Band: Nocturnal Sorcery
Album: Captive in the Breath of Life
Release date: 09 February 2024
Format Reviewed: High-Quality Digital Recording
Finland is known as the most metal country in the world for a reason, that particular reason being the ridiculous amount of music to come out of the country, which also happens to be top-notch 90% of the time (It must be in the air of something). One such example of Finnish specialty is Captive in the Breath of Life by Nocturnal Sorcery, a band that has been rearing its head in the underground for some time now, occasionally dropping some absolute bangers, like the album in question. The album cover is enough to draw the black metal eye to the record, featuring an almost minimalist black and white mountainous scenery, along with a figure in corpse paint and the unmistakable band logo (which seems to draw a lot of inspiration from the likes of Moonblood).
In terms of music, this band has a lot, and I mean, A LOT, to offer. To put it simply, is black metal in its purest form, northern darkness at its finest (I feel like I keep saying that about every album, but anyway). If the rest of the underground keeps it like this, then 2024 is going to be one of the best years in terms of music, at least from the current decade. The sheer power of this album is one of my favorite features. It makes you feel like your hair is flowing in the wind, and it manages to create a both dark and grandiose atmosphere without making use of anything outside the traditional black metal instruments, an aspect that is not to be overlooked, as there are very few other records that manage to achieve this sort of effect, especially at the level Nocturnal Sorcery does here. There is not much to complain about, the album being well rounded and balanced, except for a couple of out of place ambient tracks in the middle of it, but that can be easily overlooked in the whole ensemble.
The Dark Secret brings the album to a start with some eerie sound samples recalling the merciless wind and some rather gloomy synth and background noise. The use of these elements in setting the album atmosphere is essential, particularly to what I like to call the element of surprise.
Oath At Mt. Hermon follows up suit with a mid tempo riff and build up drums, accompanied by a soul chilling screech, between turning to full out blast beats, and a tremolo riff drenched in fury and darkness, that still carries an epic edge to it. This, in combination with the drums and vocals offers the track an infectious catchy quality. The fast segments alternate with the mid tempo ones, creating a very balanced composition, and the perfect setting for the black metal storm getting unleashed. The vocal execution is flawless, the screeching of the vocalist is truly one of the best, managing to sound both controlled and unhinged, the perfect mix of chaos and control, just like in the case of the drumming. And the evil laughter at the end is truly the cherry on top.
Cry of the Wounded Heaven starts in with a short drum fill, before settling for a high paced tempo based mostly around blast beats, with the exception of a few mid paced segments. The guitar work is at the center of the composition, featuring some exceptionally written riffs that ooze power and darkness. The vocal performance follows the melodic line closely, adding another layer of drama to the track. I personally find the occasional lower tempo segments an essential part of the song, in a way that they accentuate the more upbeat passages, acting almost as decorative elements, instead of being a defining trait, like in the case on other instances similar to this one. The ending of the song has possibly one of the best riffs on the whole album, although it is not anything fancy. It embodies the essence of the song perfectly and that gives it its addicting qualities.
The title track, Captive in the Breath of life follows mostly in the same vein as its predecessor, with a bit of a stronger emphasis on the melodic and emotional musical aspects, and with much more well rounded tempo changes, that also happen to occur more than on the previous track. The stronger touch of melody ends up being perhaps slightly more obvious than intended, but it really gives the song its own unique personality, particularly in the slower segments, when the guitars and vocals are in the main focal point. However, it is certainly not missing in the fast paced, tremolo riffs better, especially in the second half of the song, which happened to touch my soul, in a way. You can’t help but feel these riffs, and they will certainly be stuck in your years for a while. The vocal performance maintains its high standard, being nothing short of perfect for the given musical context.
Here is where the excitement dwindles down a bit. Remember those spooky interludes I was talking about? Yes, Spectral Force is one of them. I get the point of it, and it surely emphasized the album’s dark aspects, but I don’t believe placing it in the middle of the album was a great idea, as it kills the flow of the previous songs, and takes the focus away from the record.
However, the album takes a turn for the best when the ravenous Beyond Salvation bursts in full force with unrelenting blast beats, riffs infused with strength and ferocity and vocals that steal the show. The track is sung in an almost narrative kind of way, as if the vocalist is having a monologue, or narrating a tale about death and lost souls. It is easily one of, if not the most intense on the whole record. And the scream at the end is really the cherry on top. It’s a perfect black metal song, nothing more or less.
Unfortunately, it is followed up by Joyless Dance in the Shadows, the second of the two interludes I mentioned previously. If the first one has a semblance of meaning, this one on the other hand is, in my opinion, completely useless. It kills all the energy of the previous track, and the fact that it is placed one song away from Spectral Force makes it a lot worse than it would have been in any other circumstance. The album as a whole would have benefited a lot if this had been dropped, it really has no business being where it is.
Redemption at Daybreak comes in to save the day with a more complex, more melodic, yet still unrelenting riff, accompanied by the mandatory blast beats and screeches. It goes like this for a while, building up the tension, then everything stops for a moment, before returning to the original tempo, and then slowing down to a mid pace, before ramping up again. In terms of rhythm diversity, this song has it all. From what I hear, the song’s base is made up of a variety of rhythmical patterns that alternate to create the ultimate example of grimness. In a way, it resembles tracks like Marduk’s well known “Wolves” or “Nightwing”, a greatly appreciated detail in the grand scheme of things.
Damned by the Law of Stars comes up next, staying in the same vein, including the Marduk aspect, which would have gone unnoticed hadn’t it been for these two tracks. This is where all the band’s influences begin to shine, but while also maintaining the band’s original sound and approach to songwriting, keeping the overall music fresh sounding. It is also here that we approach the end of the record, and I believe that this song in particular does a great job as the beginning of the end for the album, its placing being undoubtedly beneficial in helping balance out the music. It is also one of the songs with the darkest atmosphere, the otherwise epic aspects noticed in the first half of the album being minimal here, and replaced with much more tenebrous sounding chord progressions and a shift in the overall mood.
The last “proper song” to be featured on this record is Lucifer’s Shade. It continues what was started on its predecessor, bringing the whole musical elements that are found on the album and encapsulating them into one final opus, becoming the representative track. Its structure mirrors that of the album in terms of tempo shifts, the sound of riffs, and the vocals carry once again that narrative element in their execution. In my opinion, there couldn’t have been a better end for the album. This song stands as a banner of hate in the northern wind, and it could have easily been released as a single as well, yet its qualities are emphasized ten fold in the musical climate that it is found it. If I were to look back on the whole thing, Lucifer’s Shade could be my favourite out of them all, from certain points of view.
Reflecting the album’s beginnings, Along the Path of Fire closes everything, as another atmospheric noise track with eerie synths littered around, and undecipherable voices. The piano chords at the end are an unexpected touch, that leave behind a vague air of mystery.
Captive in the Breath of Life is surely one hell of a record, and I dare say, a must listen, despite the small interlude turbulence I delved into. It keeps you alert from start to finish, and it offers high standard music that can satisfy even the most niche tastes. I personally loved it, and I believe many others will too. 9.5/10: Ioana
9.5/10 Epic Storm
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