Released: 1998, Oriana Music
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
After the monument “Goat Horns”, Nokturnal Mortum struck again with their fourth opus “To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire” in 1998. This masterpiece confirmed their status of folk/symphonic black metal masters and opened new gates to the band since they signed their first record contract with US big label The End Records. The Ukrainians were at the height of their popularity within the underground black metal scene at that time, just one year before the release of the highly controversial “Nechrist”.
It was a great achievement for the Kharkiv horde to sign at such mainstream label. It’s interesting to notice that the album was sold by The End Records in the North American continent and released by Nuclear Blast in Europe. “To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire” was an instant success and sold out quickly. Then, it was reissued several times by their own company Oriana Music and will be re-released again by cult French label Osmose Productions as a remastered version on CD/vinyl very soon. Following its successful reception, Nuclear Blast and other important labels were interested in welcoming Nokturnal Mortum to their roster but Knjaz Varggoth declined the offers. This fourth Slavonic jewel also confirmed their brotherhood with Lucifugum (another pioneers of Ukrainian black metal) as it was dedicated to Igor Naumchuk, alias Khlyst, who was their close friend at that time.
“To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire” contains eight fantastic compositions of pure symphonic/orchestral black metal. Of course, the charming folk parts (performed by Saturious) are very present, especially on the instrumental “Cheremosh” which incite the listener to dance at a village feast in ancient Ukraine. For example, the combination of folk melodies and sounds of nature (river flows, etc.) is brilliant on that song which is an exception within this offering. Apart from that, I have the impression of wandering through a bloody battlefield where there is no mercy. I’ve never heard such aggressiveness and brutality in a symphonic black metal record.
Varggoth and his comrades clearly wrote their most bestial and powerful songs ever in this album. The production is far better than their previous releases and Munruthel’s drums sound like a relentless steamroller. That’s definitely his best performance as a drummer within Nokturnal Mortum. Unlike his previous works, he proved his good technical skills on this one. Varggoth’s vocals have never been so much hateful than on this record. I would have loved to hear his screams live back in 1998. He also had the excellent idea to provide some solemn clean vocals that make the compositions even more epic and impressive.
Regarding the keyboards, they’re absolutely stunning and magic as always. Like in “Goat Horns”, “Return of the Vampire Lord / Marble Moon” and “Nechrist”, the duet Saturious/Sataroth works wonderfully. Both of them play in perfect symbiosis and they’re probably the most talented keyboardists within the extreme metal scene in my opinion. Their soaring synths are the source of the majestic atmosphere and enchanting melodies that make this album amazing. The contrast between the magnificence of the symphonies and the fury of the guitars is also very striking.
I’m still extremely surprised the band didn’t include “The Hands of Chaos” and “The 13th Asbath Celebration” (with its sumptuous chorus) in their compilation “Eleven Years Among the Sheep” as these are among the best compositions NM has ever written from my point of view. By the way, the first press of the CD version released by Oriana Music in 2004 contains a great cover of Slayer’s classic “South of Heaven” as bonus track. I love both versions. The addition of some inspired layers of synths by Saturious makes their cover song so special. Nokturnal Mortum has always done excellent covers by adding their personal touch and that’s the reason why I would love to hear more heavy/speed/thrash metal classics performed by them.
Despite being ignored by the band for a long time (no re-release since 2004), “To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire” remains an incredible masterpiece of the genre. It was also a huge influence for lots of Ukrainian acts including Lucifugum for instance. There are indeed many similarities between this opus and Lucifugum’s monument “On the Sortilage of Christianity” from 1999. That’s not surprising as Saturious provided some fabulous keyboards on this one as well! Slava!
Review by Oliver Manso