Ah, yes. The one-man Black Metal project.” you softly chuckle to yourself. “A tale as old as time.”
Sure, this cheapshot is one that every Black Metal fan is familiar with. But, while most solo acts tend to go for the raw and aggressive, Grand Celestial Nightmare aims a bit higher. The man behind the band, M. de Jong (who also gave us the great Gnaw Their Tongues), instead creates a sound that is at once graceful and majestic while still managing to deliver the furiousness one expects with such a genre. Purists may groan at the dreaded “Symphonic” adjective when tacked before the Black Metal genre tag, but rest assured, “Forbidden Knowledge and Ancient Wisdom” is an incredible sophomore album that’s more than the sum of its parts.
I should preface all this by saying that I am biased. This is EXACTLY the kind of sound I look for in Black Metal. And for someone who’s constantly searching for music similar to early Dimmu Borgir, Old Man’s Child or Gehenna’s “First Spell” EP, I can gladly say that Grand Celestial Nightmare squarely falls into that camp for me. Romanticized majesty aside, this project also reminds me of the early Hellenic scene, as bits of early Necromantia and Rotting Christ, especially their use of electronics, also spring to mind. It’s clear to me that this project has roots firmly in both camps. It’s chock full of that orchestral, swelling synth sound I constantly crave and is present throughout the majority of the album. The barrage of drums and Big Riff City attitude is present to help round things out, but those synths. I can’t gush enough how incredible they are here and how much it works for a band named Grand Celestial Nightmare. Seriously, the keys from the track “As Bewildered As the Cursed Night” have been stuck in my head all week.
There’s no denying it: I absolutely love this. If you’re someone who scoffs at the sound of synth and keyboards, then this is not the album for you. But, if you’re like me and can’t get enough of that sound, then you’ll go crazy for this one. A lot of people say that there’s been an oversaturation of death metal acts throughout the past few years, and while I can’t deny that, it’s also worth noting that the same has been slowly happening in the world of “raw, lo-fi, second wave worshipping” Black Metal. Do I think that’s a bad thing? Of course not. But it does make standing out in a crowded marketplace a bit harder. And I’m glad that Grand Celestial Nightmare does. Their (his) sound is magisterial, commanded by someone who knows the genre inside and out. It’s certainly a curated sound, and one that will stick with me for years to come. I hope you love it as much as I do. (Sam Cooper)