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In the past several years, I have grown increasingly critical of music. My ears have sharpened, and I've listened to a broader spectrum of music, so it takes a little more these days to impress me. Well, as the 100 would imply, I am more than impressed with The Voice of Steel.
Nokturnal Mortum are a band that have been on my radar for a while, and while I dug their previous works, none of them really captured my ears quite like The Voice of Steel. From day one, I was completely hooked on this newly evolved style of black metal that fuses in psychedelic rock to go along with the traditionally ambient use of keyboards in the genre of minimalist melodic black metal. Here, such external influences abound, and sometimes get several minutes of airtime. I remember first listening to this, and though I was digging the title track, about halfway through Valkyries, the next song, I almost did a double take. "Grateful Dead? In my black metal?" I nearly pooped hammers on the spot. It doesn't sound like it will work on paper, but Nokturnal Mortum make it their own, and completely overwhelm your senses with passages of striking astral beauty, all replete with a smokin' clean (or mostly clean) guitar solo, followed by a bunch of open chords that were more akin to shoegaze rock of the mid 90's (if you don't know what shoegaze is, look it up) than to traditional black metal.
These references to psychedelic/acid rock continue throughout this album. Indeed, this is one among few black metal albums I'd call "far out, man." For, as I've seen, Nokturnal Mortum are the masters of a key aspect of good music: balance. There are clean vocals (a lot of them) but they do not dominate, and are balanced out with really well done dirty vocals. The guitars are the same way, in that there are passages of beautiful yet, oddly enough, "groovy" clean guitar/synth passages, yet they are balanced out with passages of pure black metal fury. The drummer knows very well when to mix things up, because he's more than happy to groove instead of blast, yet moderates it and still gives us that trademark black metal aggression. This, by the way, is one of the few instances I'm cool with grooving on the drums. Like every idea presented on here, it does not dominate, and is balanced out with other equally well ideas.
I listen to this, and I honestly try to find flaws with it. I've had a bit of experience with the production/performing aspect of music in the last year or so, and it has trained my ear to pick out really minute detail. And, as much as I like to retain my composure and pride, I cannot pick out a single detail of this I don't like. Each one of these details are used very masterfully, with craftwork restraint and performer's confidence. I honestly cannot think of another album that I have liked more in the last 4 or so years. It's that wonderful.