With only one single preceding this debut album, it would be easy to think that Nephila have very little history. Then again, that single came out back in 2018, and featured eight performers for its sole song; not exactly the act of a band of low musical experience or ambition. Given that the musicians all wear theatrical masks in their photos, and note that mysterious quirk in their own bio, the apparent out-of-nowhere quality might be more of a boon than a hindrance for them.
Cryptic past (or lack thereof) aside, the music is excellent, more than justifying the wait inflicted on anyone who caught that original single when it arrived. Putting strongly emotive and wide-ranged female vocals to work over ’70s-flavored heavy rock, it immediately made me think of Jess and the Ancient Ones. But Nephila operate in a tighter, more easily consumed form, with all but one of the songs falling in the three-to-five-minute zones. Saving up their big, nine-minute burn-down (with suitably grandiose title: “Alla Galaxers Centrum”) for the closing spot, the group keeps things moving quickly and purposefully up to that point. Interesting riffs get ample exploration, crescendos are cherished in their flowering, and space is given to savor timbre deliberations, but the band never rambles too far from the rails.
They’re also open to humor, as illustrated by “Mushroom Creatures”, which evokes a Raffi-like children’s song with its bouncy cadences and playful delivery. That also helps bolster the vague mystical vibes hanging over the whole album, so it’s easy to think that some of them are fans of Coven. Across the album’s many moods and hues, Nephila keep things decidedly their own, though. Abundant character comes through in each song, there’s no moments of dull filler, and the last song delivers a fantastically satisfying finale.
If only it didn’t top out at just over half an hour, I’d really have nothing to complain about. That same tightness of purpose and song-writing means that things are over just when you’re starting to fully sink into the grooves. As much of a bummer as that may be, the resulting consistency of quality on the album is hard to argue with. Grumbles about brevity aside, this is easily my favorite new-to-me band of the year. Maybe they’ll be yours, too.