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Italy’s Nox Illunis’s sophomore effort, “Metempsychosis”, is a surprisingly professional slab of black metal. Uncompromising black metal is the order of the day. That’s a great thing, uncompromising black metal. I’m no revivalist or retroist, but it seems that lately black metal acts have been forgetting what black metal is. The wonderful thing about “Metempsychosis” is that, while it does incorporate elements and ideas from other sub-genres, it does not meddle in realms of ambiance, it does not get buried under the weight of its own pretentiousness and, although there are melodic moments and keyboards present, does not suffer from the all-out symphonic wankery syndrome.
“Metempsychosis” is a rather challenging and difficult listen: the first two tracks are over nine minutes long and do not let up at all. The rest of the tracks are all around the seven minute mark. Finding your way through the density has its share of rewards, though. For the majority of the release, Nox Illunis play a heavier than average brand of black metal, like a less death metal inspired Belphegor. Musically, Nox Illunis are extremely talented: they have a knack for writing songs with great flow and have the chops to pull it off.
The guitars are blistering fast, utilizing trem picked sections that sound extremely inspired by Ulver’s “Nattens Madrigal” although better produced. While not as trance inducing as that landmark album, the swirling intensity does suck you in and refuses to let go, especially the chaos that is “Sfera Terza: Della Caduta”. The bombardment doesn’t let up until a subtle shift is felt in the delivery. After shifting, the guitars have a tendency to fall straight into a chugging riff with scaled licks and extrapolations thrown in. Melodic moments are strewn throughout the album, with the greatest section during “Sfera Quinta: Della Rinascita” when the trem picking guitar lines fades into a clean, strummed chord and a line of patterned notes. Sections like this are striking, and even more striking when the trem picked riffs blast right where they left off at.
The rhythm section is fairly standard. The bass lines create a heavy backdrop, pretty much mirroring the guitar lines. The drum range from blast beat speeds with precise cymbal and tom work during the faster sections to a speedy run on the double bass with minimal cymbal work during the slower sections. Yes, you read that correctly: the drums are pretty much one speed. The only time the drums slow down is when an industrial tinged interlude or segue starts.
Vocally, Nox Illunis falls in line with just about every other black metal act. The vocals are raw and raspy, with traces of the vocals styling of French black metal stalwarts Antaeus. The vocal lines are mid-range and slightly more drawn out than usual and have a strange tendency of trailing off into a deeper, gravelly sound. Occasional choral lines are mixed in while the screams are still going, making a very interesting mix. The angelic, church choir lines are polar opposite of the regular vocals, and it presents a rather frightening mix. On “Sfera Quinta: Della Rinascita”, the vocalist attempts to conjure “Bergtatt” era Ulver, with a cleaner, choral style. It’s a good effort, but it seems rather out of place to me.
Nox Illunis have not reinvented wheel. They have not created something entirely unique or downright mind blowing. What they have done is released a black metal album, and an enjoyable one at that. There are enough melodic moments to keep from being blasted into a pulp. That being said, this is not a melodic black metal album: this is a black metal album that meddles with slight melodic moments to accentuate the heaviness of the rest of the music. The shear heaviness and aggressiveness of this album will be a huge deterrent to casual black metal listeners, but if you like depth in your black metal, this is for you.