Released: 2015, Candlelight Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Supposedly, the best songs to write are those that tell stories. Bards of the ancient worlds were the arguable originators of this art, and their songs' timeless nature (take Homer's “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey”) is testament to the memorable stories. Flash forward several millenia, and bands continue this art. Much is made of the likes of NILE with their Ancient Egyptian-influenced death metal, and AMON AMARTH's Norse mythology, but Liverpool's NINKHARSAG are purveyors of Sumerian mythology in their brand of black metal.
Where many would see the ancient history slant as a gimmick, it's something that can thread an album together and add that extra degree of quality – especially in black metal, where a glut of bands simply opt for the grim and kvlt approach that has been trodden so many times before. “The Sicarii” rips into life with vigour and, whilst not overtly apparent, carries a Middle Eastern-feel to it – the sands of Sumer are almost visible and beneath your feet as you listen.
The focus on tracks like “The Essential Salts Of Human Dust”, “Ninkharsag” and “Tartarus Unbound” is the use of those little semi-tone progressions – it creates that hot, arid atmosphere further enriches the stories being told by these Liverpudlian bards. It's a prime example of excellent musicianship and songwriting, whilst there is a hint of consideration for the traditions of classic storytelling. The production also feels quite “classic” - it's black metal production, but of an era when bands realised that they could record albums with clarity and care, as opposed to through the adjacent wall. It's balanced, yet light enough to not feeling overbearing or too raw.
It's always a joy to come across bands with a historical or academical stance to their music, and NINKHARSAG will find a place on the playlists of many for that reason. The fact that they can supplement the learned lyrics with a sumptuous black metal assault, only makes things that bit better. This may only be their debut, but more like this and they'll be considered amongst the forerunners of ancient history metal (please, let's not make that a subgenre unto itself...)
Review by Lee Carter