Album Review – Mavradoxa / Nightmarrow (2019)

The final breath of dark and heavy sounds by a now extinct metal unity will take you on a journey of isolation and hopelessness through the realms of Atmospheric Black Metal.

Let me begin this review by saying that I was absolutely shocked when I read earlier this year that the beyond promising and talented Rochester, New York-based Atmospheric Black Metal band Mavradoxa was calling it quits after only a few years of existence. Fortunately for all of us, fans of dark and atmospheric music, the band left us with three excellent full-length albums, those being their 2016 debut opus Sojourners, their fantastic 2017 release Lethean Lament, and more recently Nightmarrow, released earlier this year via Hypnotic Dirge Records. Although related to the tonal atmosphere and character of their previous albums, Nightmarrow sees the band developing and intensifying their song-writing ability, crafting simultaneously cohesive yet unpredictable songs with a progressive hue that is still rooted in Atmospheric Black Metal.

Engineered by Nicholas Alan at Subterranean Studios, mixed by Stephen Parker (Pillorian, Maestus), mastered by Justin Weis at Trakworx Recording, and featuring a stunning artwork by American artist Dylan Garrett Smith, Nightmarrow represents a meditation on the isolation and hopelessness of our age (particularly in the realm of the urban), and the consequences of technology and voracious consumption of resources. Mavradoxa’s founding duo Zachary Smith, also known as Nival, and Monica Finger, also known as Lux, together with guitarist Tyler Stasierowski (from The Highest Leviathan) and bassist Josh Mason (from Wandering Oak and Acrylazea), perfectly depict that feeling of solitude and desperation in Nightmarrow, positioning the unfortunately now defunct band as one of the most creative and interesting bands of the underground scene in the United States.

Featuring guest vocals by Matt Greenwood and an additional guitar solo by Nicholas Alan, the opening track Maple begins in full force with the razor-edged riffs by Zach and Tyler and the intricate beats by Monica generating a rumbling ambience perfect for Zach’s anguished roars, sounding as powerful and grim just the way we like it in Atmospheric Black Metal. Furthermore, the song’s progressive ending flows smoothly into the even darker musical voyage entitled The Carrion Shade, where Josh and Monica make the earth tremble with their respective instruments while the entire band darkly intones the song’s cryptic lyrics (“Black sun, black moon / In shadows, entombed / Flame, gold, & rust / slowly coalesced / in the pale of the / last winter sunset”). This is Progressive Black Metal at its finest showcasing all band members in absolute sync, therefore delivering a crushing wall of blackened sounds for our total delight, in special Zach and Tyler with their flammable guitars.

Matt Greenwood returns in the title-track Nightmarrow, where the music gets closer to what was offered to us in Lethean Lament, presenting more introspective and atmospheric sounds and passages. Zach sounds utterly enraged and acid on vocals, with Monica’s gentle clean vocals bringing more balance to this dense and bold feast of extreme music. Then an acoustic, ethereal bridge named Rustling Leaves soothes our souls and warms up our senses for Black Crystal Snowfall, featuring guest vocals by Swamp and sheer poetry flowing from its lyrics (“Ancestral whispers beckon us back / to a starless womb, to a time before / this place where all is languishing, / where all is ensnared by the grasp / of synthetic hands, becoming, / and ripping our bones from within”), also bringing forward elements from Blackened Doom added to their core atmospheric music. Monica’s steady beats and Zach’s and Tyler’s crisp riffs will undoubtedly embrace your soul from start to finish, reaching a climatic and piercing grand finale that gently morphs into a melancholic outro titled Umbra, where Zach and Tyler deliver a passionate performance with their acoustic guitars, concluding Nightmarrow on a high and pensive note.

If Nightmarrow, which by the way is available in full on YouTube and on Spotify, is indeed the last breath of Atmospheric Black Metal by Mavradoxa no one knows for sure. The band might decide to come back from their “retirement” one day to smash our senses again with their somber music, who knows? Until that day arrives (if it arrives,  of course), you can keep in touch with Zach and Monica on Facebook, and purchase your copy of Mavradoxa’s final journey through the realms of atmospheric and extreme music from the Hypnotic Dirge Records’ BandCamp page (or click HERE for all details about the band and where to buy their music), as well as from your regular retailers such as Apple Music, Amazon, CD Baby and Discogs. Having said that, it’s with a heavy heart that I finalize this review (or maybe I should call it a tribute), as heavy, ominous and splendorous as the music by the now extinct Mavradoxa. Thank you for your music, Zah and Monica, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing from you two again in a not-so-distant future.

Best moments of the album: The Carrion Shade and Nightmarrow.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2019 Hypnotic Dirge Records

Track listing
1. Maple 7:41
2. The Carrion Shade 9:25
3. Nightmarrow 9:34
4. Rustling Leaves 1:45
5. Black Crystal Snowfall 10:57
6. Umbra 3:40

Band members
Zachary Smith – vocals, electric and acoustic guitars
Monica Finger – drums, vocals
Tyler Stasierowski – electric guitars, 12-string acoustic guitar
Josh Mason – fretless bass guitar

Guest musicians
Matt Greenwood – guest vocals on “Maple” and “Nightmarrow”
Swamp – guest vocals on “Black Crystal Snowfall”
Nicholas Alan – additional lead guitar on “Maple”

Album Review – Mavradoxa / Lethean Lament (2017)

A whirlwind of emotions from raw carnal aggression, nature reverence, despair, longing and bliss in the form of stunning Laurentian Black Metal.

