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Nil: Nil Novo Sub Sole

"Nil Novo Sub Sole" is the title of the latest release by the French progressive outfit Nil. This is disc number four for this band and quite possibly their best release to date. Fans of dark, zeulish progressive served up à la francaise will salivate over this disc. The band seems to have taken all the best elements from their superb "Quarante Jour Sur Le Sinai" album from 2003 and streamlined the ideas into a more cohesive package.

The disc opens with the epic Le Gardien, a monumental tour-de-force of dark progressive punctuated by the sublime soprano vocals of Roselyne Berthet. Her delicate voice soars in very mellow acoustic moments throughout the track. In contrast, the instrumental portions of the track (and there plenty of those) rock out in classic symphonic progressive fashion. The track slowly builds in intensity, layering different musical lines and featuring some superb analog keys (yes, including the mighty 'Tron) from Benjamin Croizy. The number seems to reach an apogee approximately 12 minutes in only to build up a major (major!) head of steam. Beginning from a delicate keyboard line and jazzy drum beat, the track takes the listener from the top of the world to the nether regions of the underworld in a heart-stopping musical freefall which lasts a solid 5 minutes. The drum beat keeps getting more and more insistent as the guitar washes in and the track cascades ever downward. Guitarist David Maurin shows off in an impressively technical solo which seems to hit many plateaus on its way down. Berthet's other-worldy vocals kick in to return us to a quieter place before the track veers into a completely different direction before ending.

This number is followed by the very dark and creepy Linceul (The shroud). This track will make the hairs of your neck rise up. It's primarily a showcase piece for the exalted voice of Berthet, accentuated with some somber keyboards and guitar synth passages. The track has a very melancholic feel to it.

Déregénération is the third track on the album and may be the showcase piece for Nil to put on display their instrumental prowess. This one has all the elements that makes French progressive so damned enjoyable. Shades of French progressive giants, past and present, can be heard on this excellently crafted piece. At times quiet and serene, at times tempestuous and volatile, this is one monster track and some of the best instrumental progressive I've heard this year. The foursome shows off some serious chops, but never at the expense of the overall song.

198 is the name of track number four. This is another relatively lengthy instrumental piece. This track has a slightly harder edged sound to it, featuring more crunchy guitars and fatter bass lines. I'm reminded at times of fellow Unicorn Digital artists Spaced Out and Talisma on this track, although the truly French approach to progressive rock does make its appearance in spurts throughout the number.

The following track is entitled Abandon and returns the voice of Berthet into the fold. She dominates the number as her voice changes from angelic passages to more straight-forward rock singing, demonstrating a very good vocal range in the process. Although lyric-heavy, we are still treated to some excellent instrumental passages, with the band once again putting an emphasis on drama.

The disc closer in titled Dérives. This track returns us into the band's darker regions. It slowly builds from a hypnotic cadence but never fully blossoms. The music seems to be held in check throughout the number. The changes to the melody line are very subtle. Berthet's voice soars to new heights halfway through and closes the disc off in a very à propos haunting fashion with the album's final lyrical passages.

I don't know how Unicorn Digital managed to sign these guys right under the noses of major French labels like Musea, but they've landed themselves a very big fish indeed. This is the kind of disc which restores my faith in modern symphonic progressive rock. One never has the feeling that Nil are merely "going through the motions of prog", which alas, often is the case with many newer bands. This is simply one of the finest progressive records I've heard in 2005. Highly recommended.

Track Listing:

  1. Le Gardien (20:16)
  2. Linceul (3:23)
  3. Déregénération (14:30)
  4. 198 (8:40)
  5. Abandon (8:10)
  6. Dérives (6:04)

Added: September 12th 2006
Reviewer: Yves Dubé
Related Link:
Hits: 5751
Language: english

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Nil: Nil Novo Sub Sole
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-09-11 16:42:44
My Score:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Often mistakenly credited to Shakespeare's sonnet 59, this quote was originally from the book of Ecclesiastes - in which the author complains frequently about the monotony of his life. Point is - Nil Novo Sub Sole loosely translates from French to English as "There is nothing new under the sun". An ironic title, because there isn't much under the sun that is similar to this record. Bands like White Willow, or early-era Anekdoten, in their King Crimson-esque days, come quickly to mind. So there are obviously also references to Crimson themselves, and some sections - like "198" and parts of "Deregeneration", are reminiscent of that band's Red-era. But those comparisons are fairly remote, as Nil's music really doesn't easily stand up to the writer's traditional fallbacks of band comparison and genre classification.

Nil is a 7-year-old French quintet including the brothers Maurin and, more recently, Roselyne Berthet - whose vocals are one of this music's definitive characteristics. There are long all-instrumental passages and two tracks feature no singing at all, and in most songs, Berthet's voice blends in nicely as another instrument rather than fronting the band in the way of a White Willow. Her vocals are all in French, which actually works very nicely, and while her voice is melodic the melodies themselves are seldom very memorable.

