Nokturnal Mortum – The Voice of Steel (2009)

nokturnal mortum the voice of steel

Article by David Rosales.

I. The Cult of Death

During the 10th century A.D., Prince Volodymyr and Queen Olha before him adopted Christianity in a war-torn land with deep-rooted Pagan beliefs. Little could either of them have predicted how hard it would be to impose a foreign philosophy on the yet unbroken Slavic spirit. Over a millennium later, the politically-imposed monotheistic deathcult would be suffering a slow death while the true colors of the Slavic nation would slowly resurface out of the fires of hate.

After all how could they have known that culture and spirit are embedded in the very marrow of bones and hearts of the people? Alas! This ignorance would still be espoused by armchair ideologists until the 19th century and further hammered from above from the second half of the 20th till this day, when true scientific thought is again challenging institutionalized blindness. That is, an ignorance of the logical implications of the lessons of history, psychology and biology, and instead seeing them through the lenses of a secularized Judeo-Christian paradigm. Such a modality of thought still reigns supreme today, even unknowingly among those who would claim allegiance to no supernatural power.

As the land of Ukraine became the collision point for both Asian and European hordes, its brave people soldiered through the intermittent periods of cold desolation and burning brutality. Their spirit weathered the storm, and as a sword forged between the hammer of growing materialism and the anvil of that Middle-Eastern cult of death (administered in a variant especially fostered for European minds, slightly different than that given to the Native Americans), a crude but precious Herculean force arose.

II. Slavic-Pagan Heavy-Black Metal

European nations previously beyond the Iron Curtain have not been known to produce the most accomplished black metal. These usually make prominent use of heavy metal technique while overlaying folk tunes on a poorly-focused progressive structure. These may still win the hearts of the fans of underground metal as honesty and spirit are still highly valued. This ‘best effort’ attitude is endearing, but such obvious naïveté, however authentic, can only take one so far.

Amateur tones characterizing the Slavic underground have meant simultaneously, salvation and bane to the subgenre. On the one hand, its crudeness has effectively forestalled the sellout phase that sooner or later comes about as entropy sets in. On the other, it has deterred a much desired collective coming of age. This is all very much in keeping with the general Slavic spirit: over the top bravado, sincere yet aloof sentimentality, but not the most structured of foundations.

III. The Coming of Age

Nokturnal Mortum’s history stretches back to the time when metal was on its deathbed, the junction at which the rise of parasitic and zombie-minded scenes first came about. The band achieved a certain degree of notoriety in the underground with their sophomore release Lunar Poetry in 1996. After that, the band did not offer much more than a few unconvincing recordings that flirted with pseudo-symphonic stylings: starting out big and epic early in the album and quickly degenerating into slightly comical rock beats and awkward folk tunes.

After five years away from the studio, the band returned with a folk-ambient album speckled with rock metal enhancements here and there. This was the necessary transition that would make the next album after it the most accomplished Slavic black metal album to date. To be more precise, what was achieved in that following album, The Voice of Steel, is an accepting of the full paradigm of black metal without giving up the naturalistic and folk-like tenor unique(in this day and age, at least) to Eastern European metal.

IV. Golos Stali: A Solar Black Metal

In contrast to traditional black metal, the ideological bent of its Slavic counterpart demands a different approach to technique in order to better convey the necessary impression. Instead of outright occult devilry, either through blasphemy or mystic conjuration, we find the remembrance of heroic personalities as well as true active(that is, through expression in the actions of life, ordinary and exceptional) reverence and worship presence of the forces of nature, both seen and unseen. This admiration for heroic prowess that so characterizes the native spirit of the land and people channels the powers of nature itself in their superlative expression at particular points in time according the times themselves.

Rather than the modal, riff-heavy construction of traditional underground metal, Nokturnal Mortum takes a harmonic, rock chord strategy. This may deter many a purist of the serious underground, but a little patience when approaching The Voice of Steel will result in a most rewarding experience. Once past the local use of rock aesthetics incorporated into a melody-and-riff riding that is closer to the methods of metal, the longer, repetitive structures of goal-oriented black metal become clearer.

