Noctule – Wretched Abyss Review

Serena Cherry has a knack for melody. In her storied career with Svalbard, the charismatic vocalist and guitarist has co-written and performed a decade of melodic hardcore tinged with post-hardcore, post-metal, and black metal. My experience in last year’s excellent When I Die, Will I Get Better? balanced melody with in-your-face lyrics, but above all, stellar songwriting. While undoubtedly furious, it addressed difficult issues controversially mincing no words and doing so with a heart unseen in much of metal and metallic subgenres. Now, Cherry tries a little something different in her new solo project Noctule, hoping to “spread her dragon wings and take off in an intriguing musical direction on her own.”

A labor of love and isolation, Cherry composed and recorded the Noctule debut while in the UK Coronavirus lockdown. Opposed to the melodic hardcore leanings of Svalbard, she now bets it all on black in blackened release Wretched Abyss, an album themed after the popular RPG Skyrim. It’s not the first time that gaming and metal have coincided, as the early Halo-themed days of Shadow of Intent or Legend of Zelda-themed cavernousness of Chthe’ilist spring to mind. Cherry aptly reflects this epic and medieval theme in her music, utilizing melodic tremolo, blastbeats, beautiful sustaining notes, and distant shrieks to create eight tracks of epic adventure. Ultimately, Noctule too often crashes atmoblack’s party and it’s difficult to find Wretched Abyss‘ bite, but it’s nonetheless a fun album full of powerful melodies and a definite sense of destination.

Old habits die hard, and Cherry’s project often feels a lot like a more blackened Svalbard. Hyper-melodic overlays dominate each song and repeated passages get drilled into listener’s ears while a backbone of distant howls and plodding drumming keep the journey progressing. Tracks like “Elven Sword” and “Winterhold” offer layers of melodic earworms alongside speedy tremolo, “Unrelenting Force,” “Deathbell Harvest,” and “Evenaar” offer crispy shredding riffs, while the more contemplative tracks “Labyrinthian” and title track have me feeling emotional about a game I’ve never played.1 Utilizing layers of guitar riffs and melodies, synthesizers, and tempo-shifting drums, Wretched Abyss is relentless in its atmosphere. While not particularly aggressive, the tone recalls the marauding epic flavors of fantasy-inspired acts like Summoning or Caladan Brood. In true Svalbardian fashion, Noctule‘s star of the show is its songwriting and the presentation of its melodies: as it utilizes catchy refrains and a similar song structure that avoids overuse, songs never feel too long. Wretched Abyss clocks in at a modest forty-two minutes, which furthermore is a good runtime to flesh out its elements without overstaying its welcome.

That being said, the schism between the melodic atmo- or post-black and rawer second-wave continues to widen. Noctule ultimately has more in common with recent (albeit excellent) atmospheric offerings like Harakiri for the Sky or Mossweaver than 2021 offerings from “trve” acts like Seth or Misotheist. As such, there is little wretched or abyssal about Wretched Abyss: its melody being the main attraction, Noctule‘s teeth are lost in the fold. While crisp riffs appear periodically, they are utilized as emphasis to the melodies. While dwelling almost entirely in the melodic, darker elements are most emphasized in the minor keys of tracks like “Evenaar” and instrumental closer “Become Ethereal.” As such, similar to post-black or atmoblack, the blasting drums and shrieked vocals are merely an afterthought and one may question why they are present to begin with. If anything, Cherry’s hardcore roots shine.

Old habits die hard, and Noctule remains very much in the shadow of Svalbard. Serena Cherry conveys her songwriting skills to a new style and for the most part, succeeds, but at the cost of black metal’s fury and kvlt attitude. The Skyrim influence works for the epic atmosphere, but melody pervades every fiber of Wretched Abyss, and the speedier hardcore influence is unmistakable. While potentially damning, Noctule keeps its head above water thanks to its fantastic songwriting, which allows listeners to feel as if they’ve reach a destination by the end of its forty-two minute quest. Noctule remains an unbalanced side-quest to Svalbard, perhaps, but one that is ultimately just plain fun.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label:  Translation Loss Records | Church Road Records
Websites: noctule.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/NoctuleBand
Releases Worldwide: May 28th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Give me Banjo Kazooie any day.
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