“And all that we are,
all that we are,
is silhouettes
in silent
rain 

And all that we are,
all that we are,
is a blackbird
with wings
aflame”

Recorded in the spring of 2017, Lethean Lament, the second full-length installment by American Atmospheric Black Metal duo Mavradoxa, is not only a contemplative and majestic album that is expansive, atmospheric and melancholic, but it’s perhaps the best depiction in modern underground music of what’s commonly referred to as “Laurentian Black Metal”, being highly recommended for dreary and rain-soaked days during solitary walks, or in any moment of introspection. Formed in 2015 in the city of Rochester, New York, in the United States, the duo comprised of Nival (Zachary Smith) on vocals, guitar and bass and Lux (Monica Finger) on vocals and drums is sharper than ever in Lethean Lament, delivering long, progressive songs that flow with purpose where the atmosphere dictates and paints vivid stories in its movement and direction throughout the entire album, encapsulating a whirlwind of emotions from raw carnal aggression, nature reverence, despair, longing and bliss. Featuring contributions by violinist Andy McGirr on the songs “Cicadan” and “Across the Nival Grove”, and vocalist Makr Welden on the song “Crimson Waves of Autumnal Flame”, as well as a darkly distinguished and impactful artwork, Lethean Lament is honest and genuine Atmospheric Black Metal that beautifully carries on the tradition of bands like Agalloch, Waldgeflüster, Falls of Rauros and Obsidian Tongue.

In the opening track, titled Cicadan, the acoustic guitars by Nival generate the perfect atmosphere for the beyond pleasant violin by Andy to soothe our souls in a comforting and melancholic way, setting the stage for the 11-minute extravaganza The Phantom Visages, showcasing an avalanche of sluggish, somber guitars and beats by the talented duo, spiced up by harsher and more aggressive moments and also bringing elements from Black and Doom Metal, resulting in devilish Blackened Doom tailored for admirers of the genre. Furthermore, its mournful lyrics are effectively gnarled by Mavradoxa (“And soon into the graveyard’s maw the lustrous glow shall fade / Their echoing laments no longer stain the past / Their fleeting memories are borne to midnight rot / My lifeless frame upon the black tombstone is cast”), giving the entire song and even darker and more hypnotizing feel. Crimson Waves of Autumnal Flame is the absolute soundtrack for wandering through cold landscapes by yourself with its almost 18 minutes of melancholic passages, introspective clean vocals by Mark Welden, gentle but piercing guitars by Nival and steady, mesmerizing beats by Lux. The music in this underground masterpiece of winter-like sounds keeps growing in intensity inside your mind, turning it into a one-way journey into darkness.

Exploring their more progressive and atmospheric vein, Mavradoxa hone their instruments to pierce our souls with their depressive sounds in Across the Nival Grove, where vocals couldn’t sound and feel more anguished, flowing through several layers of contrasting tunes and nuances until its climatic ending led by Andy’s ethereal violin. Then we have From Fog, a magnificent composition where you can sense the night and the cold embracing the desperate vociferations blasted by the duo (“Shivering, staring at haze from breath on a shattered mirror / Streaking through shadowy groves / Skeletal roots, an edifice… / but where am I?”) in an amazing display of modern Atmospheric Black Metal. In addition, the song offers the listener old school Black Metal blast beats by Lux and a metallic riffage by Nival in perfect sync with the dense ambience surrounding the music, flirting with Progressive Black Metal and, therefore, keeping the music always fresh, vibrant and gripping. And lastly, there’s nothing better than a serene acoustic outro, named Metanoia, to wrap up this voyage through the obscure and gelid kingdom of extreme music reigned by Mavradoxa.

All you need to do to brave the storm of idiosyncratic sounds found in Lethean Lament (which by the way is our album review number 500, and there couldn’t have been a better choice to celebrate that expressive milestone than this) is go to YouTube for a full listen at the album, follow Mavradoxa on Facebook, and buy your copy of the album at the Hypnotic Dirge Records’ BandCamp or webshop (as a regular CD or as a CD + shirt + sticker bundle), as well as at Discogs. And after facing such distinguished tempest of emotions, from sheer aggression to moments of hope and melancholy, you’ll certainly place Laurentian Black Metal, especially the one masterfully crafted by Mavradoxa, as one of your top choices for your most isolated and meditative moments in life.

Best moments of the album: Crimson Waves of Autumnal Flame and From Fog.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2017 Hypnotic Dirge Records

Track listing
1. Cicadan 3:52
2. The Phantom Visages 11:25
3. Crimson Waves of Autumnal Flame 17:50
4. Across the Nival Grove 15:32
5. From Fog 11:00
6. Metanoia 1:59

Band members
Nival – vocals, guitar, bass
Lux – vocals, drums

Guest musicians
Andy McGirr – violin on “Cicadan” and “Across the Nival Grove”
Mark Welden – vocals on “Crimson Waves of Autumnal Flame”