Sections and patterns are allowed to sink in beyond familiarity and to embed themselves inside the mind of the listener. The lighter nature and swinging rhythm of the salient folk tunes are not given to induce a pensive trance-like state, and so the overall effect is used to a different result. Smooth yet significant transitions take place in such stealthy a manner that they may go unperceived by an inattentive audience. These bring a refreshing sense of justified variety to the strict continuity of events. A comparison with Sorcier des Glaces and the French method may not be out of the question in this respect, with the considerable difference that Slavic bands such as Nokturnal Mortum or Drudkh make more frequent and overt display of rock/post-rock textures and musical sensibilities.

To conclude, it feels necessary to point out the outstanding use of ambient techniques that should be part of the repertoire of any black metal band of any worth, whether applied explicitly or otherwise. These, in combination with rock texturing, rhythms and guitar soloing brought to the mind of the writer the late Pink Floyd. The result of the correct fusion of the more popular techniques showcased in the older band with the sharp focus of proper black metal can result in an interesting balance. The strictness of black metal seems to have been what the disconnected, apparently drug-induced passages of Pink Floyd required in order to contribute to the formation of a full music. These elements are humbly utilized in The Voice of Steel, which through the careful and patient working out of little aspects, their interactions and combinations, give birth to a formidable solar metal.

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22 thoughts on “Nokturnal Mortum – The Voice of Steel (2009)”

  1. Nicholas L. says:

    I agree with all of your comments on The Voice of Steel. The “harmonic, rock chord strategy” that you mentioned is indeed prevalent. Paying attention to the guitars gets really boring sometimes, and is not the recommended way to listen to the album, haha.

    Nokturnal Mortum found a winning formula and did a lot of things right on The Voice of Steel. One of their victories is that all of the songs are memorable. This should not be taken for granted! Notwithstanding this praise, I find myself not wanting to listen to this album often (with the exception of track 3, which is the highlight in my opinion) for a couple of reasons:

    1) Some of the riffs are not very enjoyable, perhaps due to their melodic character. They are too emotional in an unattractive way. This, in addition to the repetitive, lengthy nature of the songs (not to mention the length of the whole album), makes listening to some of the songs a chore (e.g., track 5, track 8, occasionally track 4).

    2) The dreamy, spacey, somewhat slow (as a whole this is not a high energy album) sound of The Voice of Steel makes it a nighttime experience for me. I am not sure how this affects the solar metal classification. Furthermore, it is a varied album in tone and therefore a receptivity to all of the songs is necessary for appreciation.

    1. Those are my problems with the Ukrainian ambient melodic black metal too: It’s melodic black metal. Melodic black metal as in adding back in the hard rock and 70s heavy metal like melodeath rather than actual death or black metal that is just more diatonically melodic than Bolt Thrower and Mayhem. I’d rather just listen to something else unless it’s background music due to the off-putting, emotional buttrock cheese but you have to pay attention so it can’t really be used as background music while driving around, at the gym, or playing videogames like some big dumb cock rock, thrash, hit people hardcore/brootal death band. Too butt to warrant repeated critical listening, not dumb enough to where you can not pay attention for two minutes and come back right where you were.

      1. Nicholas L. says:

        Even though the rock element in the Voice of Steel is somewhat alienating, I think that the end result is well-done. It’s really easy to go wrong there, though. I am not really familiar with other Ukrainian bands, but I have noticed that the Japanese have a similar problem, albeit not exactly the same one: They interrupt otherwise competent metal to “rock out” in a cliched, emotional way. Even Intestine Baalism is not immune to this, though they incorporated it successfully into their first album.

        Regarding melodeath, the mainstream stuff these days is indeed highly infected with atavistic rock sensibilities. Even a lot of the 90s stuff had problems. I agree that probably the best way to obtain melodic death (or black) metal is to add more diatonic melody to actual death (or black) metal to expand its range of expression, a la At the Gates – The Red…, Ceremonium – No Longer Silent, Maleficarum – Across the Heavens, Eucharist – A Velvet Creation, etc. I do think that it is also possible to combine death metal and heavy metal inspirations and direct the result back toward heavy metal, e.g. Dark Tranquillity – Skydancer, but there are dangers with this method (the main issue being that people will confuse the result with death metal, haha).

