Nokturnal Mortum / Graveland – The Spirit Never Dies

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Reviewed: June 2016
Released: 2016, Heritage Recordings
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: UK Team

It has been a long time a Split album wasn’t so much long-awaited than “The Spirit Never Dies”. Released by Polish label Heritage Recordings a few months ago, this Split CD gathers two black metal legends for the first time ever: Nokturnal Mortum and Graveland. Fans of both hordes have been waiting for this record for ages. Following its release, “The Spirit Never Dies” has received very positive reviews so far and both bands have been praised for their respective new songs. Heritage Recordings did a great job for this record by producing a sumptuous digipack and a nice wooden box (limited to 184 copies). The special wooden box edition is already sold out but you can still purchase the digipack CD.

Knjaz Varggoth and Rob Darken have been great friends since the beginning of the 90s and it’s good to see they’ve finally gathered their forces to make this Split album. They wrote three compositions respectively. Let’s start with Nokturnal Mortum. Seven years after the incredible “The Voice of Steel”, the Ukrainians are back with three new tracks and a forthcoming opus “Verity” that is almost finished. At last! During this period, they released their second live album “Kolovorot” in 2011, wrote lots of songs and played at several festivals throughout Europe. After many listenings, I must say I have mixed feelings about their new works.

The intro “”ескореним (For Unconquered)” contains some folk parts taken from the amazing intro of “The Voice of Steel”. Easy choice. It also consists of atmospheric layers of synths and war sounds. In the past, they used to compose intros which were far more sophisticated than this one to be honest. Regarding the songs “С”…”-дний злам (Eastern Breakdown)” and “”‘ кайдана”… часу (In Shackles of Time)”, it’s surprising to see how Nokturnal Mortum has changed so much. Where are the folk instruments that are the trademark of the Ukrainian black metal style? Where are the epic symphonies and melodies inspired from their native traditional music? It’s very disappointing to notice these elements have completely disappeared. Instead of that, they’ve delivered a kind of experimental/atmospheric black metal that lacks of inspiration even though it has its moments. Apart from the lyrics, Varggoth’s accent and some lamentations of a woman (probably a victim of the War in Donbass if I’m not wrong), the compositions don’t have this Ukrainian touch that made their style unique. The production is excellent, which confirms they want to attract a wider audience. Nokturnal Mortum’s sound has never been so polished and crystal clear than on “The Spirit Never Dies”.

Keyboards have always been NM’ strongest point throughout their career but here, they’re far less inspired and complex than in the past. The reason for this failure is simple. In 2014, long-time member and composer Saturious left the band sadly and hasn’t been officially replaced so far. The Kharkiv horde is still looking for an experienced keyboardist but they’ve asked Hyozt (from Reusmarkt and KZOHH) to provide most of the synth parts in the meantime. By the way, a very few keyboard touches were added by Varggoth and Saturious just as support. I don’t know how “Verity” is going to sound but I really hope we’ll get the usual enchanting symphonic synths next time. It would be absolutely fantastic if Saturious and/or Sataroth could come back as full-time members but it’s not likely to happen unfortunately. It’s also important to notice there were many line-up changes during the few last years and this had clearly an impact on their musical direction. For example, Jurgis (guitarist/vocalist of Khors), who joined them two years ago, wrote the song “С”…”-дний злам (Eastern Breakdown)”.

To conclude with Nokturnal Mortum, these tracks aren’t bad at all, they’re even fairly good if I take them as they are. However, when I compare them to their previous classic masterpieces, it’s obvious that the quality has decreased dramatically. These are definitely the weakest songs the band has ever made. I understand they wanted to experiment and offer something new but that’s not a valid excuse for not proposing high quality compositions. For me, it remains a huge disappointment. “The Spirit Never Dies” won’t meet the expectations of their die-hard fans but I’m sure it will attract new ones on the other hand.

Then, let’s focus on Graveland who clearly made the best part of this Split release. Three years after the great “Thunderbolts of the Gods”, Rob Darken has proven he’s still very inspired as his new compositions are full of strength and honour! Graveland has been a one-man-band for around 16 years but he decided to ask Miro (ex-Moontower) to play drums this time. The band’s popularity has increased a lot since they started doing their first ever shows this year. Their recent live performances have been highly praised by their fans and I’m sure they’re going to surprise us again in the near future. Their Heathen black metal art is very far from being dead.

After a charming medieval folk intro, the Poles delivered two excellent songs which aren’t in the vein of what the band did in the last years. There are almost no keyboards and the epic atmosphere has completely disappeared. These tracks are more melodic than their previous assaults and the folk elements have been strengthened here. Rob Darken’s riffs are catchy but the vielle and cello parts make their art so unique. Indeed, the melodies they bring have a fascinating medieval feeling. These instruments are brilliantly performed by Alruna who also played violin for Lord Wind, Wallachia and Munruthel.

Graveland offered something a bit different to what they used to forge but didn’t fail at all. I’m astonished by the originality of these songs and I wouldn’t have expected them to be far superior to Nokturnal Mortum’s ones. They would even deserve to appear in their next album. By the way, both hordes will participate at the Ragnard Rock Festival in France in July this year. This will be a fantastic way to celebrate their Slavonic brotherhood.

Nokturnal Mortum: 2.5/5
Graveland: 4/5

Review by Oliver M.


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Track Listing:
1. Nokturnal Mortum – “ескореним 03:33
2. Nokturnal Mortum – С”…”-дний злам 07:10
3. Nokturnal Mortum – “‘ кайдана”… часу 09:50
4. Graveland – Intro 02:12
5. Graveland – Lodowy labirynt 07:25
6. Graveland – Ostatni świt 07:15

Nokturnal Mortum:
Knjaz Varggoth – Vocals, Guitars
Jurgis – Guitars
Bairoth – Drums
Rutnar – Bass
Rob Darken – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards
Miro – Drums