Self-proclaimed dark rock quintet Nocturnalia hail from Sweden and are in consequence largely inspired by the eerie and cold yet peacefully quiet atmosphere of harsh Scandinavian winters. The band claims to draw influences from both classic rock acts such as Rainbow and Black Widow and traditional folk music. Let’s face it. I am young, and embarrassingly so, my introduction to the world of metal music (and even classic rock) is much, much younger. Thus, I consider my foray into heavy music still in its infantile stages relative to the more learned members of the AMG staff, and I can’t help myself but wonder whether this review would be better off in the hands of one of the staff more familiar with the discographies of 70s classic rock bands. Despite this, I was especially curious to hear whether Nocturnalia‘s unconventional mixture of influences would be able to truly evoke the bleak and biting dregs of Scandinavian winters. I stifled my feelings of imposter syndrome, and here we are.
Upon first listen of Nocturnalia‘s third full-length III Winter, I wasn’t convinced that their new material gives off the sinister yet beautiful vibe that they and their album cover art are advertising. Vocalist Linus Eskermo’s voice unexpectedly reminded me of Sting’s wailing vocals with The Police, particularly on “By Nature.” His radio-friendly, infectious vocals did not exactly match what I had in mind for a heavy, dark rock band inspired by the absence of daylight, famine, and stagnation that characterize brutal Scandinavian winter months would employ.
III Winter has grown on me significantly since my first listen, though. While Eskermo’s brawny vocals are the first to stand out, I quickly warmed up to the sleazy, slick-backed guitar that on occasion even gave off a surf feel (“The Calling”). Though “Spell of the Night” sticks to more classic rock ingredients, “Come Alive” tempers the mood with its acoustic fingerpicked folk in the first half. “By Nature,” my favorite track on the album, is one heck of a hypnotizingly groovy piece. The latter half of the album, while quite drawn out, is more rhythmic with the chugging “Forsaken” and jangly “Beyond the White.” By the last song “The Son,” I was hoping to hear more variety from Nocturnalia but was left disappointed when the melody sounded suspiciously similar to one I heard earlier in the album.
Nocturnalia still have some soul searching to do. After listening to III Winter many times, I am left more befuddled than anything else. None of the album’s songs are particularly dark, nor do I find that they strongly reflect the cultural heritage of Scandinavia. With such a disconnect between their influences and the way they translate via the music, I worry Nocturnalia will have a tough time connecting with an audience and building a fanbase. After their sophomore release Above Below Within, the band took a quick hiatus to focus on other creative projects. Drummer Dennis Skoglund spent a few years with rock band Night and also performed as a session musician for dark ambient/folk acts Forndom and Draugurinn, guitarist Linus Lundgren is also a member of occult rock pioneers Year of the Goat, and vocalist Linus also plays bass in Oblivious. Knowing that Nocturnalia‘s members are associated with such a wide variety of other acts, it’s more understandable that they need more time to find the right synergy amongst themselves.
I fully respect that by releasing a groovy, psychedelic-tinged rock album rather than an atmoblack record as their album cover might suggest, Nocturnalia may have been attempting to do a fresh take on an often recycled theme. While III Winter failed to deliver the vibe the band appears to have been going for, the result is decidedly not bad. Nocturnalia‘s third crack at the bat is smooth, easy to enjoy, and, thanks to the genius mastering work by Magnus Lindberg of Cult of Luna, the sound is deliciously crunchy and well-balanced. For fans of anything from 70s classic rock to Ghost or even Queens of the Stone Age, Nocturnalia‘s III Winter is worth checking out for a fun time. Don’t let the album cover tell you otherwise.