Nokturnal Ritual – A Review Retrospective of Underground UK Black Metal

Surging through Sheffield’s industrial hellscape Nokturnal Ritual come out from the old Earth.

Formed in 2014, Nokturnal Ritual was spawned by Karhmul, most popularly known for his melancholic black metal solo project Abandoned By Light, and Kadavr, guitarist for blackened thrash quartet Arendia.

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From Left to Right: Kadavr and Karhmul ( circa 2015)

In a similar vein to how Kriegmaschine deviated from the somber depressive approach of Mgla, utilising the same two members to focus on writing crushing metal material, Nokturnal Ritual came about to pay tribute to, in their own words, the forefathers of the second wave of black metal. What happens when a depressive metal mastermind and a thrash guitarist truly join forces in the pursuit of face-melting blistering black metal? The result came in the form of the band’s debut album, Ushering a New Era of Agony.

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Nokturnal Ritual – Ushering a New Era of Agony (Released in 2014 independently)

Straight from the off set it is easy to hear the old school influence in everything from Karhmul’s vocal performance to the ice cold yet razer sharp guitar tone which slashes throughout the album’s 44 minute runtime.

A slower and more deliberate approach to song writing is in full force on the record and this can be heard especially on tracks such as ‘My Succubus’ where the pulse pounding and relentless riffage and drumming slows down to deliver a song with vibes of mid-era Marduk before the record returns to its aggressive blasting with the catchy and thrashy as Hell ‘Plaguewielder’ with a sound not too far away from the likes of Witchery or Darkthrone’s latter output, letting some of Kadavr’s fast fretting shine through.

The use of bass guitar on the record is prominent and features many sections of specifically crafted independent bass lines riding over guitar riffs and cascading with their own twisted melodies and these parts work well in the slower songs, as they get their time to bleed into the mix without drowning out the guitars or disrupting the flow and rhythm.

‘With Hate I Despise’ is what I believe to be the standout track from the entire record. Straight away we hear Karhmul’s powerful blackened growl tear its way through some headbanging old school black metal guitar riffs as the double kicks blast away in full force before the dark tremolo melodies take centre stage, even showcasing a haunting yet brief acoustic arpeggio section which feels just as welcome.

Production wise it definitely has the feel of the old school early second wave ‘Necro’ sound, following in the wake of the aforementioned Darkthrone and the likes of Xasthur, Burzum and Mutiilation, though this album pre-dates any of the Abandoned By Light full length records and released at a time when Karhmul’s main output was the DSBM demo tapes, so such production style is expected, and the pair make the best use out of the sound to create a unique and catchy album in a heavily oversaturated genre that shows simply why they should be revered as one of the United Kingdom’s most prolific black metal acts of recent years.

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Nokturnal Ritual – Entity of the Unholy (2015) – (Released Independently)

Clocking in at just over half as long as their debut record, on Entity of the Unholy, Karhmul and Kadavr find their voice and refine their unique strengths alongside their ambition to innovate on the genre and the results are ultimately leaps and bounds ahead of what came before.

For a start, everything sounds much crisper and the two at this point had found what worked for them in a way where the synergy between the two musicians really showed in their musicianship. This can be heard in the title track that opens the album, as Kadavr’s flute melodies start and finish a song as well as coast blissfully accenting the faster guitar riffs and more aggressive drums on display.

Karhmul’s vocals on the album sound much more confident and he lets his full range show with full effect through the record’s short but sweet runtime of 26 minutes. His voice on this release is familiar to the likes of Pest (Gorgoroth) as his high screams and low growls and grunts (in a similar fashion to Atilla of Mayhem) intervene with the cold and unforgiving wall of sound presented by the rhythm guitars and ride over the lead and percussion masterfully.

The general speed of the album is a noticable upgrade from their debut also. The tempo of the guitars and the drum work blast a little faster than what was heard on Ushering a New Era of Agony, however it is safe to say that the flute and additional elements replaced the slower parts as heard on their debut which is a welcome change in my opinion.

Songs such as ‘Into the Void’ have a stunning array of dark melodies cast throughout as the two guitarists blend their signature styles seemlessly creating a very special blend of what could almost be classed as melodic death mixed with their old school black metal approach. A catchy chorus on this song accents and builds upon the groundwork laid by their first album too.

Any problems had with the production on the prior album have been completely rectified by this point. Everything stands out a little more than before and there is a full dynamic range used to great effect throughout in a way that allows the listener to appreciate the subtle nuaence more as a result.

