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.

Bureviy – Concealed Beyond the Space (2015)

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Hailing from Ukraine, Bureviy (Буревій = Hurricane) play a modern take on black metal which makes use of old school sub-styles by keeping them relatively uncontaminated but subsumed under the band’s personal voice. In Concealed Beyond the Space we find the folk-oriented black metal with rock sensibilities of Nokturnal Mortum, the swaying of long melodies of Drudkh, and a collection of strumming, tremolo picking and metal riffing that meld as diverse raw material for a black metal language descended and definitely compatible with but ultimately different from the more uniform black metal of old.

 

This approach is somewhat of a signature among Eastern European and Québécois black metal bands. The phenomenon is interesting when found in albums that manage to channel this almost faceless style into beautiful and meaningful expression. It demands a stricter attention to musical coherence in composition as the link between musical ideas will not be found in stylistic uniformity. Bureviy even makes use of acoustic guitars to decorate or fill passages that at first may feel like misplaced filler. A closer and paradoxically more comprehensive look also shows these passages are in line with the sections they connect and are not gimmicky interludes but articulations, points of exhalation.

 

A single spin of this will pass unnoticed. It is like a dense temperate forest, you need to get close and see the trees, the rocks and the streams. It takes more time and familiarity with the album to experience what it is trying to transmit. Ancient Slavic nature-worship and the mystic contemplation in tune with the proud mountains, the warm hillsides and the powerful rivers is channeled through Concealed Beyond the Space.

Khors – Cold

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Khors is a Ukrainian black metal band formed in 2004. Coming from the same general scene as Drudkh and Nokturnal Mortum, Khors’ brand of black metal is made by mostly simple riffs and long, simple and slow melodies.  These are all very typical of the Slavic black metal sound. Accessible to the novice listener of black metal, Khors offers an experience that lies closer to what purists would consider closer to black metal than most mainstream acts rising the flag of the genre despite the real nature of their music

Cold consists mostly of simple guitar strumming outlining singable melodies with constant rock-like drums that use the double bass intermittently. The music relies on heavy repetition with very little changes. This is compensated by the tightening and releasing the drums provide through the simple effect of using and not using double bass drums. Particularly understated keyboards provide the spacious backdrop in which ghastly vocals carefully make sparing apparitions.

Production in this reissue of the album is stellar, outshining that of releases by countrymen Nokturnal Mortum. The rock-oriented sensibilities of this Ukranian black metal could tick off purist fans of the more extreme expressions of black metal, but Cold remains a black metal album at its center. Content-wise representing little more than a mouthful for the experienced listener, this is a perfect release for those starting out with the genre. Strongly recommended as an authentic gateway album.

How flowing black metal took over the genre

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Some have wondered — including part of our older staff — as to why we don’t feature the newer-styled black metal acts like Drudkh, Blazebirth Hall, and the like here on DeathMetal.org. Our answer is simple: they’re part of the same distraction that killed black metal.

It is in fact an illusion to argue that black metal still exists. Rather, something exists that uses the name of black metal, but it’s not really related to it musically or artistically. In the underground, it’s mostly punk-based bands or the above type of flowing black metal. Above that, it’s DeafHeaven: shoegaze/emo/indie with pretenses of being socially unacceptable.

We all know how it got this way. In 1994, the momentum ran out. The original guys who made death metal and black metal had each had their say and were bogged down in band politics, label economics and personal life decisions (stay with band, or be able to afford food). It was clear there was not much money in underground metal as a career.

However the following years showed us a simple truth: people were afraid of underground metal. Thus an internship in underground metal before going on to a career in a different genre could be quite lucrative. It was “street cred” of a comparable level of being in a gangster hip-hop group. Thus the gates opened, and in flowed the herd, bringing with them their disease.

On the underground side of things an interesting transformation took place. The original black metal emphasized a kind of intensity that could not be replicated. So bands aimed for the next best things, which was to take that surface and put candy-metal underneath it. Specifically, stuff like the following:

In general, these bands have one salient attribute: they use longer melodies but these melodies tend to be recursive instead of developing, giving them a sense of internal dialogue like meandering thoughts on a balmy day with a cool breeze, watching over a town and thinking idle notions.

Where did this style come from? Let’s recover the generations of black metal. It’s nonsense to say black metal existed before the 1984-1987 generation of Bathory, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sodom and Sarcofago. Even then, those bands were not black metal per se so much as proto-underground metal sharing traits between death metal and black metal.

While others often mention Venom, Mercyful Fate and other early bands as being “black metal,” these were musically heavy metal acts not black metal at all. They may have been inspirations, but they shared no musical relation to what was to follow, and yet fit within the genre descriptions given to them if one ignores subject matter. Venom was NWOBHM right alongside Motorhead, and Mercyful Fate fit into the proto-speed metal generation that overlapped with NWOBHM and included Tank, Satan and Blitzkrieg.

