Line-up changes are a common occurrence in the world of rock and metal music. Whether its ba members not getting along, the financial realities of being in a band, or just that over time, band members lose the passion for the music they created. One of the hardest components to replace in a band is the lead vocalist. The lead vocalist in many ways is the identity of a band as most fans gravitate to the voice and charisma of a lead singer. For every successful transition of lead singers (Tommy Karevik replacing Roy Khan in Kamelot, Brian Johnson era AC/DC, Sammy Hagar era Van Halen) there are bands whose fans just won’t accept a new voice for the band they love ( Gary Cherone era Van Halen, Axl Rose in AC/DC, and John Corabi era Motley Crüe).
French heavy metal band Nightmare have been creating music since 1979, and while never a household name, the band has been churning out heavy metal albums in different incarnations for almost 4 decades. Nightmare first appeared on my radar in 2012 with their album The Burden of God, featuring lead vocalist Jo Amore, and adopting a power metal meets thrash metal sound. Amore was a capable singer in the vein of thrash singers such as Chuck Billy of Testament, but I never found his style as unique or memorable, even though I enjoyed the album and its follow up The Aftermath, released in 2014.
The Aftermath would spell the end of their collaboration with vocalist Jo Amore and drummer David Amore. With the remaining members of Nightmare facing this difficult difficult change, the search was on for a new lead vocalist. On October 10th 2015, Nightmare presented their new line-up in their hometown Grenoble; announcing the addition of powerhouse vocalist Maggy Luyten (Beautiful Sin, Beyond The Bridge, ex-Ayreon) and new drummer Olivier Casula (Sandragon, ex-Thalidomide, The Seven Gates). I’ve been a huge fan of Maggy Luyten’s unique vocals, having first heard of her powerful vocals with Beautiful Sin and then on Samuel Arkan’s debut Epysode album. Still, I was skeptical as to how Luyten would fit into the Nightmare style of metal. As it turns out, my skepticism was unwarranted, as all it took was one listen to their new album and Luyten’s vocal debut, Dead Sun. To my ears, Luyten has added much needed depth and strong melody to Nightmare’s aggressive brand of power metal. The biggest takeaway after several listens to Dead Sun is that this is a band that is rejuvenated and reinvigorated by the change of singers. For those who are unfamiliar with Luyten’s previous work, she has a raspy, gritty tone that combines beautiful melodies and raw power, similar to Triosphere’s Ida Haukland.
The album has been arranged in France by the band’s long time producer Patrick Liotard together with Joost Van Den Broek (The Gentle Storm, Epica), produced and mixed by Joost Van Den Broek at Sandlane Studios in The Netherlands, and recorded at Noise Factory Studio in Belgium with Gerald Jans.
Musically, the band had retained its power thrash style but Luyten adds so much more depth with her powerful delivery and charismatic style. The intro riff on Infected has a classic and majestic feel to it as the band charges forward with a thrashy blast of energy. Luyten’s vocals take on a brutal growling attitude as she has never sounded this aggressive before. The chorus is uplifting and features a strong anthemic vocal melody. Sleepless Nights has a more traditional metal feel to it with a driving double bass drum attack from new drummer Olivier Casula, who shows off his considerable chops and locks in with bassist (and lone original member of Nightmare) Yves Campion. The vocals, as expected are soaring, memorable, and are the focal point of the song.
The next track, Tangled In Roots is a majestic metal anthem that features another strong chorus and headbanging mid-tempo vibe. Red Marble Gold delivers the thrash metal with finesse and style. Luyten’s voice is a demonic gritty howl here but never sacrifices melody for the sake of being too heavy. The band delivers a classic metal sound on Ikarus, Luyten walks the line between aggression and strong melody with perfection.
The title track is a fist pumping metal classic with a great use of backing and harmony vocals. Seeds of Agony, relies more on mid-tempo pacing and Luyten’s vocal power and melodies along with a childen’s choir that is added to chilling effect. It’s at this point that I became quite aware that this is not the Nightmare that fans of the band have come to expect. This is a band that has changed not only its vocalist (and drummer), but also its identity and any preconceived notions about the band.
The band enlist special guest vocalist Kelly Sundown Carpenter ( Beyond Twilight, Darkology, Adagio), no slouch himself in the vocal department, to create a magical metal moment with Luyten. These two are no strangers to each other, having collaborated on the debut Epysode album Obsessions. These two can do no wrong when paired together and this song is a highlight of the album.
My final analysis of the new and revamped Nightmare line-up and Dead Sun as a whole is that the band has never sounded better. I’m excited to see the band perform on this years installment of 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. For any skeptics out there, Maggy Luyten delivers the goods on Dead Sun and has elevated Nightmare to the next level of modern power metal bands.