ALBUM REVIEW: Noctule – Wretched Abyss

Release Date: May 28th 2021
Label: Church Road Records
Website: None available


If there’s merely one positive to be drawn from this past year, it’s the abundance of extra time that artists have been unexpectedly granted. With no touring schedules and idle hands being the devil’s plaything, it’s been reassuring to see creative flames refusing to be dampened, even when caught in the winds of ultimate adversity.

One such pair of devilish appendages are those of Serena Cherry of Svalbard, who utilised her time spent in lockdown to fully form Noctule, a solo black metal project inspired by and focused entirely around the world of video game phenomenon, Skyrim.

With the fantastical nature of both the genre and game, it’s really not difficult to understand the correlation or artistic merit behind it all. Any perceived gimmick aside, ‘Wretched Abyss’ makes a strong case for most enthralling and dynamic black metal release of the year thus far.

Combining classic and modern tropes, Cherry‘s interpretations are in a constant state of flux, like the ever-shifting current of a river on its way to icing. The familiar tremolo noodling of opener, ‘Elven Sword’, immediately strikes a familiar chord, trudging along with Carpathian authenticity, while the deeper you dwell, the more unpredictable the compositions become.

Blues soloing gives way to a serene acoustic post-rock crescendo on the triumphant ‘Labyrinthian’, while the album’s title-track gleams with symphonic blackened melody that would warm the cold hearts of Emperor or Dimmu Borgir.

The album’s crowning achievement, ‘Evenaar’, is a genre transcending sonic spectacle, beginning with hushed choral vocals painting a gloomy portrait before descending into epic, splendid, unhinged chaos. With shades of experimental black metal acts such as Liturgy and Deafheaven, and the more ethereal post-rock of A.A. Williams, there’s an emotive urgency and frantic nature that feels right at home in the depths of screamo oriented blackgaze.

Where Noctule succeeds with ‘Wretched Abyss’ is where so many others stumble. Serena Cherry leans into a unique vision, and commits to it with a maven-like quality. Her adoration, respect, and understanding of both black metal and Skyrim makes for a captivating, sincere listen, aided in no small part by her musical skill. At times glacial and agonised, enchanting and menacing, or traditionalist and experimentalist, there’s no denying the sheer breadth and scope of this debut.

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