Nocturnal Rites - Phoenix - (8/10)
Published on January 1, 2018
Imagery can be an album’s strongest selling point, as can be an appropriate name to fit the occasion, and Nocturnal Rites’ long awaited return to the musical fray has both in spades. Barring the exception of the 2014 return of Mark Boals’ principle project Ring Of Fire, the 10 year hiatus that this band has been on stands as one of the longest in history without an official breakup, and in similar fashion NR has come back in essentially the same territory that they left off. The term “essentially” bears repeating as the collection of songs that is Phoenix is not quite a full out rehash of where things were in the mid-2000s when they were a force to be reckoned with, but it gets about as close as it can to accomplishing that in spite of the fairly different musical climate of today, though much of the developments found on here conform to a time appropriate degree of evolution, if extremely slight in scope.
The best way to sum this compact and highly stylized LP is a majority throwback to the AOR dominated and groovy Grand Illusion, with the remnants filling out the fringes being a slightly more technical character and a tiny helping of the ambient/industrial trappings that ended up sinking this band’s 2007 flop The 8th Sin. The positive developments, which are generally localized to the lead guitar work, can be credited to the very recent recruitment of Scar Symmetry ax man and founding member Per Nilsson, who does his best to contain his John Petrucci-inspired shredding within the same basic box that Nils Norberg occupied throughout the band’s post-The Sacred Talisman era, but still manages to come off as more of a showman and who’s highly expressionistic leads interact with the heavy ended, percussive riffing of Fredrik Mannberg’s 7-string guitar in such a way as to give things a slight progressive character at times.
The ebb and flow that rounds out the pacing of things here is a bit on the safe side, shifting back and forth between mid-paced fanfare centering around an almost pop-like hook and more aggressive and nimble fair that still comes off as grooving and measured. The usual suspects in the former category include the almost full out rehash of “Fools Never Die” that is “Before We Fade Away” (it literally falls a few inches short of self-plagiarism), the slow-going and keyboard-steeped “Repent My Sins”, a song that could almost be a slower Masterplan song if it had Jorn Lande singing, and the almost techno-like, power metal answer to In Flames’ post-melodeath era “Nothing Can Break Me”. Though these songs don’t contain the sort of excitement that made Shadowland and New World Messiah classics, they have a sort of stylized charm and feature solid vocal performances out of Jonny Lindqvist.
As mentioned previously, while this album definitely has a strong AOR bent to its approach, there are occasions where things get a bit less restrained and the power metal label is a bit more applicable. The true coup de grace in terms of sheer intensity is “The Poisonous Seed”, which pummels the ears like a ton of bricks, makes full use of the bottom-end provided by the guitars’ expanded range, and doesn’t shy away from letting the drums throw in a few needed bursts of speed. Though not quite reaching the same level of intensity as the aforementioned song, “A Song For You” and the bonus song “Used To Be God” employ a similarly powerful groove/thrashing riff set and features the drums getting a bit more busy, while Nilsson’s lead gymnastics get a tad bit more adventurous than the other songs, though that isn’t really saying too much as he’s all over the fret board whenever he’s given the spotlight.
Though there have been some rather sizable patches of bands returning to greatness to be found throughout the last couple decades of metal’s ever expanding history, 2017 is definitely proving to be a rather sizable patch in itself in the specialized realm of power metal. Nocturnal Rites, in much the same fashion of as Cellador, has returned to the game largely in top form, suffering only a tad due to some remnant quirks from their last flop, most of which is localized to a few jarring shifts in feel towards atmospheric balladry (something that the band has dabbled in since 2000, but in a much more methodical way) and the one lone throwaway song “Flames”, a really sappy attempt at a ballad that ends up sounding like a b-side off The 8th Sin. The road ahead looks bright here, and with a few minor adjustments the closing years of this decade may find NR back in a place of prominence, ashes dusted off and ready for another flight.