No, Noctambulist do not sound like Blood Incantation, Sulphur Aeon, Immolation, or Gorguts. Or at least, they don’t sound more like Immolation or Gorguts than Ulcerate do. How the press kit missed Noctambulist’s most prominent and obvious influence—not to mention one of a much higher profile than either of the more modern bands mentioned—might never be known. Did Ulcerate become uncool? I doubt it on the grounds that (1) Noctambulist like them enough to try to sound almost exactly like them, and more importantly, (2) that I, as the sole arbiter of brutality both here and in the universe at large, am the only force with the power to decide if and when Ulcerate could ever become uncool.
As for Noctambulist, I also decided that they’re cool, albeit much less so than the kiwis they’re trying to imitate. They seem aware of their place. Atmospheres of Desolation takes a humbler approach to songwriting than the band’s heroes, its five full songs gathered around the five-minute mark. Indeed, Noctambulist’s concision makes a strong case for the relevance of Atmospheres, an album that takes half the time of a similar exercise from the heavy hitters. Atmospheres passes as a cloudburst rather than a hurricane, and as such is much easier to weather.
The substance is all here. Blast beat- and cymbal-heavy drumming competes with tumultuous guitar work across fractured bar lines, the writhing body pockmarked by atmospheric abscesses. The title track puts everything Atmospheres has forward without reservation, borrowing heavily from the approach of Ulcerate’s The Destroyers of All. Noctambulist’s vocal approach varies far more than the Ulcerate comparison suggests. “Denial of Autonomy” contrasts mid-range screams with deep growls just as it contrasts its most violent and propulsive material against sparse atmospheric riffing, backed by a St. Merat-inspired performance from behind the kit. A dry, loud production completes the Ulcerate impression.
Though the sound is complete, the songwriting on display in Atmospheres needs work. Just as “Habitual Falsehood” seems ready to burst into a final flame, it suddenly peters out, providing a weak ending for Atmospheres. When the song gives out, I’m still left wanting more, and while you can always spin Atmospheres again, on repeated listens it still doesn’t deliver that more that I want. Noctambulist never travel to the extremes of experimentation that Ulcerate do, and while that makes for more digestible music and a more distinct identity, Atmospheres feels wanting because of it. The compositions never break a certain level of intensity or reach for extremes of sound or emotion; in their extremity, they can still feel safe.
Noctambulist have the chops to pull off great material, but Atmospheres never pushes them that far. Instead, it relies on well-written and well-paced death metal that doesn’t try anything sketchy. The formula works, and Atmospheres of Desolation makes for a promising debut, but one that won’t blow away listeners already familiar with the great Ulcerate and Ulcerate-adjacent death metal records of the last decade. By truncating the Ulcerate formula, the band have lost a lot of what makes this extreme, atmospheric, and dissonant death metal appealing: its apparent disregard for the listener. Rather than punishing the listener, this album seems to accommodate them, shying away from long songs and delivering ideas they’re already familiar with. These songs sound not just practiced, but produced, and while that’s normally a great thing, regular rules don’t quite apply in this extreme end of extreme metal. Atmospheres lacks the ambition to truly exist for its own expression rather than for the benefit of the listeners, and, as a glutton for this particular form of punishment, that really disappoints me.