I’ve been listening to a LOT of Blackened Death Metal lately and I have to say the whole “symphonic black/death” style is really sinking its teeth into the genre. I’m not condemning it, but sometimes these symphonic elements can easily be overdone. Septicflesh is a good example of the sort of over-the-top delivery to be had with their dark, symphonic landscapes. Though I’ve become quite a fan of theirs, their shit is literally dripping with orchestration. As expected, a clear line was been drawn between those that dig these metal movie soundtracks and those that don’t. Though I count myself a supporter of the symphonic approach, when I get a promo from a band boasting of similarities to Septicflesh, Dimmu Borgir and Fleshgod Apocalypse, I become cynical and fear another clone. While Spain’s Noctem has some symphonic-ness to their black-infused death, they’re far below the saturation point. Thankfully, their third full-length, Exilium, brings simplicity and maturity to their mix of old school and modern blackened death. The album cover is the perfect visual representation of Noctem’s “3-D” recipe: darkness, death and demonology.
That being said, ten seconds into opener, “Enuma Elish,” you are going to call me a fucking liar. However, the beautiful and unsettling opener is a one-time expression of Septicflesh-like symphonics on Exilium. The catchy rhythms heard there are quickly fucked up by the badass second track, “Apsu Dethroned.” Noctem wastes no time in expressing their aggression with some classic Vader-esque thrashy death, catchy, driving riffs and solos, and some emotional tension building that finally snaps come song’s end.
These builds utilize standard melodic death elements and synthy atmospheres without being as bombastic or epic as the aforementioned Lords of Orchestration. Instead, Noctem utilizes a subtlety and simplicity that’s just as powerful. Tracks like “The Rising Horns,” “Halo of Repugnance” and “Eidolon” are great examples of this. Their stripped-down approach reminds me a lot of Behemoth’s newest offering, The Satanist. Along with the Behemoth-isms Noctem’s improvement in their songwriting and production – versus their previous albums – is quite evident and goes back to the point of getting the message across without having to bathe songs in epic orchestrations.
Not only are the driving guitar work and classic metal solos of Exo and Nekros top notch, but they also introduce some very modern Belphegor-meets-Shining acoustic guitar sections in the mix. These calming breaks or transitions add a beautiful dimension to the dark atmosphere. Good examples include, “Tiamat’s Crown,” “Halo of Repugnance,” “Egregor,” “Eidolon,” and “The Adamantine Doors.” This final track ties the album back perfectly to the opener, much as Dimmu Borgir did with Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. This emotion and melody is further expanded with beautiful female choirs that haunt the back of the mix in the powerful “Halo of Repugnance” and the soothing-yet-unnerving “Egregor.”
The female or choral sections and acoustic passages have a tendency to feel similar from song-to-song. Both elements are regularly used in transitions or for creating a valley in which to build the song back up to a powerful finale. This similarity is further exaggerated because most of the tracks mentioned here are back-to-back on the album. This ends up making the album feel predictable (which is not good for an album that runs over fifty minutes long). With a little more balance and spontaneity, these guys could have themselves a masterpiece.
Also, for those living in the States, you will be treated with an album that includes two bonus tracks. Immediately remove these songs from your playlist any way you can. These “gifts” to US buyers, via Prosthetic Records, do nothing more than kill the vibe of the record. Do yourselves a favor and experience the album as it should be and leave the “unreleased” song and overly-cheesy orchestral version of the closer to the wannabe metalheads.
Cons aside, this is a very good release from Noctem. They have progressed well since forming in 2001 and their subtle incorporations of old school and modern elements of the scene serve them well. My only fear is that they may experiment with orchestration to the point of no return (case in point: Dimmu Borgir). One can only hope they find success in their formula and stick to the subtlety and simplicity that makes this album shine.