Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nocternity - Harps of the Ancient Temples [2015]

Choosing from a not-so densely populated backlog of releases, I'd easily vie for Nocternity's 2003 ''Onyx'' and the following EP ''A Fallen Unicorn'' (2004) over any of their other releases since only with these two pieces the Greeks seem to be blessed for cultivating quality, Burzum-esque black metal epics spanning the epochs of grief, glory and crenelated medieval towers which give actually satisfying vibes. In respect to the Greek black metal scene today, Nocternity's choice to plod through a field bearing more resemblance to Burzum, Ulver and Kvist rather than Necromantia and Rotting Christ may be regarded as slightly unnatural, even though they are technically sticking to the norm with this approach, albeit one bedecked with a trademark middle-age warrior clad in silver and chain mail, and an myrmidion helmet. I have to give the band props at any rate even if their music sometimes falls short of the intended majestic effect, especially given my personal knack for pottering with such fantastical, lyrical themes as the ones the Greeks present as their thematic pastiche, with lengthy, almost poetic lyrics not unlike those of Summoning, or the verses of H.P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith, but as always, this only proves to be a color filter at best, and in cases like ''Harps of the Ancient Temples'', the band's third full-length, fanciful lyricism scarcely enhances the experience.

That's not to say the album's bad, because I've certainly heard worse. Only, between the rigid, almost Hellhammer-esque riffs and the dull atmospherics of an album, despite being 'relatively' short, I found myself looking for plenty of breathing space, or a few moments' escape from drudgery. Nocternity's style is really not hard to determine: they espouse these creaky traditional rasps on top of a fragile expanse of usually doom-y chords and lumbering tremolos and boom - you have pretty much the gist of the album ready. Beckoning of Scandinavia, yet also feeling intimidatingly near to a crude Eastern European counterpart, ''Harps of the Ancient Temples'' is a surprising shock value loss over the band's 2003-4 material with a much less dynamic and visceral guitar, faded ambiance, even though the band still manages to live up to its fantastical imagery through the use of mystifying, if slightly bland, synthesizer work, which feel reminiscent of Summoning's earliest work from the early 90's, and along the way simplistic influences of early Emperor, Burzum, Ulver or Ragnarok are scattered sans bombast. Much like the few Vardan records I listened to (or anything of this vein for that matter) Nocternity does a decent job of charging off into gloomy, melancholy antiquity without careening or giving the guitar a few fickle taps over the fret board, and it's admirable that they can do this with consistency, but when it comes to evocation of dolor and a battlefield abound with the phantasmagoria of fallen armies, this is as dry and as withering as a feast for crows, and appropriately too since they seem to favor the fiction of George R.R. Martin (you gotta admit, Khal Drogo is a sick pseudonym).

Granted, no one was expecting an opulent black metal masterpiece that reaches toward the stars, like those Spectral Lore records, nor some wacky avantgarde tour de force a la Hail Spirit Noir and Transcending Bizarre?, but I had my subtle hopes that this album would have at least been on a par with ''Onyx''. Lurching chords with depressed note patterns and rhythmic sways with the tempo equivalent of a trudging elephant seem suitably grim, for 1984. ''Blood Rite'' contains a few 'diversion', like minimal, meandering melody wisps that cling on to the main hull of cascading chords, and the band even digresses to a few riffs notes instead of chords for a brief instant, but it doesn't save the song. The title song (which was actually introduced back in 2007 as one of two songs in an EP) is perhaps the most memorable tune out the entire archaic grimoire, with tingling synthesizers and an actually impressive guitar solo slightly past the middle, although even that alone doesn't belong in the same league as Katavasia, Spectral Lore or Varathron in my book; whereas ''B.O.D.D'' is marginally more interesting and choral due to its ambient effects and moody sense of embitterment. Ultimately, in a growing market for Greek black metal, I'm glad that Nocternity is joining the bandwagon (sort of) in a party heading to be one of the world's best, but in that case scenario where each of these newsprint Hellenic black metal records are compartmentalized and projected into the stratosphere, you can be sure that ''Harps of the Ancient Temples'' will be among the first to start thawing shortly before disintegrating in the vast spacial expanse. You have the choice to jump back to their previous releases.

Harps of the Ancient Temples

Rating: 48%

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