After the proto-underground generation, most bands explored death metal because it had the most immediate possibilities. What defines death metal is that it turned riff salad into a narrative form and thus created a new type of progressive music that was progressive at the compositional level, but surely not at the mechanics! It was thus a perfect fusion of 1970s avant-prog (King Crimson) and the utter nihilism of punk (Discharge, Cro-Mags, Amebix). This fusion was apparent ever since Iggy and the Stooges and Black Sabbath kept one-upping each other with albums from the late 1960s through mid 1970s.

The first generation of black metal really came about in 1990 with Immortal. Bathory had developed fully with Blood, Fire, Death but had also regressed into the speed metal styles popular at the time. Immortal had a simple idea: take the approach of Blood, Fire, Death or Hammerheart and adapt the mechanics of 1985’s The Return to it. The result fused the extreme with the progressive-ish yet again, and from it was born Immortal’s first album. There was also a change in topic, spurred in part by the Odinic (Bathory) and occult (Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost) ideals of the past generation.

By 1991, it was clear that a new movement was afoot. Some of the best bands were hovering on the edges of this movement, making melodic death metal inspired by the previous generation of Swedes (At the Gates, Carnage), Norwegians (Cadaver, Molested) and Finns (Demigod, Amorphis, Demilich). In addition, there were “dark” bands like Merciless and Cemetary which essentially made older genres tinged with the mood and feeling of the new music. But during that fateful year, the early works of Burzum, Immortal, Darkthrone, and Mayhem were all tumbling onto the record racks, followed by Emperor, Gorgoroth and Enslaved.

The next generation defined itself as the space between the Emperor/Enslaved split, which really opened up black metal worldwide as people could easily understand this as an aesthetic, and Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The former more resembled the horror movie music and progressive heavy metal of the time, and the latter changed black metal from something that vaguely fit into rock song-format into something entirely unrecognizable, a hybrid with ambient music and progressive avantgarde. But right in the middle of this generation something interesting happened.

Inspired in part by Burzum’s use of melodic development to underscore longer pieces like “My Journey to the Stars” and Emperor’s vast “Inno a Satana” in addition to the more theatrical works of Gorgoroth like “Sorg,” these bands made longer songs. However, their melodies were not designed to be distinctive as much to preserve a feeling in mid-air for as long as possible, so they tended to use recursive patterns within the melody. This and the fixed tremolo strum and background rhythm gave them a flowing effect, which Graveland exploited over a waltz beat for maximum detachment from modern ‘reality.’

Eventually, this culminated in the Ancient guys coming up with something that sounded like it could have come off of a Camel, Yes or Genesis album, but only if those bands were committed to death of humanity and restoration of a medieval order:

It was from this template that the Blazebirth Hall and related Slavic and Colombian bands derived their sound. However, they’d done something none of the original bands did: they removed the ambiguity, struggle, reverence and steadfastness that were part of the original, which itself derived them from 500 years of European proto-Romanticist thought.

In other words, made candy-metal. It’s no surprise mainstream industry linked this up to its closest pop music relation, shoegaze and emo/punk/indie, and quickly made a cheesefest out of it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-HdZ06Zsqw

Hint: this is what other kids were listening to in 1990-1995, if they hadn’t already gone for the full mainstream-fest of Nirvana and Pantera. The record labels knew this formula worked, just needed a stylish new outfit to put it in… so they recruited black metal. Interesting how both the underground and aboveground sold out in parallel.

Sadistic Metal Reviews: Alien Invasion

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If you want something done right, do it yourself. That also applies to being yourself. Metal has a commodity that the markets and social groups want, which is that it is untamed. Rebellious. Disobedient.

That type of rebellion, if domesticated and made harmless, could mean a lot of money. Your hum-drum product could now be an “edgy lifestyle choice.” Your boring minivans could seem like party wagons. Your corporate brand could get some spiff back in its step and be dangerous again, with a little heavy metal(tm) brand rebellion.

And yet, metal resists. To be used by others for their own purposes is to be conquered, and to be conquered is to be assimilated. For metal that would mean being another flavor of rock, which is the music we turned to metal to escape. In other words, total failure.

