Noctambulist – The Barren Form Review

Death metal has always been an all-or-nothing thing for me, and I find myself indulging more and more in its blasting whims as the year progresses.1 While I nonetheless find myself turning off the likes of OSDM and Swedeath because, to quote my father, “it all sounds the same!”, I am drawn to that sweet spot of death metal heaviness and atmosphere. Bands don’t have to be a Mitochondrion or an Ulcerate with their uses of blackened/technical dissonant wizardry, and acts like Sulphur Aeon, Artificial Brain, and Blood Incantation have oft succeeded in their unique breeds that harness death metal’s punishing depth to accomplish unknowable darkness. Whether it conjures aliens, elder gods, or sesquipedalian ramblings, evocation is the aim, and I live for it.

Noctambulist is a blackened death metal band from Denver. Their 2019 debut album Atmospheres of Desolation was an interesting and twisty take on the brutal arts, aptly reflecting its name through an onslaught of vicious vocals, shredding riffs, and relentless percussion, through a contemplative dissonant melodic template. According to the illustrious Kronos, it still needed to hone its songwriting and set out on its own non-Ulcerate-ordained path. Emphasizing atmosphere over brutality, followup The Barren Form enacts much of the same, resulting in an evocative, if not milquetoast, death metal excursion to the depths.

What makes The Barren Form so listenable is Noctambulist’s ability to fuse heaviness and obscurity without diving headlong into the weird-ass Portal portal or the Devourment meat grinder. Shredding riffs and pummeling blastbeats appear alongside haunting and dissonant plucking, punctuated by passages of dark ambiance and jazzy complexity – with none of its various interpretations forgoing its pitch-black tone. Although The Barren Form by no means employs the cavernous tones of OSDM, Noctambulist utilizes the plodding riffs of Behemoth and the subtle semitones and wonky rhythms a la Fractal Generator with unhinged drumming, fiery vocals, and an ear for swelling ambiance to create a sound undeniably subterranean. Sunless, maddening, and haunting, The Barren Form surges and swells with electric energy. “Engulfed” enacts this beautifully, balancing angular staccato riffs that devolve into shuddering dissonance. “Contrivance” and “Dissolution” offer stinging melodies and jazzy bass noodling, followed by gut-dropping chugs and melody that hints beauty before twisting it with mechanical precision – a waking fever dream to a wailing siren.

While Noctambulist does a great job balancing its dissonance with more modern sensibilities, their mix and lack of distinction are The Barren Form’s most glaring pitfalls. While undeniably dark, its guitar depth is notably absent and toothless; while this allows the ambiance and dissonance to shine, the manic drums are forced to carry much of the weight, ending up feeling rather empty. Don’t get me wrong, the down-tuned guitar chug rears its formidable head occasionally, particularly in later tracks, but it lacks consistency and I want more of it. Also, with the full embrace of dissonance being the true star of the show, the closing ambient passage of “Infinitesimal” is when finally Noctambulist hits their stride, making it and “Depletion” rather forgetful and a bit too run-of-the-mill. The second half is simply more realized than the first. Furthermore, The Barren Form can’t escape comparison to aforesaid acts, but especially to Infernal Coil’s Within a World Forgotten. Forgoing grind and embracing a cleaner production, The Barren Form enacts a nearly identical mood to the Idahoans’ centerpiece “49 Suns,” complete with haunting ambiance and dissonance alongside blasting death metal. Although I have longed for WAWF’s followup, Noctambulist’s attempt does fall a bit flat.

At the end of the day, Noctambulist has created an atmospheric blackened death metal album. If that’s what you’re looking for, look no further. Pitch-black and punishing, it balances brutality and sting nicely, but is hindered by its frail mix and lack of distinctness. While I am critical of this piece as a whole, I do admire what these Coloradans have put together: in its emphasis of atmosphere over heft, it’s right up my alley. However, as Kronos stated in his review for Atmospheres of Desolation, dissodeath is intriguing for its punishing apathy for listeners, and Noctambulist still seems too content accommodating them and its balance suggests lack of commitment. Furthermore, as death metal is renowned for its heaviness, The Barren Form offers tasteful dissonance and nice soundscapes with fantastic performances all around, but the smashed-in skull will be sorely missed.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 2nd, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. My motto for this year is “If it’s dissonant death metal and Kronos is too busy for it, gimme.” No exception here.
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