Whereas the band’s first album felt like they had something to prove, releasing the record as a proof of execution and masterfully so, It’s safe to say that the two really came into their own with their second record, and whilst it may not be as long as what released before, Entity of the Unholy takes a lot more risks and reaps all the reward with a catchy, melodic but uncomprimisingly heavy second wave black metal album.

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Nokturnal Ritual – Out From The Old Earth (2018) – (Released Independently)

So after two successful albums in a short time span and their popularity steadily increasing, it would have made sense for the pair to be immediately getting to work on their latest and greatest album yet right? Well, that’s not exactly what happened. For whatever reason behind the scenes, there was around a three year gap seperating the band’s work on Entity of the Unholy and their (at time of writing) most recent record Out From The Old Earth. Yet, all that time away from the project did little to dull the blade that is Nokturnal Ritual and the band returned for what is unequivocally their finest hour.

The years away from the band saw Karhmul find infamy with his Abandoned By Light project as a total of six studio albums were recorded and released in Ritual’s absence between the years of 2015 until April 2018. It is apparent to the listener that every element of Out From The Old Earth is a result, a culmination of everything Karhmul had learned playing and production wise, and as such joining forces once again with Kadavr, the two demonstrate the best of their ability from start to finish.

Out From The Old Earth pleasantly sees the return of the flute heard in their second album whilst also bringing back the slower sections from their debut as well. That is not to say that the band’s third full length outing lacks any new ideas of its own, Old Earth confidently showcases a stronger emphasis on dark atmospheres and folk inspiration than what was heard in previous works.

As stated previously, the boys are at the top of their game on this one. The production is exactly what anyone would want out of a black metal release; guitars have that satisfying crunch to the tone without being too noisy or distorted and still manage to keep enough mid and high end to rupture their way through the drumming. The percussion overall sees its most significant upgrade in the band’s arsenal as everything from the snare hits and ride crashes on the blast beats to the rapid machine gun fire of the double kicks is utilised in a compelling way.

Karhmul’s vocal performance here is arguably the best it has ever sounded throughout his lengthy back catalogue of releases and its no sin to say that he has developed one of the best voices in the entirety of UK black metal. The anguished screams of early Abandoned By Light are complemented excellently but latter-era Varg Vikernes sounding whispers and a much more fierce deeper growl than what was heard previously. This increased attention on his vocal work on a much more tight and cultivated collection of songs is a testament to the commitment of the two to push the boundries of not only themselves as musicians but the genre as a whole.

The atmospheric guitar sections that makes up many of the rhythm guitar riffs throughout the album, and are put to great use on certain songs like ‘Rising from the Deep’ and album closer ‘Born Enemy’ exhibit omens that would not be out of place in a the Swedish black metal scene, specifically the likes of Dark Funeral and even Dissection.

Out From The Old Earth is an album made with a lot of care and love for the genre that shows clear as night that the band’s ambition and scope only grew with their experience and their longing to leave their black mark on black metal. It features the best parts of all that came before it on previous releases and builds to improve upon them in every single facet, it is the culimation of years of experience and the duo’s need to return to prove why they made significant waves in the underground in the first place.

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Karhmul – Vocals, Guitar

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Kadavr – Guitar, Bass, Flute

As of writing, this is everything that the band have done together in their five years since formation. Time will tell if and when there is more to come and what direction the two black metallers decide to go in towards the future. If you are interested in what the best of UK black metal has to offer or want to know where to start with the underground scene, then you could do so much worse than to listen to Nokturnal Ritual. Long may they reign.

Nokturnal Ritual on Bandcamp: https://nokturnalritual.bandcamp.com/

Nokturnal Ritual on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nokturnalritual/

Nokturnal Ritual on Metal Archives: https://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Nokturnal_Ritual/3540382953

The Best Metal Albums of 2018

The previous year brought us some outstanding releases from bands old and new, especially in the field of extreme metal, which is largely what we will be focusing on tonight.

It’s taken a long time for me to compile my thoughts and reign in what I believe to be the best of the year, with that said and in no particular order; Pit of Plagues presents the best metal albums of 2018.

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Mol – Jord

In April, Mol finally released their debut album Jord, a crushing mix of black metal riffs and atmospheric beauty, in the vein of bands such as Deafheaven and Alcest. However, what sets them apart is the emotional range of vocalist Kim and his unique approach to extreme vocals. The swelling depth to the masterful guitar work which weaves so eloquently in with the powerful reverb-heavy double kicks and blast beats, all culminates into a truly moving and beautiful experience unlike any other. I also had the pleasure to meet the band after their set performance at Damnation Festival which is what truly sold me on their style. Do not miss out on this band, they are something special.

