Nokturnal Ritual – A Review Retrospective of Underground UK Black Metal

Surging through Sheffield’s industrial hellscape Nokturnal Ritual come out from the old Earth.

Formed in 2014, Nokturnal Ritual was spawned by Karhmul, most popularly known for his melancholic black metal solo project Abandoned By Light, and Kadavr, guitarist for blackened thrash quartet Arendia.

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From Left to Right: Kadavr and Karhmul ( circa 2015)

In a similar vein to how Kriegmaschine deviated from the somber depressive approach of Mgla, utilising the same two members to focus on writing crushing metal material, Nokturnal Ritual came about to pay tribute to, in their own words, the forefathers of the second wave of black metal. What happens when a depressive metal mastermind and a thrash guitarist truly join forces in the pursuit of face-melting blistering black metal? The result came in the form of the band’s debut album, Ushering a New Era of Agony.

Usher
Nokturnal Ritual – Ushering a New Era of Agony (Released in 2014 independently)

Straight from the off set it is easy to hear the old school influence in everything from Karhmul’s vocal performance to the ice cold yet razer sharp guitar tone which slashes throughout the album’s 44 minute runtime.

A slower and more deliberate approach to song writing is in full force on the record and this can be heard especially on tracks such as ‘My Succubus’ where the pulse pounding and relentless riffage and drumming slows down to deliver a song with vibes of mid-era Marduk before the record returns to its aggressive blasting with the catchy and thrashy as Hell ‘Plaguewielder’ with a sound not too far away from the likes of Witchery or Darkthrone’s latter output, letting some of Kadavr’s fast fretting shine through.

The use of bass guitar on the record is prominent and features many sections of specifically crafted independent bass lines riding over guitar riffs and cascading with their own twisted melodies and these parts work well in the slower songs, as they get their time to bleed into the mix without drowning out the guitars or disrupting the flow and rhythm.

‘With Hate I Despise’ is what I believe to be the standout track from the entire record. Straight away we hear Karhmul’s powerful blackened growl tear its way through some headbanging old school black metal guitar riffs as the double kicks blast away in full force before the dark tremolo melodies take centre stage, even showcasing a haunting yet brief acoustic arpeggio section which feels just as welcome.

Production wise it definitely has the feel of the old school early second wave ‘Necro’ sound, following in the wake of the aforementioned Darkthrone and the likes of Xasthur, Burzum and Mutiilation, though this album pre-dates any of the Abandoned By Light full length records and released at a time when Karhmul’s main output was the DSBM demo tapes, so such production style is expected, and the pair make the best use out of the sound to create a unique and catchy album in a heavily oversaturated genre that shows simply why they should be revered as one of the United Kingdom’s most prolific black metal acts of recent years.

Entity of the Unholy
Nokturnal Ritual – Entity of the Unholy (2015) – (Released Independently)

Clocking in at just over half as long as their debut record, on Entity of the Unholy, Karhmul and Kadavr find their voice and refine their unique strengths alongside their ambition to innovate on the genre and the results are ultimately leaps and bounds ahead of what came before.

For a start, everything sounds much crisper and the two at this point had found what worked for them in a way where the synergy between the two musicians really showed in their musicianship. This can be heard in the title track that opens the album, as Kadavr’s flute melodies start and finish a song as well as coast blissfully accenting the faster guitar riffs and more aggressive drums on display.

Karhmul’s vocals on the album sound much more confident and he lets his full range show with full effect through the record’s short but sweet runtime of 26 minutes. His voice on this release is familiar to the likes of Pest (Gorgoroth) as his high screams and low growls and grunts (in a similar fashion to Atilla of Mayhem) intervene with the cold and unforgiving wall of sound presented by the rhythm guitars and ride over the lead and percussion masterfully.

The general speed of the album is a noticable upgrade from their debut also. The tempo of the guitars and the drum work blast a little faster than what was heard on Ushering a New Era of Agony, however it is safe to say that the flute and additional elements replaced the slower parts as heard on their debut which is a welcome change in my opinion.

Songs such as ‘Into the Void’ have a stunning array of dark melodies cast throughout as the two guitarists blend their signature styles seemlessly creating a very special blend of what could almost be classed as melodic death mixed with their old school black metal approach. A catchy chorus on this song accents and builds upon the groundwork laid by their first album too.

