Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix (2017)

Nocturnal Rites

Phoenix

AFM Records

Swedish death come power metal act Nocturnal Rites have returned with their first album in twelve years, and even though The 8th Sin is ranked at the bottom of the barrel from twleve reviews in Metal Archives, I actually enjoyed several cuts on it. What can I say? In any case, if I liked their worst then I should certainly like this one, which has a score of 84% and is a hell of a lot more appreciated by fans than the prior. In any case, the vast majority of the band has not changed this time around, with the slight exception of Per Nilsson (Hagen, Scar Symmetry, Zierler – I gave that band a 10/10 seeing as they only have one album, ESC) who now handles guitar duties in place of Nils Norberg, who quit a year after the band’s commercial disappointment.

That being said, what are my thoughts on this unexpected rebirth? Well, it sounds quite like what I remember from the band with some obvious changes. The industrial elements are still in place, as well as some fierce djent which is what opens the disc with “A Heart As Black As Coal.” Nilsson’s solo efforts are also just as potent as I’d recall them in Scar Symmetry. You can definitely tell it’s him, which might be a good or bad thing depending on the circumstances. I personally would have thought him a strange fit, given the technicality of these solo efforts; but it manages to give Nocturnal Rites an unexpected air of vibrancy that can be felt almost immediately. As far as Johnny Lindqvist’s performance is concerned, he sounds just as good now as he ever has. I’ve always thought he had a wonderful singing voice and this album proves it further. Our next track, “Before We Waste Away” is a prime example of that, showcasing everything that I’ve liked from this band as far as their saccharine choruses are concered. A little bit of djent and technicality from Nilsson doesn’t hurt sandwiched in the middle there either, even though the song would have still been perfectly solid without it. “The Poisonous Seed” however, opens with a hefty thrash and some nice noodling. It’s good to hear a heavy edge from these guys, even though the chorus isn’t quite my cup of tea. I’d still consider it real banger, though. I think fans felt that the heaviness was missing from Nocturnal Rites last effort, so it’s good to see them “bringing the metal back” as it were. Nilsson’s solo kills on this too, so it’s definitely a standout in the instrumental department. I think that with a few more listens, it would definitely soak in. Nilsson strikes again with yet another memorable solo on the almost balladic cut, “Repent My Sins.” I especially love the latter part of the track, where a slight bit of darker chunk and orchestration closes it out. I wish more had been done with this though, it had potential.

“What’s Killing Me” mixes groove together with some background shouts and slight electronic beats to make an oblong, but vocally strong performance that can’t be denied. When Nilsson breaks in, it only fills the oddly-structured piece with more depth, proving that he’s indeed a good fit for the band. “A Song For You” rushes to the chorus with an almost inhuman pace, but that’s acceptable enough for radio and I think that’s what they’re attempting with this one. Despite the majesty on Lindqvist’s vocal performance, the entire song feels like a band on fast-forward and just seems to saturate immensely with said chorus. Yes, I’ll agree that it is a great vocal performance, but now I’ve got an earworm in my head. They should rename it to “An Earworm For You” if I’m being honest. “The Ghost Inside Me” melds orchestral symphonics and hard-hitting grooves together in the way that only this band can, to bring yet another powerful vocal performance. Let me just say, it’s quite refreshing to hear these guys again. I really missed hearing Johnny Lindqvist in music, as I’ve always been fond of his work here and admittedly have more than a few Nocturnal Rites cuts on my personal playlist, especially some of those from the last album that everyone except me hated, it seems. This cut is abit longer due to some folkish theatrics, but that works for me. It flows directly into the electro-groover “Nothing Can Beak Me” which is decent enough, but didn’t really strike me in the chorus section and wasn’t truly memorable at least until Nilsson’s choral performance. It just seemed a bit too similar to what had already been attempted better in other songs on the album. “Flames” stands out a bit more due to it’s folkish nature, as well as a much softer vocal approach from Lindqvist during the first couple of verses. The track is a bit slower, but emotionally potent. “Used To Be God” is the final track on the standard edition and is a right thrasher with a killer hook that’ll serve as a great jumping off point for the next one. If you have the limited edition version of the album however, you’ll be treated to what I’d consider a real treat called “Welcome To The End.” It’s a bit of a shame that this was left off of the original version of the album, because a B-Side it is most certainly not. Aside from more great guitar work by Nilsson, it also comes off as a rather thrashy cut and features some rather potent symphonics as well. I didn’t realize that it was a practice for a label to remove one of the good cuts from an album and offer it as a bonus, but this is what I’ve observed.

I know I’ve said it before, but it’s just great to hear Nocturnal Rites not only back together again, but sounding better than ever. The band has really stepped it up a notch with this latest offering and it was definitely worth the wait. Nocturnal Rites fans simply won’t be disappointed by this effort, and despite the obvious modernisms, it still remains a rather potent and noteworthy disc in their catalogue. Definitely give Phoenix a listen before the year’s out.

(11 Tracks, 46:00)

8/10

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