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Uada – Cult of a Dying Sun

Melodic black metal newcomers Uada return with an astounding second album, Cult of a Dying Sun. This release is something which genuinely caught me off-guard as before Cult, I never knew of the band and quickly fell in love. Dripping with punishing choking melodies, brutal rhythms and a horrific blackened demonic vocal performance. The album has elements of latter-era Paradise Lost with the slow-winding lead playing coupled with the edge of Dissection and technicality of Emperor. For fans of melodic metal, this is for you. For people who enjoy their metal black, this is for you. It is almost transcendental of genre due to the magnitude and scope of the release and should not be skipped over.

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Gra – Vasen

Over the last year or two Gra have genuinely become one of my favourite bands and their brand of cold old-school black metal is something that I cannot get enough of. Known as the vocalist of Dark Funeral, Heljarmadr’s guitar playing and outstanding voice lend itself beautifully to a vicious attack on the senses. It is a little more melodic, tamer and composed than Ending but the Norse blood runs cold in these veins. It will not re-invent the wheel but it just might set the world alight.

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At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself

The masters of Melodic Death Metal return. Gothenburg’s lasting legacy is safe in the hands of At The Gates and on album six they prove it with flying colours. Following up on 2014’s comeback album, At War With Reality, Drink has more of a sharp edge to it. The refined old-school riffs are reminiscent of The Red in the Sky is Ours especially but with the benefits of time and modern production. It’s fierce and does not sacrifice what made them the monumental name in death metal that they became. It’s everything you could ever want from them perfected to a tee.

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Obscura – Diluvium

The level of technicality and in-your-face guitar riffs make this album a stand out in and of itself. As far as technical death metal goes, of recent years many bands in that genre have began to sound so similar. Where the level of playing and showman performance outshines and washes out the potential for strong songwriting. Obscura have managed once again to write a catchy, heavy and impressive album that empowers the listener like few other albums I heard last year. Immense would be the best way to describe the layers and depth to what Obscura have dropped.

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1914 – Blind Leading The Blind

Horrifying. That’s the only way to accurately try to summarise my thoughts on 1914’s latest album. It’s a release that has genuinely haunted me since I first heard it months ago, and this is due largely in part to the brutal riffs, the hollow agonised screams and the expert use of sampling that features throughout. This album tells a grand story on both sides, the futility of The Great War as pictured for both the Axis and the Allies. I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of it, I think enjoyment is not the right word. It’s an experience, it’s visceral. As dark and savage in tone as subject matter, this is essential listening.

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Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest

I still cannot put into words what this album means to me. From the album title itself, the fact I have their symbols inked on my arms, and the overall message is clear to me. As Nergal said once, they couldn’t top The Satanist, at least in terms of the title and its impact, so they went a different direction. Darkest is tamer in places and features acoustic guitar parts, clean singing in choruses and less sharpness when it comes to guitar tone and production. However, all of these artistic choices culminate together for a more refined, mature and artistic album as a result. It is catchy, It is memorable and it gets their new message across. The Satanist was the band proving they were back after Nergal was diagnosed with Leukemia, that they were defiantly taking a stand. Darkest is more comfortable, Behemoth are back on top and more free with nothing to prove anymore.

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Sargeist – Unbound

The best that Finland has to offer, a band which has never done any wrong. Sargeist have never strayed far from their roots of second-wave black metal but have become masters of the craft. At the end of the night, it’s all about the riffs, blastbeats and shrieking vocals. Unbound is the latest step closer towards perfecting their sound and coming into their own. They haven’t done anything to massively shake the foundations of the genre, but they will never have to. Hail Sargeist!

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Dir En Grey – The Insulated World

Perhaps Japan’s greatest and most diverse metal band, Dir En Grey’s latest offering following up 2014’s Arche, is a triumphant return to their older style met with the grandiose scale of their last two albums. This album pulls its influences from all over the place, It’s impossible to nail down and pin point exactly what and who they are. Same time, Dir En Grey’s versatile approach to music is as fascinating now, ten albums in, as it was when they first hit the scene and all that they achieved throughout. The production is so off-kilter in an interesting way, Kyo has never sounded better, the guitar work is so varied and emotes so powerfully. It’s an album you have to hear to believe and its up there with Withering To Death, Gauze and The Marrow of Bone as their best. I had the pleasure to finally see them live back in October and they truly are one of the best bands in the world. Long may their chaos reign.

