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Nocturnal Depression are somewhat of a cult act in the depressive black metal scene. They've been around for a good six years now and weathered the worst of the storm when the 'depressive' scene was at it's most saturated a couple of years ago. Now it's started to recede quite a bit, and Nocturnal Depression are still around, and still going strong with an album out this year, so that must must count for something at least? Add also to that they're French, and from my viewpoint the French scene is one of, if not the strongest scene operating at the present time. Without going into to much detail, it's swarming with fantastic bands.
Nostalgia – Fragments of a Broken Past or Nostalgia as I'll just call it from here in, was the début full length from Nocturnal Depression, originally released in 2006 on a limited run of tapes, and has seen a reissue on CD by Romanian label Sun and Moon. As far as releases by Nocturnal Depression go, Nostalgia has always been their strongest release, and with the re-recording and general improvement on this re-release, has only made it even better.
First impressions of the cover is that it is extremely cheesy, but the more you dwell on it, the more you realise that the cover is the perfect symbolism of what this album's whole concept is, the bleak sentimentality Nocturnal Depression are aiming to portray. Nostalgia by name, and most certainly nostalgia by nature.
From the hypnotic repetition of the opener with it's isolated guitar drifting beneath the wall of distorted riffing to the almost ballad-esque 'Lying Broken' with it's lone piano and Lord Lokhraed's jagged rasp the only other accompaniment, the album emits nothing but but nihility and hopeless melancholy. The real highlight of the album though lies within the longplayer 'Nostalgia' (of which there is a video of on the album as well), a sixteen minute suicidal dirge into a vacuum of emotions, again we have the melodic lead guitar working well with the oppressive riffing and thick bass. Think something like Nagaroth's Herbstleyd album, but substitute the rawness for melody. Even Lord Lokhraed's vocals are nigh identical to Kanwulf's, but Nocturnal Depression are much more that Nargaroth imitators. They draw the best out of early Xasthur and Forgotten Tomb as well and combine it with sublime effect. Plus when a band are able to include a Clint Eastwood movie sample in the middle of a song, they've got to be awesome, right?
The album isn't completely without fault, the drumming has always been Nocturnal Depression's weak point, and such is the case here. It's extremely hollow sounding and lacks weight behind it, it's not terrible by any means, but you can't help but notice with the standard of everything else around them. It's the guitarwork which is the real highlight of the album though, the riffing and leads have a soft, haunting tone and the riffing; foreboding, managing to keep authority and that typical black metal tone all at the same time.
Each song uses it's repetition to draw the listener in, while the album itself contains enough variation and identity throughout to make this album completely unique and a benchmark in a sub-genre full of bands who are content to sound exactly like each other. It requires a lot of listening and attention to let this album sink in, at least it did for me, but it's extremely rewarding. It's not too often you get DSBM which genuinely succeeds in being totally and utterly despondent, but when you do, it's fantastic. Nostalgia is much more than a simple black metal record, a misty eyed gaze back through life. Someone hand this man a tissue and some prozac, he needs it.
Nocturnal Depression material, for the most part, is very similar to itself. If you look and listen to their entire discography, you'd be forgiven for mistaking what song goes on what full-length, or demo. Their material is largely the same. Repetition on full-lengths isn't the only thing Nocturnal Depression are seemingly aiming for, no. What they want is an entire discography that sounds exactly the same the entire way through. Perhaps barring the quality of the production used on a few of the demos, everything is similar to each other. There will undoubtedly be a number of people who will instantly be put off by this recognition as it's something that doesn't appeal to everyone.
Variation and variety are the spices of life when it comes to music for most. There is a small fanbase that will enjoy the repetitive styling of Nocturnal Depression. In fact, they will probably love it and that is no overstatement. I am one of those people. I like my fair share of variety, but I also enjoy a fair amount of monotonous music. To me, it's all about familiarity. I enjoy the feeling that a band is prepared to slowly build up their songs with repetition. It's a comfort thing, I believe. Nocturnal Depression are one act that certainly know how to do this. In fact, they have mastered it and that isn't an overstatement again.
Nocturnal Depression are a driven band. They understand what they want for themselves in terms of sound, they know their limited fanbase and they know what their fanbase enjoys. 'Nostalgia - Fragments of a Broken Past' doesn't signal a change of direction at all. It's very much the same format as before. Repetition, repetition and even more repetition. Listening to Nocturnal Depression is much like learning to drive. You repeat each and every process a lot. At times, it may become tedious and frustrating, but at the end of it all, it's ultimately rewarding. 'Nostalgia - Fragments of a Broken Past' is exactly that. Another in a long line of rewarding records for Nocturnal Depression. This full-length does actually mark a significant change though. For the most part it is repeat, repeat and more repeat, but there is a distinctive change which make shock.
The use of female vocals, although not used entirely throughout, do come into play. This shows another dimension to the band. Using female vocals can portray senses of agony and other lyrical themes in very different, yet effective ways. The female vocals aren't typical of female vocalists. Usually we're, as an audience, subjected to horrid operatic vocals, but not this time. They come in the form of a beautiful voice, which doesn't attempt to out do itself, sweeping through the music soulfully. Another astonishing addition, is perhaps the use of bass.
Of course it's used throughout music, even black metal, a lot, but in this particular genre it's hardly ever heard. Instead, it's usually overpowered by other instruments. However, 'Nostalgia - Fragments of a Broken Past' signals a time when Nocturnal Depression have allowed the bass to function properly. It offers a deeper and darker sound to the music. Coupled with those agonising vocals, the audience are given a sense of familiarity. The vocals are effectively used to portray the stronger emotive side of Nocturnal Depression. The ambience of the bands music still exists and still manages to excite with ease.
The atmospheric qualities are produced through solid songwriting and good structures. Piano interludes are used as well to keep the emotion flowing like a stream. The vast array of assortments will help dampen the feeling of repetition. It keeps the music interesting when Nocturnal Depression showcase their music by over means. Other than the standard use of guitars, bass and percussion. The percussion is always the lacking element for Nocturnal Depression. It lacks heart. It produced a very hollow sound, which at times, can be quite good, but unfortunately I was searching for a stronger percussion section. It's lacking in diversity and fails to make it's mark. Other than this, 'Nostalgia - Fragments of a Broken Past' is strong and capable of holding it's own.