        1. Dissection boils down to Judas Priest with Emperor riffs. Now that would be a good article topic.

    2. David Rosales says:

      Solar, would be more the description of topic and aural tone, so to speak. It really does not convey a dark atmosphere, but more one of optimism and bright colors. That’s basically it, but there is much more to this term.
      The sun as the center of a scientific naturalism, the core of European Paganism. The giver of life, the basis for all life, and the MOVER, itself, since it is the source of energy.

      1. Nicholas L. says:

        That makes sense and is sort of what I was thinking. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. Chum Lee says:

    Daniel:

    Ripper – Experiment of Existence was released last month and given that it was highly praised at the DMU , I was wonderin if you’re going to review their new álbum?

  3. Hræsvelgr says:

    When I first happened upon this article I thought it was a belated April Fools’ joke. As I’m now listening to this album for perhaps the second time in my life, I sincerely hope that it is …

    1. HH says:

      Nah, the praise for Voice of Steel and Weltanschauung have been pretty consistent from this community over the years.

  4. C.M. says:

    Fanisk also called their music “solar”, do you hear a similarity there? Some of that strangely joyous Apollonian sense is apparent to me.

    1. David Rosales says:

      Fanisk, yeah, I guess, although with a much stronger melancholic and ritualistic sense in it.
      Their second album builds like something between ambient and classical music, I completely disagree with Brett’s hasty overview of it. I will give Noontide its due after I have built up enough momentum.

    2. Hræsvelgr says:

      An obvious extramusical connection is, of course, the swastika – supposedly used as a solar symbol in ancient times, as well as being the symbol of the national socialist ideologies of these two bands.

      1. C.M. says:

        Hmm, that connection went right over my head at first. The idea of United States National Socialists is way too funny to think about while I’m listening to Fanisk so it never crossed my mind.

        Anyway, I also disagree with Cory van der Pol’s arrogant dismissal of “Noontide” a while back, and look forward to reading another’s perspective on their music.

        1. David Rosales says:

          “The idea of United States National Socialists is way too funny to think about while I’m listening to Fanisk so it never crossed my mind.”

          You are remaining too political, too fixed in time, too fixed on prejudice, too human-ego-centered.
          Go universal, go immortal nature, go esoteric.
          National Socialism is completely unimportant and completely besides the point, just as is Marxism itself, or whatever other temporary ideologies occur to us at the moment.

          1. We might view all ideologies as deviations from realism, and point to being realistic as the real source.

            It’s clear we’re in a big historical swing now. Most of those simply recapitulate what they complain about in a new form.

            Let us hope for and work toward that not happening.

          2. C.M. says:

            That’s not what I meant. The topic is political because someone said (probably not even correctly) that Fanisk and NM both espouse National Socialist ideology, trying to draw comparisons between their pre-musical motivation, I think. But healthy political systems are developed organically and not borrowed from other cultures and eras and retrofitted. The concept of American National Socialists is so bizarre that it actually tickles my funny bone.

            But none of this crosses my mind when listening to Fanisk. The music is too vast to be expressive of something merely ideological. Therefore I reject his notion that NS ideology is some major motivating factor in the music. I didn’t mean to sound as if this is something to get hung up on while listening to either band.

        2. Your American equivalent of NSDAP would be Nativist movements.

  5. OliveFox says:

    Forgot about this record. I did not enjoy the latest three NM songs on their split with Graveland, much preferred the Graveland side.

    Might be time for a Nokturnal Mortum reboot…I loved Lunar Poetry, Goat Horns and Welt…so, perhaps I need to re-contextualize before I listen to this one again.

  6. Belisario says:

    It’s nice to read this, I’ve been enjoying this album immensely for years but didn’t come across many opinions about it so far, besides the ones that merely describe it as “weird” on account of its psychedelic rock parts.

  7. Count Ringworm says:

    Goes well with Storm of Steel.

  8. Agree to disagree says:

    And I thought the war in Yugoslavia had put a final end to these intelligentsia-fabricated dreams of Panslavia.

  9. Roger says:

    DM.ORG

    Now pushing heavy metal disguised black metal – which Bathory did better on Hammerheart – at a IP address near YOU.

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