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When Plagues Collide – Tutor of the Dying

Melodic, symphonic, brutal and overall heavy as fuck. When Plagues Collide’s debut album is absolutely outstanding. It’s dark and disgustingly gritty, paired with the violent vocal performances, pounding drums and savage guitar riffs. It’s modern, if this is the new age of Deathcore then I am fully supportive of a new rising blend of darkness.

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Abandoned By Light – Our Fortress is the Rain – The Angel Experiment Part II

An outstanding masterclass in melancholic black metal from one of England’s most prolific creators of the cold and the dark. Not too much I can say on this one here as to not repeat myself but full review available on the site here: https://pitofplagues.wordpress.com/2018/11/16/abandoned-by-light-our-fortress-is-the-rain-the-angel-experiment-part-ii-album-review/

Honourable Mentions:

Ghost – Prequelle
Megaherz – Komet
Abigor – Hollenzwang
Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan is Drawn
Korpiklaani – Kulkija
Aborted – Terrorvision
Groza – Unified in Void
Watain – Wolf Trident Eclipse
Cryogenic Defilement – Worldwide Extermination

Abandoned by Light – And Here I Stand Betwixt Light and Dark Review

Karhmul of Abandoned by Light concludes his trilogy of albums (starting with the atmosphere dark ambient album As Witness to Passing Aeons, and then followed up with the raw Melancholia).

And Here I Stand Betwixt Light and Dark is the most polished, focused and sinister of the Abandoned by Light catalogue and expertly showcases many of Karhmul’s unique strengths; long songs with ear worm riffs that never outstay their welcome, masterfully accompanied by his piercing, sharp vocal delivery.

The goal of Betwixt was to combine the atmospheric efforts of Aeons with the rawness of Melancholia and this has resulted in an expert blend of the two distinctive sides to his style. It is particularly commendable when focusing on the instrumental opener ‘Caressed by the Dying Embers’ and how it’s beautifully stark and depressing ambience sets up the brutally aggressive Trepidation that immediately follows.

There is a lot more that is concise and focused on this album, it truly appears that Karhmul has really begun to master and craft that ‘Melancholic’ black metal sound that has since become a stronger staple of the project since prior albums from the year prior.

There are many highlights in an album like this that is quite lengthy; the title track itself continues to rage through at a blistering pace one minute with blast beats blaring over screaming guitar riffs, only find its groove at different speeds too. There’s a real sense of progression, weight and atmosphere to all of the songs on the album, and despite their run time, none ever outstay their welcome. Two examples of which include;

The single from the album, Journey Through the Everlasting Kingdom of Bone especially highlights these elements as the song chaotically weaves in and out; flickering between old school black metal brutality, to slower crushing riffs and dancing between long, emotional and atmospheric ambient pieces. Truly is something to marvel at.

Summoning Annihilation from Inferno’s Maw is essentially the opposite; and demonstrates the diversity of tone, stylistic choice and levels of aggression on display. The song revels in atmospheric, drenched in layered tremolo picked riffs; leaning a lot more on the rawness of the prior album and all the better for it in contrast.

The two cover songs I believe will be polarising depending on the kind of black metal people enjoy. Myrkur and Ghost Bath are very controversial figures in the genre at the moment and I commend the guts and bravery of Karhmul for wholeheartedly embracing two songs he loves and crafting his own spin on them. The Golden Number cover was especially moving; with Karhmul’s take on Nameless’ shoe-gaze style wailing being adapted in a powerful and haunting way.

Personally I didn’t really care much for the Myrkur cover as I am not a fan of the source material but I can definitely appreciate the level of depth and care that went into it. I hope that others listening can get a lot more of it than I did.

Production wise; this is Karhmul’s best yet. The drum work throughout is ever present and never drowns out the guitar work on display. The vocal range is impressive in itself, as is the way in which such emotion is bled from the listener on every word. Tonally strong lyrically and instrumentally from the first chord played, to the last that closes out the release.

In summary; Karhmul etches in stone another powerful, haunting and atmospheric release that rounds out a promising trilogy in a way that will leave very few people disappointed. It was a bold move and a hell of a risk and undertaking, but having the proof in front of me like this, there are few words as fitting for this dark, twisted masterpiece of an album.