Almagest’s opening track. But “Luna” in turn introduces its own theme; in fact multiple themes that alternate within the song’s seven minute duration. The song is notable for having a crushing, yet melodic mid-point breakdown-like passage that recalls parts of Edge Of Sanity’s 1992 Enigma album.
Bassist Jonny gets his moment with a short, unaccompanied bass solo at the end of “Ultor,” serving as a neat segue into “Jupiter.” That latter song has Almagest’s most memorable melodic motif, one that repeats throughout the song at parts when guitarists Ben and Mick chose not to play leads (generally in the choruses).
“Firmamentum” consists of sinister, layered keyboard parts as a background for spoken-word vocals. Many bands could have done this very badly, but in Hybrid Nightmares’s hands, it’s a pensive intro for the album’s finale and title track. At over eight minutes in length, “Almagest” moves from an acoustic intro that mimics the aforementioned “Firmamentum” to thrash metal riffs to some big epic chords with notably good bass-playing underneath them. Parts of the song have keyboard melodies over them that sound like an old-school Moog synthesizer (albeit over a stomping mosh riff). They also have guitar harmonies here, sometimes right after blast-beat riffs. Loki uses an almost droning screaming style, with high-pitched kvlt screaming laid on top of it. This song, like this band and their album, is full of pleasant surprises.
Hybrid Nightmares have a lot of polish for an indy band. Almagest is better-recorded than many releases we have seen from signed bands this year. The high level of songwriting on this album shows tremendous maturity in their style. While Almagest might not be ‘the greatest’ as its title suggests, fans of atmospheric, melodic metal that retains classical heaviness will enjoy this album.
Notable Tracks: “Terra”; “Ultor”; “Jupiter”; “Almagest”
FFO: Ne Obliviscaris, Edge Of Sanity, Morbid Angel
Hybrid Nightmares have a web page, which seems to be the only place wherefrom physical copies of Almagest might be obtained (with bundles available as well). Their music streams on Spotify and Apple Music. They also maintain a social media presence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.