It is a glorious thing when a band grow before your eyes. Sheffield duo Nokturnal Ritual are doing just that, as the progression from debut Ushering A New Era Of Agony to their new album, Entity Of The Unholy, is quite considerable. That’s not to say that they’ve gone all Arcturus or DHG on us. Rather, it’s clear that the duo have spent time considering what they did right, where they could improve, and how to implement those lessons. As a result, Entity Of The Unholy is the sound of a band not so much finding their voice, but becoming increasingly comfortable and confident in expressing it. They may still stick strongly to the tenets of Scandinavian second-wave black metal, but they have also found enough room in there to assert their own touches and flourishes. It’s not so much a case of stepping out of the box, more of finding new corners within it to explore.
That is clear early on, as the opening title track begins with a flute melody that soon gives way to the kind of black metal that Marduk were making around the time of their becoming a Panzer Division. High-tempo, full of power and melody, it goes straight for the jugular with impressive violence and determination. Subsequent tracks show that this is no one-off: “Traversing The Sanguine Fog” is even more rabid (and also features some subtle bass melodies that bring to mind De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas), and “Into The Void” begins at considerable speed, before easing off slightly. It’s a smart decision, as it gives the album a feeling of more variety, and stops is descending in to an overwhelming, boring blast-fest. That the second half of the album features three tracks that all vary considerably in tempo helps with this, too.
What really helps the songs stand out from the pack, though, is the use of flute at key points. When it mimics the guitar lines – as it does for the closing section of the title track – it gives the melodies an unusual feel, adding something almost beautiful and noble to otherwise depraved black metal. This feeling is even more apparent when the flute is given a more prominent role and place in the mix, such as on the slow burning penultimate track “Fatal Embrace” and the closing movement of “Traversing The Sanguine Fog.” It’s the clearest sign of all that Nokturnal Ritual have grown as a band, willing to take more risks without ever moving out of the boundaries of their chosen style.
Furthermore, it is impossible not to hear the confidence the band are playing with. The production, whilst still undeniably raw and grim, is more clear than that used on Ushering A New Era Of Agony, and it suits the music extremely well. Guitar and flute melodies are given the room and volume they require to shine, and the improvement in the vocals is huge. This is perhaps most obvious with closer “Fenrisian Spell Of Winter”, which absolutely races ahead, powered by razor-sharp riffs and galloping drums. It bristles with attitude and strength, with the flute and guitars working in tandem for large parts, and the vocals are just on the right side of depraved. It’s a prime example of how there is still plenty of life left in the second wave Scandinavian sound for those who approach it with passion.
And that really sums the album up well. Nokturnal Ritual have grown considerably in the year since releasing their debut, and in Entity Of The Unholy, have recorded an album that shows that bands playing second wave black metal today do not have to rely on nostalgia or old glories to stay interesting. It is an album that manages to simultaneously recall past glories, without sounding dated. Here’s hoping that they can keep this form going, as this is remarkable. Small shame about the cover art, though.
Entity Of The Unholy can be streamed and downloaded via Bandcamp.