Saturday, 26 December 2009

Nokturnal Mortum - The Voice of Steel [ALBUM REVIEW]

They've come a long long way from the days of 'Lunar Poetry' and 'Goat Horns', back then they played an extremely primitive and endearing form of symphonic black metal awash with sugary synths and reverb drenched vocals. 'Goat Horns' was one of my personal favourite albums of the genre, and after the much maligned transition to a more brutal form of Black Metal, I resigned myself to the fact that anything ever as good as Goat Horns was just not going to happen. 'Weltanschauung' was the band at their absolute lowest ebb, they had lost all that made them unique and stand out in the first place, from 'NeChrist' on, they were just another average face in the crowd of generic NSBM bands, it just seemed that all the inspiration and motivation had vanished. Not so, as from completely out of the blue, they have managed to produce their most inspired work to date, bettering the majestic 'Goat Horns'.

The first track is an intro, in traditional Nokturnal Mortum fashion, and starts off with a a brash Ukranian wind instrument playing an almost militaristic piece before taking on a more traditional folk piece with martial drums rumbling along in the background. It sets the tone for the album well, as introductions are supposed to, it's good, but it's no 'Black moon Overture' that's for sure.

The first song, 'Голос Сталі' continues the militaristic drumming, and a slow brooding riff gets the song moving, and a violin swaggers around in the background. Instantly, the first change the band have seemingly made is to the production. They have improved it alot. A crap production may have worked on their earlier albums where it was purely symphonic, but on the direction which Weltanschuaang was heading, the lack lustre production only succeeded in making the guitar sound very muddied and all over the place. The improvement in production allows the traditional folk instruments to stand out alot more, and the guitar tone is alot more muscular and intense, whereas before it felt very limp. There is also a welcome additon of some acoustic passages as well throughout he first song. Coming just after the half way mark the song shifts up a gear, the drumming gets faster and a sopilka comes to the fore playing a repetitive, yet mesmerizing melody before eventually cutting out and returning to the rhythm from the beginning and eventually seeing out the song. The vocals have a lot more conviction and direction than the previous album, maintaining the newer, deeper style but with alot more fervor and grit in the delivery.
Another observation about this album is the lack of synth, it seems the band are continuing to phase out the synth from their sound in favour of traditional slavic folk music, but the main focus in this album is not the folk music, it is actually on the guitars. It always seemed to me previously that in Nokturnal Mortum's case, the synth/other instruments almost took precedence over the guitars, but there is alot more authority in their prescence now, and there is no better example than the mid section to the third song, 'Валькирия'. The song starts off as the previous finished, but soon slows down completely to an oscillating guitar rhythm, and unlike anything the band have ever done before, out of nowhere appears a soaring guitar lead with an astral tone to die for. During the four minutes or so of this solo, it just feels like you could be anywhere Carpathia, staringly blankly in the great stellar void above, it's completely unlike anything they have ever done before, and unfortunately this type of guitar lead doesn't re-appear again on the album. That's not to say the other guitar solos on the album are inferior though, far from it, they're just a different style, more fast and frenetic, less reflective and pensive.
The album also manages to re-capture the infectious rhythms of past as well, for the first time since NeChrist the song's contains hooks that refuse to leave your head. Remember 'Perun's Celestial Silver' and 'Kuyaviya'? Well those type of infectious passages are back, and none more evident than on 'Україна'. Another aspect which I also must remark on are the clean vocals, although sparse, when they do come around they are in fully fitted with the music, and not just for 'atmosphere' as many bands seem to do, and throw them in at any excuse. They help give the album an almost 'viking' feel.
One last song I feel which needs mentioning is 'Небо Сумних Ночей'. The song is solely an acoustic folk song, and is absolutely beautiful, the vocals are all clean, but don't mean anything to me, as they are all in Ukranian, but it is easy to visualize what the song is about. This song just about embodies all that the Slavic pagan metal scene is about, their ancestors, pride of their heritage and the struggle against the complete extinction of their culture and roots with the influence of Americanization.

Nokturnal Mortum need no introduction really, anyone who is even half into the Eastern European metal scene will know who they are, but for all those who have brushed them aside due to their recent efforts, make this your re-introduction. Varggoth's vocals are the best they have ever been, the guitarwork is the tightest it has ever been, the lead work is out of the world and the drumming is inch perfect as well. With the exquisite melody's, fantastic riffing, coherent songwriting, it seems that finally the band have fully matured into exactly what they want to be, this is the most professional album they ahve ever done. The gradual move from their roots to this more traditional folk sound is obviously reflected in the lyrics, which are all in Cyrillic
This album is basically this album is the continuation of 'Weltanschauung', but with going back slightly to what brought them to the fore in the first place, and incorporating it into their current sound with the added prominence of the guitars and folk music, they have created something extraordinary. It is extremely well executed, and I'm completely astonished they managed to produce something so good after so many years of uninspired nonsense. You could put this album in the same bracket as Kroda and Temnozor and the likes, but to be fair, as much as I love those two bands, this is far and beyond anything they ever have done, which is saying alot. Infact, there is something beneath it all which keeps reminding me of 'Blut aus Nord's' latest masterpiece. I can't put my finger on what it is, but if you have listened to it as well, you'll be able to see what I mean. Maybe it's the stunning guitar work, maybe it's the sheer epic majesty of the songs, I don't know. What I do know is though, that if you're even half interested in pagan black metal, this is the album that you have been looking for, this is what so many others strive to achieve but will never even come close. It is fitting that the best album of 2009 , and one of the best of the last decade, arrived at the very end, and for me it represents just how good a year 2009 was for metal.



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