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Noctuary have always been sort of a dark horse in the American black metal scene. They do not really share, in their sound, much of what has come to be known as the 'USBM style' - the death metal influences, the bass-heavy guitars, etc. - and so they stand apart from other bands here based primarily on their European black metal (rather than American death metal) influences. When I listen to this album I hear them referencing many other bands, from the high tremolo guitars and fluttering, scale-based melodies that echo Abigor to their Dissection-like methods of building atmosphere through high-speed riffing, from the dark chromatics and punchy rhythm work of Metallica and the vocals that are reminiscent at times of Cradle of Filth to layered acoustic and electric sections that make me think of Enslaved. Some of this actually makes me think of Rotting Christ. It is patently obvious that this band has a great love for black metal music and has had a comparable amount of exposure to the styles offered within that genre. What's interesting is that even though one can hear all of these influences in Noctuary's music, they don't exactly sound like any of these 'more famous' bands, and that is the secret of their originality. It's difficult for to explain or to elaborate upon this point, but rest assured that this band are masters, now, of manipulating the tried-and-true styles of the various subgenres of black metal to further their own unique expression. This is often done in original ways as well. For example, listen to the tremelo Abigor-like riffing in most of these songs, where Noctuary bend that style of trilling abstract melody into catchy and memorable harmonies... interesting.
Another way that their love for this type of music comes through is in their selection of riffs and the ways the song structures are put together. An abnormally moving or especially evocative melody will be stretched to the limit here, expanding into a soundscape and room-filling atmosphere that the band somehow seems unwilling to leave.
After listening to 'When Fires Breed Blood' (I really like that title) several times, there are now a number of riffs or song sections that I go back to in order to realize again my first feeling of delight when confronted with this band's originality. One such melody is the bizarre lightspeed riff that occurs at 3:14 in the third song, 'Legions March Unto Earthly Realms', that seemingly blends a number of guitars segments into one very fast abstract harmonic total. Another example would be the great speeding third riff - what I consider to be the main riff - in the opening song 'Clouds Donning the Black Sky', after the first two rhythmic riffs, that is exquisitely evocative while also being extremely simple. There are many other segments in here that make me admire this band's technical skill (they are easily one of the most skilled gatherings of musicians among USBM bands) as well as their knack for writing stirring original music by combining familiar elements into novel patterns.
Also of note here is the production, which once again makes them stand out among their peers. The guitars are thin, yet not anemic, in that classic Norwegian/Pytten fashion, and the bass is loud enough to be heard throughout the progression of this album - which is a good thing, as the bass playing adds a lot to the music, an entire other level of meaning... the drumming is never less than adequate, right on the money, the solo/lead guitar parts are excellent in that they actually attempt to say something, unlike the solo work of most bands, and the scathing vocals, although a little thin here on my ears, are the perfect vehicle for this band's lyrics, as their hoarse screeching/shrieking tones compliment the treble guitars very well.
Another thing is some of the little tricks Noctuary use in the production itself - the panning of the vocals, just left and right of center, which almost makes it sounds like there are two vocalists, and in one section (the summing up of the last song, 'Forever Silent', starting at 2:44) there are two guitars (maybe even more, I'll have to listen to it a little closer) that are exchanging places from left to right in the listening space as they whirl through a riff.
One thing that I feel I have to complain about here, however, is the length of this album and the length of the individual songs. I know that each song on this album is considered to be part of a greater whole, and somehow related to all the other songs, but some of them are a little too short for my taste, and the melodies or themes within them could (I feel) have been explored a little further. This entire album, also, is only 37 minutes long, and I know I could have listened to another 20 minutes of material from this band without any problem. Because of this, 'When Fires Breed Blood' seems somehow incomplete... I wish they would have expanded this music even farther...
Having said that, I still don't see any reason why I shouldn't recommend this record to anyone who wants to hear all the melodic and thematic possibilities that this band, seemingly completely separated from their more 'brutal' peers in the States, can offer...this album really doesn't disappoint on any level other than the one mentioned above, and if the only reason a person feels hesitant to wholeheartedly support a release is because it is just too short or goes by too quickly, then you know you have one good record on your hands... support this band.
This is where black metal is at these days! Noctuary are a prime example of quality US Black Metal. This is their latest release, and it deserves as much praise as it can get. The first song "Clouds Donning the Black Sky" opens up with a very driving riff, and eventually leads into an acoustic passage with a mandolin-type sounding instrument. From the beginning of the album to the end, you will find blackened maiden-esque riffs and acoustic beauty. The drumming (done by Rob Alaniz) is very tight and well produced. As for production, it is a thick sound that conveys the guitars and bass very well. For someone looking to get into US Black Metal, Noctuary is probably one of the best bands to start with!
NOCTUARY - When Fires Breed Blood.. (Lost Disciple ~2000)
This album features anguished, aggressively scathing vocals on top of foreboding, guitars and spiced up drumming. The interludes of acoustic sections and a bit of piano work here and there compliment the aggression rather well. I don't know if it's just my ears or what but near the end of 'Legions March Unto Earthly Realms' (track 3) the acoustic guitar layered behind the electric sounds like "squeaking". The cool thing about this album is I find it more diversified than the previous release. The influences of eighties Thrash and the Black Metal movement of the early nineties is easily heard here. The additional classical compositions add definite depth and feeling here. This is easily my favourite NOCTUARY album of the two I have. It almost seems too short at only eight trax though. I also want to add that earlier on I interviewed Joe and he mentioned listening to the album on headphones and that it'd be a totally different experience. Go ahead and do this is all I have to say.