With a purple, black, and white/grey color scheme, Cathartic Black Rituals immediately calls Mayhem’s Live in Leipzig—metal’s best live record—to mind. It screams second wave black metal, and as a fan of that little niche I heeded the call. Don’t be fooled by the logo, which seems to suggest brutal death metal at first glance—the band picture leaves no ambiguity. Gorgoroth– and Immortal-style paint, medieval-looking weaponry, candles, a skull—we’re firmly in olde and colde black metal territory, and this is where Nocturnal Departure mines golde. Cathartic Black Rituals immediately took holde, as after the first proper song I was solde on these Winnipeg winter warriors.
The helpfully titled “The Invocation (Intro)” introduces Cathartic Black Rituals like a grimier “Vortex Void of Inhumanity” introducing Wolf’s Lair Abyss—with discomforting electronics and unsettling vocals. When “Dismal Existence” vomits itself into dismal existence, the real proceedings begin and don’t let up. Nocturnal Departure play second wave black metal akin to Mayhem circa Live in Leipzig, old Gorgoroth, and even seem to take some inspiration from Horna’s newer Spellgoth era. This is all about the riffs—Cathartic Black Rituals exists to dole out abrasive yet memorable black metal and does this consistently throughout its crisp 40-minute runtime.
What I most appreciate about Cathartic Black Rituals is that, like Under the Sign of Hell, it isn’t a “meloblack” record through and through but nonetheless has plenty of meloblack-type moments alongside more aggressive fare; the trademark trilling riffs of Infernus clearly made their mark on the band as well. The bass has a significantly more prominent role here than in Gorgoroth—Nocturnal Departure is a trio, so the bass needs to both bolster the more straightforward riffs and act as a harmonic partner during the single-string, melody-driven sections. Illartha is up to the task, as “Mental Abyss” ably demonstrates.
There’s a strange emotional heft to “Ethereal Enlightenment” that recalls the best of Gorgoroth, and it’s a rare and special thing when a band can expertly hit just those notes that Infernus can and put that style of riffing to effective use within a song of their own. There’s some thrash-adjacent chugging in the middle of the title track which happily recalls the early roots of Mayhem on the legendary Deathcrush. It stands out not because it doesn’t fit within the song but because it’s simply a well-placed chugging riff that works in the context of the song and the record overall. The bass-led harmony in “Morbid Existence” brings “Life Eternal” to mind but not because it’s a carbon-copy; instead, it’s using an established, familiar concept in a fresh way to make new music that still adheres to tradition.
And that, in a nutshell, is what makes Cathartic Black Rituals such an addictive, engaging, and standout album. Nocturnal Departure are playing with well-established conventions but doing so in their own way without breaking with them. These are continuations and interpretations, not rehashes—fresh water from an old well. And is it ever refreshing.
Tracks to Give You Olde-School Frostbite: “Ritualistic Vomit,” “Ethereal Enlightenment,” “Cathartic Black Rituals”