When a band has said that they are changing their sound it can justifiably give their fans some pause. While not all change is bad of course the implication that pops up within the listener’s mind is that there was something wrong with the way the band sounded before. The idea of progressive metal (not prog) is a very uncomfortable one within the metal community because we don’t like change. We hate it really. Look at the sorts of reactions bands like Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir, and Darkthrone have received as their sounds progressed from black metal to black’n’roll (for Satyricon), symphonic extreme metal (for Dimmu), and punk black metal (for Darkthrone. To say the opinions of fans was somewhat negative would be a huge understatement would it not? I’m not saying that individuals didn’t love the change and like the new material better but the loudest of opinions seems to be change is bad. Is change bad for a band though? The answer of course is never a simple yes or no because there are so many factors that play into a band’s change of sound. For instance, they could have had a massive shake up in the lineup and now the old sound is not as good so rather than play something old not as well they move on to play a slightly different (or very different) style. For a more in-depth look at how a change in sound can affect the band let’s look at the Greek black metal band Nocternity and their 2015 album “Harps of the Ancient Temples.”
The album was marketed as a shift in sound from a more atmospheric sound to a striped down, pure old school black metal. To really understand the shift in sound I listened to some of their older albums (the last being about ten years old) and found that despite the era in which they thrived a lot of their sound was in fact very atmospheric, one could say that the albums in questions gave too much to atmosphere and focused less on the music itself. Harps of the Ancient Temples is a correction of that going in the opposite direction. Theoretically doing something like that could have been very dangerous for the band, a dramatic shift in musical vision is often difficult for fans to wrap their heads around and understand it as the same band. However, for Nocternity the gamble paid off. The sound of the band went from a less symphonic version of their countrymen Rotting Christ, to a stripped down Burzum. And according the band itself that was what they were going for. They culled a lot of the extraneous noise and allowed the music to be at the forefront rather than the theatricality of the band.
With this distilled sound, the specific genre of Nocternity comes into question. Harps of the Ancient Temples exists sort of in between genres, I would say that the album in question is somewhere between medieval black metal and ambient black metal. It doesn’t exist in either but has many of the sonic benefits from both. The guitars are thick and rich with a raw production which gives the sort of echoing sound you find in medieval black metal and of course the subject matter is history and warfare. However, when Nocternity said they were stripping away the atmosphere the meant it. The echoing of the guitar riffs and the drum beats are more incidental than purposeful.
They have a slight live recorded quality that makes the sounds of the instruments and the white noise from outside the music much more entwined and interdependent. The ambient sound, mostly static and drone, would not be able to make an album on its own but with the guitars (expertly played by the way) gives the noise weight, it gives it a purpose that it would not have otherwise. Likewise, the guitars and the drums, though expertly played with lots of melody, would not be anything special without the ambient noise. Without it they would be one another million bands that play stripped down black metal without emotion or purpose. Nocternity and Harps of the Ancient Temple has a purpose. And thank that gods for that.
It’s not just entertaining music here, it’s culture and history wrapped in a vibrant and violent music. Harps of the Ancient Temples gives the listener a chance to experience a Greece that no longer exists but for the tales and songs like this album. It’s an idealized time in many works but Harps of the Ancient Temples does not shy away from the darkness and oppression that hung over those times. It’s a great dose of reality without taking all of the allure of history away. We need albums like that, that tell amazing stories but also true stories not tainted by some sort of autocratic domination. This might have been one of those albums I stumbled upon scrolling through Facebook by happenstance but the fact is that I found it and I loved it and I highly recommend it.
Listen and support!