If there was ever a case for Dagoba to warrant widespread attention in the extreme metal scene, it'd be with Black Nova, the French industrial metal quartet's seventh record. That's a strange statement to make, two decades into the band's career, but Dagoba's latest album is undeniably their best, even if that isn't saying much.
Wait, wait, wait! This is a positive review, I promise. Dagoba's discography is full of likable tunes, but aside from the odd song or two, their catalog has been hampered by filler and a general unevenness that has continually barred the band from genuine greatness. Not anymore: From start to finish, Black Nova is a tightly-written and consistently gripping package that stands out from the band's prior works while remaining impressively on-brand.
Ignoring a flat instrumental opening that doesn't even flow into the first real song — if your intro is the kind of thing that'll be skipped on every subsequent listen, stop including them on the record — "Inner Sun" kicks things with aplomb and serves as a thrilling showcase of what's to come. Though crunchy industrial guitar lines and frontman Shawter's gruff screaming serve as the music’s basis and are suitably intense, it's the subtle electronic synths and soaring clean choruses that truly grip the listener and elevate the album from good to great. Thankfully, these elements permeate both the aforementioned song and Black Nova as a whole and are almost always to the music's benefit.
While the pace is blistering and there's certainly plenty of screaming and crushing instrumentation, Black Nova isn't a particularly heavy record by extreme metal standards. But unlike many of its peers, Dagoba's industrial influences genuinely compliment the music and crucially, the abundance of clean singing and electronic bleeps almost never come across as a gimmick or otherwise detract from its angrier side.
"Lost Gravity" is the only real letdown here, but even that's a stretch. It's the only song where the cleans are noticeably grating, but even they are relatively offset by some particularly epic guitar lines. Elsewhere, Dagoba continually knocks it out of the park, and while the aforementioned "Inner Sun" is a definite standout, it's far from the only one.
"The Infinite Cause" is a highlight among highlights, thanks to its blistering pace and frantic vocal performances, especially its phenomenal chorus. Though its unexpected melodic outro is the perfect sendoff, the piece is otherwise a nonstop adrenaline rush of the best kind. When it comes to standout tracks from 2017, this one deserves to be decently high up on the list.
Most of Black Nova's major standouts are front loaded, but "Fire Dies" keeps the record in high gear near its conclusion. It's one of the more aggressive songs, featuring a whirlwind of violent guitar shredding and a bombastic drumming performance and though synths are still present, they match the song's aggressive pace and elevate it into a genuinely blistering cacophony.
"Stone Ocean" is another winner, opening with a massive synth line and … Yeah, I know what you're thinking. It's no coincidence that each of these examples makes liberal mention of the less metallic bits. Black Nova excels because of these pieces, but the album’s metal core isn’t quite as memorable. To be clear, the screams and heavy riffing are good. Occasionally great. But it's Black Nova's other elements that truly carry the music. Even though the synths and cleans do an exceptional job of supplementing the rest of the record, they don't hide the fact that the heavier aspects are still just below the bar required to contend with 2017's breakout releases.
But damn, Black Nova comes so, so close. Unlike Dagoba's past material, I'm confident that months from now I could spin Black Nova or nearly any of its individual pieces and still get a massive kick out of it. There's immense fun to be had for longtime fans and for newcomers, it's hard to imagine a better jumping-off point.
It might not be a modern classic, but Black Nova is still among the most thoroughly entertaining industrial metal gauntlets of the last few years. If that's the harshest summary I can give, then that's a pretty fantastic sign. Check it out.