Not everyone got the memo. There are a number of bands, both successful and obscure, trying to make a name for themselves by helping with the assimilation. It’s time to mock them sadistically and take vengeance upon their self-image.

drudkh-eternal_turn_of_the_wheelDrudkh – Eternal Turn of the Wheel

A fantastic example of how modernity twists the heart of black metal beyond recognition, this album is fruity symphonic rock masquerading as metal through the vocals and guitar tone. Songs start with nothing and go nowhere, though still manage to take up an inordinate amount of time. Entirely derivative of what came before it, there is nothing on this disc to make it distinguishable from the other bands in this style; though at least the groove is catchy.

zarach_baal_tharaghZarach ‘Baal’ Tharagh – Eternal Darkness

With over a hundred releases, you would think this one man band would stumble upon a consistent formula or develop some song writing ability. Wrong. This uses the overblown “recorded through a trashcan on a boombox” aesthetic to fool the unwary into thinking it’s black metal, but it’s just ineptly performed 3 chord garage rock played with marginally faster tempos and over processed vocals that make Xasthur sound like The Three Tenors. Occasionally, early Satyricon/Ulver styled weepy riffs are played, but the inclusion of a Stooges cover confirms this guy should just quit poisoning the world of metal with his toxic, vapid nonsense and play in a pub band.

altar_of_plagues-teethed_glory_and_injuryAltar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury

“Artistic” performance dancers music video and “moody” image aside, Altar of Plagues attempt legitimacy with metalcore fans/Facebook headbangers by playing the “we heard Deathspell Omega” card. Gone are the weepy and whiny one dimensional Slowdive songs for clinical depressives, and here is The Dillinger Escape Plan attempting to intonate their guitars during a meth binge. All the faux-intellectual interviews about Björk having more artististry than “that stupid death metal nonsense with the blastbeats” doesn’t change this simple fact of life: screaming over random dissonance while stop-start “hitting a trash can” noises are played over it is not “high art.”

the_meads_of_asphodel-the_murder_of_jesus_the_jewThe Meads of Asphodel – The Murder of Jesus the Jew

Another example of mashing rock together with black metal, this one goes for the carnival of progressive and “space” rock being the focus of songs, together with riffs somewhat reminiscent of black metal if it were made by hearing-impaired children with Down’s Syndrome. Combined with ANGRY MAN vocals and lyrics so profound even your local metalcore band would be in awe, this band truly has it all for the devoted hipster. Functional people need not apply.

book_of_sand-destruction_not_reformationBook of Sand – Destruction, Not Reformation

Stupid protest rock by indie slam poets who play black metal ironically to get people to donate to AIDS research and “spread awareness” about other “social concerns” while rebelling from the safety of their Minnesota suburb. This is not black metal in the same way bands like Liturgy and Deafheaven aren’t. It’s a bunch of weepy, bittersweet screamo chords strummed really fast in a constant cycle while a violin wanders about aimlessly over the whole dreck to drum up some claim towards being “avant-garde.” Mundane crowd-friendly themes are pushed to the forefront to create a “safe, friendly and social” version of “black metal” that soccer moms with bowlcuts can listen to while on their way to the Deepak Chopra book club meeting in their “food not bombs” sticker adorned SUVs.

wan-wolves_of_the_northWan – Wolves of the North

Here we go again. What are they calling it these days anyway? Black n’ roll? This is no different than a poppy Oi punk band occasionally lapsing toward Venom-dom while flaunting Bathory and Hellhammer patches for “forum cred”. “EXTREMEE!!!!!” moments occur in a third rate NWN Blasphemy ripoff moment here or there, but it lapses into what sounds like happy 3-chord rock n roll all over again. This is the “black metal” version of Nirvana’s Bleach LP.

veil_of_maya-eclipseVeil of Maya – Eclipse

Is metalcore the final frontier for stupidity? Claiming to be a “progressive and technical death metal”, you can be assured from the band photo of college hipsters that this is not. “Djent” rhythm noodling, tough guy grunting, and a “beetle rattling around in a plastic bin” drum performance are just sideshow elements of what this band truly is: Spawn of Possession playing their favorite moments from Underoath and Thrice songs in double speed. This platter is so weepy and weak despite it’s speed and down tuning that this band might as well drop the whole “metal” act and just become Paramore already.

cynic-carbon_based_anatomyCynic – Carbon Based Anatomy

After seeing how pop music in disguise can be construed as something “unique” after touring with Animals As Leaders and discovering Sumerian Records, Cynic further desecrate their name by hiring the same PR firm that Opeth and Ulver consult with when writing their testosterone sapping abominations. The end result: Coldplay with ADHD. The only element retained from their past are their Holdsworth-esque lead noodlings, but there is no metal to be found here. Even the vocoder was dropped for choir boy whining and multi-tracked prepubescent crying, taking the forefront in songs that emotionally peak in a way that give them the feel of one of those “deep” Adele songs that go viral on Facebook.

