Released: 1997, Oriana Music
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
After the magnificent “Lunar Poetry”, Nokturnal Mortum came back in 1997 with their third opus “Goat Horns”. Originally released in tape by Polish label Morbid Noizz Productions, this full-length record is officially considered as their debut album although it’s a mistake to do so in my opinion especially when I recall the incredible quality of their previous releases. 1997 was a very productive year for Knjaz Varggoth and his comrades.
First of all, they did a great Split tape “Path of the Wolf / Return of the Vampire Lord” (through Russian label MetalAgen Records) with another pioneer of Ukrainian black metal: Lucifugum. At that time, this collaboration marked the beginning of a strong friendship between both bands. However, their brotherhood didn’t last very long as Lucifugum’s founding member Khlyst cut all contact with Varggoth a few years later. Igor Naumchuk being a very unstable person and having caused many problems to some labels (including Drakkar Productions and Dark Horizon Records), that doesn’t surprise me at all.
Then, they did two excellent EPs separately “Return of the Vampire Lord” and “Marble Moon”. They both contain cover songs, rarities and new tracks which were re-released in 2003 by Oriana Music as a compilation CD. And what about “Goat Horns”? Once again, this horde carved an absolute masterpiece of folk/symphonic black metal that defines even more the Ukrainian style. “Kuyaviya”, “Goat Horns”, “Veles' Scrolls” and “Kolyada” became some of the band’s classic songs later. Just like “Lunar Poetry”, this record has been very influential for many local acts (Lucifugum, Astrofaes, Anthropolatri, Kroda, Dub Buk, Svarga, Munruthel, Finist, etc.) and several Russian hordes as well (Temnozor, Rodovest, Rossomahaar). The combination of orchestral keyboards and native folk instruments became their trademark.
There have been some significant changes concerning the line-up. Let’s start with the bad news: Wortherax left the band and was replaced by Karpath who is far less talented than him unfortunately. I have to say I really miss his brilliant guitar solos, catchy melodies and good technical abilities. His successor is only able to play some extremely raw riffs but his guitars are still very pleasant to hear and haven’t ruined anything at all. The good news is the arrival of Saturious as second keyboardist. That was clearly a highlight in Nokturnal Mortum’s career. If I’m not wrong, it was the first time in the history of extreme metal music that a band had two full-time keyboardists playing live and in studio together.
Munruthel’s drum machine sounds far better than in the past, which is a relief as the tracks don’t give the impression of being demo versions anymore. There has been a clear improvement on the drums sound through the years. Varggoth’s vocals are very personal and have changed a little bit compared to its previous works. His black metal screams are indeed raspier, suffocated. Anyway, I don’t know what this album would be without Sataroth and Saturious’ incredible talent. For many years, I’ve been listening to loads and loads of keyboardists from symphonic extreme metal acts and in my opinion, none of them have reached their level of inspiration and creativity.
It’s impressive to see they have succeeded in working in perfect symbiosis. While Sataroth is crafting most of the orchestrations, Saturious is focusing on the folkloric arrangements. The “Black Moon Overture” is simply one of the best intros I’ve ever heard: majestic symphonies, soaring layers of synths, charming folk melodies inspired from their native traditional music. Then comes a deluge of epic compositions that incite the listener to walk slowly through the vast and beautiful Ukrainian wheat fields beneath a starlit sky. Unlike their early records, the atmosphere of “Goat Horns” is warm and that can be felt delightfully throughout “Kuyaviya” and “Veles' Scrolls”. Those are definitely the two best songs of the opus due to their stunning melodies. Of course, the Slavonic Heathen feeling is omnipresent and makes the compositions even more enchanting.
By the way, the 2004 limited edition CD contains a fantastic cover song of “Wild Child” as bonus track. Being a big fan of W.A.S.P., I’m very glad they’ve performed it by adding their personal touch. The vocals are more aggressive than Blackie Lawless’ ones here and Saturious has offered some nice atmospheric synths. That song would fully deserve to appear on any W.A.S.P. tribute album. We need more heavy metal classics covered by Nokturnal Mortum!
Nowadays, “Goat Horns” is considered as a black metal classic and has been re-released in 2010 by Oriana Music, after being sold out many times. As always, Sir Gorgoroth has done a great job regarding the design of the latest CD version. To conclude, it’s funny to remember that Nuclear Blast released this monument in 1998 and contributed to spread their name throughout the European continent! Cult!
Review by Oliver Manso.