Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix – Album Review

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Artist: Nocturnal Rites

Album Title: Phoenix

Label: AFM Records

Date Of Release: 29 September 2017

A good decade ago, Swedish melodic power metal band Nocturnal Rites released the eighth album of their career, ‘The 8th Sin’. It received generally very positive reviews and I certainly enjoyed the content. What I didn’t realise then was that this would be the last we heard from the quintet for ten long years. Then again, I’m not entirely sure that the band themselves thought this would be the case either. In 2008, long-time guitarist Nils Norberg left to be replaced by Christoffer Rörland who in turn later left to join Sabaton. But even then, we are led to believe that a follow-up album was to be recorded in 2011. Needless to say, that this didn’t happen and so fans have been left waiting and wondering for what feels like an eternity.

All that history is exactly that though: history. It’s in the past and it is time to focus on the here and now. On that score, things are looking very rosy indeed because not only have Nocturnal Rites returned, but they have delivered an album, the aptly-titled ‘Phoenix’, that’s better than I had ever dared to hope for.

It is like the band never went away. The core of vocalist Jonny Lindqvist, guitarist Fredrik Mannberg, bassist Nils Eriksson and drummer Owe Lingvall remain in place, recently joined by Scar Symmetry guitarist extraordinaire Per Nilsson to round things out. As a huge fan of Scar Symmetry and the impeccable guitar playing of Nilsson, I was even more excited about ‘Phoenix’ than I would have otherwise been. And they have put together a truly brilliant heavy metal album. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to create the perfect blend of melodic metal, power metal and classic heavy metal, then look no further than ‘Phoenix’.

Ok, so ‘Phoenix’ might not be perfect, but it is damn close. For example, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs as being a weak link or a dip in the quality, such is the consistently high standard that runs like a golden thread through this record.

Everything a died-in-the-wool heavy metal fan could possibly want is right here. There’s no wasted time, no wasted notes; the whole album feels well-honed and well oiled, like a machine. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the music on ‘Phoenix’ is devoid of humanity or lacking in heart. Quite the opposite in fact. And if your blood doesn’t start pumping a little faster as you listen, you may as well give up on listening to heavy metal entirely.

What you get on ‘Phoenix’ is wall-to-wall riffs, gigantic rhythms, huge melodic choruses that frequently veer into anthemic territory, blazing solos and powerful vocals that are dripping with heart and passion.

That word ‘passion’ is important because, although I talk about this being a honed, well-oiled album, the passion with which the material is delivered is apparent in every department. ‘Phoenix’, as the name suggests, has the feel and atmosphere of a band that has been reborn and as a result, are loving every minute. I can imagine the guys grinning ear to ear in the rehearsal room and studio as the music came to life. And quite justifiably too.

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At this juncture, I feel compelled to return to an aspect of ‘Phoenix’ that I find so wonderful, and that’s the lead guitar solos. I’m a sucker for a good lead break but over the years they have generally become less fashionable. But fashion be damned, Nocturnal Rites demonstrate without question, just how irresistible a good six-string shred can sound and why heavy metal should never abandon this most glorious of excesses. This is hardly surprising though if I’m honest. This was always a significant weapon in the Nocturnal Rites armoury but now, with Nilsson delivering many of the leads, they are a thing of utter joy and exuberance, both melodically charged and technically adept.

It is a challenge reviewing albums like this because it is always tricky choosing which songs to highlight for special praise. Each of the eleven tracks has something about it which is deserving of mention but that would make for a lengthy review.

Nevertheless I feel compelled to begin with the opening cut, ‘Heart As Black As Coal’. The opening riff grabs you by the scruff of the neck with its no-nonsense attitude and it’s not long before the first gigantic chorus of the record hits with style and panache. The production is great, offering clarity to all instruments whilst providing the guitars with an exceptional strength. The tone of the track is dark and menacing, accentuated by the aggressive and forceful delivery of Lindqvist but it’s ultimately an enormous heavy metal anthem that fills my heart with unbridled joy.

‘Before We Waste Away’ ensures that ‘Phoenix’ maintains the best possible start. The mid-tempo stomp underpinned by Lingvall and Eriksson is irresistible, especially when it leads into such an edifying chorus; hook-laden and sublime. It also features a mind-boggling lead guitar solo that veers nicely into Scar Symmetry territory before being dragged back into the monstrous chorus.

By way of contrast, ‘The Poisonous Seed’ is a harder, faster and darker beast all round. Double-pedal drumming dovetails with yet more crunchy, uncompromising riffing whilst there’s a more pronounced use of dramatic keys just behind the metallic tumult.

One of my favourites, a little surprisingly, has to be the slightly more ballad-like ‘Repent My Sins’. I love the slower, writhing riff and the way that it works excellently in tandem with one of my favourite choruses on ‘Phoenix’. Again the tone of the composition and the lyrics is relatively dark, with Lindqvist offering a mesmeric performance, but I can’t help but smiling as I listen because everything is just so on-point and insanely enjoyable.

Another stand-out track is ‘The Ghost Inside Me’ which is as dramatic and symphonic as I’ve heard from Nocturnal Rites. At its heart, it is still a monstrous metal song but thanks to the inclusion of choir vocals and a marked increase in orchestration, it stands out in grandiose style, full of pomp and theatrics. Then there’s the instantly more modern-sounding ‘Nothing Can Break Me’ with its bold electronic effects and even more impactful chorus.

With any band that returns after such a long hiatus, the anticipation is always going to be huge. But crucially, Nocturnal Rites have not just lived up to my expectations, they have smashed them out of the park. It is a dangerous thig to say with over three months of 2017 left, but I am struggling to believe that anyone else will release a better melodic power metal album this year. ‘Phoenix’ is huge and it deserves your attention immediately.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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