Any problems had with the production on the prior album have been completely rectified by this point. Everything stands out a little more than before and there is a full dynamic range used to great effect throughout in a way that allows the listener to appreciate the subtle nuaence more as a result.

Whereas the band’s first album felt like they had something to prove, releasing the record as a proof of execution and masterfully so, It’s safe to say that the two really came into their own with their second record, and whilst it may not be as long as what released before, Entity of the Unholy takes a lot more risks and reaps all the reward with a catchy, melodic but uncomprimisingly heavy second wave black metal album.

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Nokturnal Ritual – Out From The Old Earth (2018) – (Released Independently)

So after two successful albums in a short time span and their popularity steadily increasing, it would have made sense for the pair to be immediately getting to work on their latest and greatest album yet right? Well, that’s not exactly what happened. For whatever reason behind the scenes, there was around a three year gap seperating the band’s work on Entity of the Unholy and their (at time of writing) most recent record Out From The Old Earth. Yet, all that time away from the project did little to dull the blade that is Nokturnal Ritual and the band returned for what is unequivocally their finest hour.

The years away from the band saw Karhmul find infamy with his Abandoned By Light project as a total of six studio albums were recorded and released in Ritual’s absence between the years of 2015 until April 2018. It is apparent to the listener that every element of Out From The Old Earth is a result, a culmination of everything Karhmul had learned playing and production wise, and as such joining forces once again with Kadavr, the two demonstrate the best of their ability from start to finish.

Out From The Old Earth pleasantly sees the return of the flute heard in their second album whilst also bringing back the slower sections from their debut as well. That is not to say that the band’s third full length outing lacks any new ideas of its own, Old Earth confidently showcases a stronger emphasis on dark atmospheres and folk inspiration than what was heard in previous works.

As stated previously, the boys are at the top of their game on this one. The production is exactly what anyone would want out of a black metal release; guitars have that satisfying crunch to the tone without being too noisy or distorted and still manage to keep enough mid and high end to rupture their way through the drumming. The percussion overall sees its most significant upgrade in the band’s arsenal as everything from the snare hits and ride crashes on the blast beats to the rapid machine gun fire of the double kicks is utilised in a compelling way.

Karhmul’s vocal performance here is arguably the best it has ever sounded throughout his lengthy back catalogue of releases and its no sin to say that he has developed one of the best voices in the entirety of UK black metal. The anguished screams of early Abandoned By Light are complemented excellently but latter-era Varg Vikernes sounding whispers and a much more fierce deeper growl than what was heard previously. This increased attention on his vocal work on a much more tight and cultivated collection of songs is a testament to the commitment of the two to push the boundries of not only themselves as musicians but the genre as a whole.

The atmospheric guitar sections that makes up many of the rhythm guitar riffs throughout the album, and are put to great use on certain songs like ‘Rising from the Deep’ and album closer ‘Born Enemy’ exhibit omens that would not be out of place in a the Swedish black metal scene, specifically the likes of Dark Funeral and even Dissection.

Out From The Old Earth is an album made with a lot of care and love for the genre that shows clear as night that the band’s ambition and scope only grew with their experience and their longing to leave their black mark on black metal. It features the best parts of all that came before it on previous releases and builds to improve upon them in every single facet, it is the culimation of years of experience and the duo’s need to return to prove why they made significant waves in the underground in the first place.

Image may contain: one or more people, night, sunglasses and close-up
Karhmul – Vocals, Guitar

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Kadavr – Guitar, Bass, Flute

As of writing, this is everything that the band have done together in their five years since formation. Time will tell if and when there is more to come and what direction the two black metallers decide to go in towards the future. If you are interested in what the best of UK black metal has to offer or want to know where to start with the underground scene, then you could do so much worse than to listen to Nokturnal Ritual. Long may they reign.

Nokturnal Ritual on Bandcamp: https://nokturnalritual.bandcamp.com/

Nokturnal Ritual on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nokturnalritual/

Nokturnal Ritual on Metal Archives: https://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Nokturnal_Ritual/3540382953

Author: Aleksha McLoughlin

Current 3rd year journalism student at Falmouth University. Writer for Pit of Plagues, The Metal Experience and other music based publications, as well as freelance.

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