Ninkharsag – The Dread March of Solemn Gods Review

Do you like second-wave black metal? Yes? How much are we talking here? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Emperor, and 1 being Viscount Deathspasm’s underground project, Endless Decembres ov Joyless Apathy, where would you say your enjoyment falls? Go on, close your eyes and come up with a number. I’ll wait. Ok, got it? If it’s between 8 and 10, read on! This sophomore album by the UK’s Ninkharsag is gonna be right up your frigid alley. Between 6 and 7? This might be your thing depending on the strength of the second-wave itch that needs to be scratched. Proceed with caution. 6 or below? Probably not your vibe, I’m afraid. Go listen to Spectral Wound, Emperor and Dissection and report back in a month. Still here? Good. I commend your fine taste. For those unaware, Ninkharsag were formed in 2009, but only released their first full-length, The Blood of Celestial Kings in 2015. A solid, if overly-adherent record whose ambitions did not extend beyond simple Emperor worship, it was a good time, if not an enduring time, and received a high score on this esteemed site. Now we have The Dread March of Solemn Gods. Will the good times continue?

From the cover art, to the moody instrumental intro, to the overall aesthetic, Ninkharsag are content to travel on already-invented wheels. This is straight-up second wave worship with almost no attempts made at even the most minor of tweaks.  While there is nothing wrong with this approach per se, and the band is remarkably honest and unpretentious about its aims (the very nature of time and space can rest easy: Ninkharsag will not be challenging them), this does mean that the focus shifts entirely to the songwriting. If you’re going to stick rigidly to an established sound, then the songs had better make up with quality what they lack in originality. In this respect, Ninkharsag are only partially successful.

 

The best thing about The Dread March of Solemn Gods is that, especially in its first half, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable slab of old-school, black metal goodness. Ninkharsag are able to craft melodic, catchy riffs that manage to be compelling without losing their bite. Songs like “The Dread March of Solemn Gods” and “The Necromanteion” combine viciousness and melody in a potent cocktail. Sure, some of the transitions are a bit clunky, but it’s done with so much energy that you barely notice. It’s when the band leaves its abrasive comfort zone and expands its sound that things get really interesting. “Lunar Hex: or the Art of Mighty Lycanthropy” is the worst titled, but best song on the LP, and by aiming for a more soaring, sweeping sound, we begin to see a real personality shining through. It’s a pity it’s so short-lived, because I would love a whole album of this.

The album suffers from two major drawbacks that prevent it from ascending to top-tier black metal status. The first is that there simply aren’t enough ideas here to sustain its length. While the first half zips by, there’s clear repetition by the second, with melodies being reheated and served again in a slightly different skin. “Under the Dead of Night” and “Spectres of the Ancient World” begin almost identically, and their song structures are eerily similar. Too many songs on the second side suffer this fate. Even some of the transitions start to become recycled, to the point that by the time it wraps up with “The Lord of Death and Midnight,” you’ll be predicting the shifts before they happen. This is frustrating, because the band has demonstrated that it doesn’t need to be so reliant on its second-wave sound.

The Dread March of Solemn Gods is ultimately frustrating in its lack of ambition. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me so much, but Ninkharsag offer glimpses throughout the album that they are capable of so much more. They know how to forge great riffs, they know how to bring speed and viciousness, but what they seem to lack is the confidence to really explore their own sound. Ultimately, they end up falling back on what they’re comfortable with, but this results in an album that simply doesn’t have enough original ideas to sustain it. Like Viscount Deathspasm, they’re trapped in a basement, but this one is of their own making. If they ever want to be truly noticed, I would urge them to abandon the warm comfort of the second-wave habitation, and march out on their own.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Vendetta Records
Websites: ninkharsag.bandcamp.com/  |  facebook.com/Ninkharsagblackmetal/
Releases Worldwide: April 30th, 2021

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