fen-dustwalkerFen – Dustwalker

Wolves in the Throne Room was pretentious and bad, but this… Most of the tracks flounder about lifelessly with no purpose in a manner similar to Slowdive or Spiritualized while an “agonized” vocal track whines in a manner similar to Anathema and then, wait for it, the innovation occurs! Remember when people heard black metal to hear black metal? BORING. Now we have been graced with Fen’s contribution to the world of underground music: throwing out the vocal track to later day Katatonia songs and replacing them with raspy vocals. Like the other shoegaze black metal infiltrators, this band’s extreme riffs sound as heavy as a Type O Negative single and they will stop at nothing into forcing you to give up on life and retire to a frivolous existence of buying Deepak Chopra books and talking about the latest Walking Dead episode while in line at a Starbucks.

and_oceans-amgod…and Oceans – A.M.G.O.D.

Everyone knows underground metal from Finland is often “quirky”, but …and Oceans have no character or idea to express beyond radio rock song craft with In Flames video game muzak underpinnings. So how do they draw attention? Covering it up with a “strange” band image, stupid name, tons of samples, and electronica interludes. This album makes post-1994 Amorphis look consistent by comparison. All of the “avant-garde” gimmickry this band employed doesn’t change the fact that this is Rob Zombie with swede-AIDS.

dodheimsgard-666_internationalDødheimsgard – 666 International

If this isn’t a joke… Going from Dimmu Borgir “extreme” blast section to a mash up between Voivod and Marilyn Manson before culminating in Queen styled stadium rock in one song, this band is about as “black metal” as Cradle of Filth at this point in their career. Like other sham artists Aborym and Ved Buens Ende, Dødheimsgard seem to think making a melange of the goofiest and most obnoxious sounds in juxtaposition to “harsh” metal moments is an evolutionary step forward. The androgynous band image suggests this band is making an attempt to draw in the Dimmu mall-goth crowd. In a perfect world, these clowns would drop the guitars and rasps out of their music, delete the extraneous elements, and just become VNV Nation or Apoptygma Berserk.

epicardiectomy-abhorrent_stench_of_posthumous_gastorectal_desecrationEpicardiectomy – Abhorrent Stench of Posthumous Gastrorectal Desecration

Maybe people were right in criticizing Obituary for wearing jogging shorts and touring with Madball and Agnostic Front during their The End Complete era. What we have here is pure, unadulterated idiocy. Nothing about this is metal at all. Growled out rap verses over chugging rhythms that demonstrate all the redundant noise one can possibly churn out of the first 2 frets on a drop tuned 7-string does not change this from being anything other than being hip-hop on guitars. “Liege of Inveracity has a slam riff” they say… True, but Effigy of the Forgotten didn’t sound like the Wu-Tang Clan either.

hacktivist-hacktivistHacktivist – Hacktivist

Djent with rapping vocals. Let that settle in for a moment. A conspiracy theory website lyrics slant for an image of “social awareness” to flaunt “importance”. What does this all mean? The abomination known as Hacktivist. With bands like Periphery and Animals As Leaders infiltrating the metal underground with their “deep” nu-metal for the impressionable, it’s no surprise that someone would attempt to “legitimize” this genre by force feeding the masses what is effectively Limp Bizkit after some guitar lessons. For all the “dissing” aimed toward the New World Order, this album reeks of a product that only modernity and globalization can produce.

baroness-yellow_and_greenBaroness – Yellow & Green

It’s no surprise this band got so big. Utilize the hipster rock slant Clutch uses for “street cred” with trucker hat sporting “stoners”, but then add the radio rock of The White Stripes into the mix, and you have even more inoffensive teen rock that sounds like Weezer. This band’s music is so painfully banal that it would be no surprise if one of their tracks has been licensed for use in a 16 and Pregnant episode.

mastodon_feist-feistodonMastodon/Feist – Feistodon

Somewhere out there, someone in a Sonic Youth t-shirt smoking a cigarette wedged between his pinky and ring finger came in his pants. By teaming up with singer-songwriter Feist, Mastodon have released their most hipster pandering product yet. Covering each others songs reveals the true ethos behind these abominations – weepy garage rock. You can throw down-tuned instruments and “loud” drumming at this thing all you want, but this is just Weezer covering an Alanis Morrissette song from both sides. Similar to other flavor of the month sham peddlers Boris, Mastodon is all ironic posturing first, band second.

lustre-they_awoke_to_the_scent_of_springLustre – They Awoke to the Sound of Spring

If you thought nobody would ever bother make an album consisting only of distorted guitar arpeggios and linear synth lines, you would be wrong. How this gets filed under black metal is a mystery, as this album is not even metal to begin with. This is hipster lullaby music, an album perfect for listening after consuming just a few too many frappuccinos. In fact, Starbucks should play this in their advertisements. They’d probably make a fortune.