The music swings seamlessly from light and introspective almost spacey tones clear across to very heavy, dissonant symphonic music that is not metallic, although it occasionally shares some of that genre's characteristics. In general, it is a demanding listen that falls between mildly avant garde, symphonic progressive music, and the intricately discordant modern-classical in the vein of a Mahler or a Bartok or - a King Crimson.

Another sound that is characteristic of most songs on Nil Novo Sub Sole is the insistent staccato approach that absolutely dominates some sections. The standout track is probably "Le Garden", a 20-minute epic that covers the whole spectrum of Nil's sounds - from dissonance through consonance, from airy through heavy, from instrumental through wonderfully haunting vocals - and always melodic.

So perhaps there is something new under the sun after all. Nil's music is very progressive in the truest sense of the word, and rather different. And as always with prog - vive la différence.

Nil: Nil Novo Sub Sole
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-09-22 15:32:21
My Score:

Nil is a French progressive rock band newly signed to Canadian label Unicorn Digital. This has been one of the biggest surprises of the year for me in that I've discovered an amazingly talented band with highly original songwriting, excellent female vocals, awesome instrumental power, and a fitting moody production. Driven by the multi-instrumentalist Maurin brothers, David and Samuel, the music of Nil is extremely dark and adventurous. This is one of those bands who are willing to change the form of progressive music, adding in influences from a variety of sources, yet never losing their core sound.

Nil Novo Sub Solo is an amalgamation of dark symphonic prog and avant garde music. Cold acoustic guitars are invited into moody synth sounds that give a claustrophobic edge to the tunes and are developed into interesting melodies as they surround vocalist Roselyne Berthet's angelic voice. The 20-minute album opener "Le Gardien" is a good track to represent the sound of Nil. The song goes through many movements, never losing its stylistic cohesion. Acoustic guitars and floating Mellotron sounds set the tone and build a dense atmosphere. Two minutes into the song, the piece is intervened by amazing stick playing courtesy of Samuel Maurin and avant garde synth textures. Berthet sings in a soprano-like style and her melodies beautifully contrast the dark instrumentation. She likes to harmonize with the guitars, echoing the rhythms with wordless vocal melodies. The song leads into another acoustic break, only to be carried into a darker musical environment thanks to whimsical synth lines and a throbbing bass guitar that refuses to compromise with the rest of the instruments. A lengthy instrumental passage kicks in and it's filled with complex jazz drumming and fusion guitar which seems like it was recorded at one-go cause it so easily fit the flow. Things quieten down somewhere in the middle, where only Frank Niebel's cymbals ringing can be heard, though quite distant in the mix. Very slowly, Niebel begins to incorporate regular drum beats into the mix, but it's so slowly done that the atmosphere becomes increasingly arresting and the listener is already drawn in the chaotic flow of the composition. Along with the far-away tom beats, Samuel Maurin introduces his bass and the two instruments begin to function simultaneously, each passing second sounding more forceful. This goes on for nearly two minutes until David Maurin cracks the soundwall and plays a wild guitar solo. Note after note you are blown away and left physically exhausted - it's incredible. The last couple of minutes of the song find Benjamin Croizy and Samuel Maurin exchanging dissonant notes over a freestyle jazz workout.

Being a very busy tune, "Le Gardien" is followed by "Linceul", a shorter and more precise number. This track has vocalist Berthet back in full force, as it glorifies her voice with just atmospheric key notes. The cut has 30 seconds of silence planted in its outro that smoothly segues into the long instrumental "Deregenaration". Except for the brief vocal melody around the 9:00 minute point, this is another moody number puncuated by static piano tones, cathartic duels between guitar, bass, and Mellotron, and thick stick solos washed by analog synths. The band's love for minimalism in songwriting shows itself briefly three minutes after the first unison solo, and is immediately replaced by more jazz-inspired guitar work and crazy drumming. They even explore the depths of technical instrumental prog before wrapping things up with an immensely engaging guitar theme that soars on and on above a forlorn flute melody. "198" is another instrumental, but quite different from its predecessor. This track is heavier and more punishing. I love the way how the crunchy guitars complement Samuel's fretless bass and produce circular melodies while doing so. The madly fast tapping lick in the middle will have even the most dedicated tech metal fans drooling. However, this isn't just to show off their chops, as heard on the second half. The layered dissonant noises at the end really mess with the head.

The last two tracks see Berthet's beautiful voice return. "Abandon" has thick shades of synths with solid guitar-bass battery, a hypnotic piano melody that goes on forever; while the dark "Derives" begins with a stubborn bass solo that bleeds into a steady guitar cadence for three minutes, before letting Berthet complement everything yet with another rich vocal style. Her doubled-voice at the end is particularly beautiful because of the way the acoustic guitars let it come through. If you haven't heard of this band, start right here. Along with Leger de Main, this may be one of the finest prog rock discs with a female singer.

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