Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Album Review: Nocturnal Rites - Phoenix

When I was getting into metal, it was through power metal, and one of the bands that helped usher me in was Nocturnal Rites. That was as "The Grand Illusion" came out, which along with follow-up "The 8th Sin", captured my attention with their blend of modern heaviness and all-out melody. I heard rumblings from older fans that they didn't like the more over modern and pop overtones, but it was magic to my ears. Even if I go a year without hearing those songs, I can still remember most of those melodies vividly. I was saddened when years stretched on, and a full decade elapsed before news came out that Nocturnal Rites was returning. This album has the potential to be one of the biggest moments of the year, if the lengthy time off didn't slow down the band's momentum.

My nerves over the wait were quieted before I ever got the album. The two singles released early, "Before We Waste Away" and "Heart Black As Coal", were both fabulous tracks that picked up right where the band left off, with heavy modern riffing and melodies to die for. I couldn't have asked for anything more, and despite listening to them repeatedly as I waited, they just kept getting better and better, sometimes popping into my head as soon as I woke up in the morning.

Notable was the addition of Per Nilsson, the master guitarist who has lent his talents to countless projects at this point. The band already had great songwriting and fantastic vocals, and now they have a world-class lead guitar player. The solos on this album are a guitar player's dream... and nightmare. The fretboard displays are incredibly impressive, but will also deflate anyone's ego who wants to learn one of these songs.

Despite the time between albums, Johnny Lindqvist sounds as good as ever. His voice is one of the best in all of metal, and after being away for so long, hearing him again is a reminder of why we missed Nocturnal Rites so much. There aren't many power metal singers who can match him in pure tone, or in the ability to write and sell a hook.

The one thing to be said about "Phoenix" is that if you didn't like the direction "The 8th Sin" took, this album isn't going to correct course. These songs are tight, heavy, very modern tracks that don't shy away from pumping up the melodies. It's not the traditional power metal the band started out playing. Myself, I find this approach far more interesting, so I'm very happy to see the band staying the course.

And do they ever. "The Poisonous Seed" is the one track here that comes across flat, but otherwise these are all tracks that absolutely slay with their melodies and hooks. You get hints of strings to expand the scope on two tracks, no all-out ballads, and heavy doses of Nocturnal Rites doing what they do best. Most every song could be singled out, which means there's no need to do so. This is one of those albums where the quality is constant, which is where the time was put to good use. While I loved their last couple of albums, they weren't this jam-packed with great songs. One mediocre song on an album is a greta batting average.

So overall, "Phoenix" is an even better comeback than I could have expected. Power metal is rather stale right now, and "Phoenix" is the kind of album that should be made more often. "The 8th Sin" was at the forefront of taking power metal into the modern melodic age, and "Phoenix" does the same thing. Sadly, that means the rest of the scene hasn't advanced the ball much in the intervening years. That doesn't diminish the fact that "Phoenix" is the best power metal album so far this year, and is one anyone who enjoys melodic metal has to give a listen.

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