by Conor Fynes
Nokturnal Mortum clearly impressed themselves so much with Голос сталі in 2009 that they set out to make the album again nearly a decade later.
Say what you will about the perceived softening of their sound; they nailed something special on the last album. In a way, it was the album Nokturnal Mortum had spent their entire career leading up to. The gorgeous folk instrumentation, “Viking-Bathory” epic scope, and occasional dashes of classic rock and prog amidst eerie black metal sounded immediately familiar and accessible. Yet, I cannot think of another band that struck that balance quite like they did on Голос сталі. Some part of me still prefers the primal melange of their earliest work, but I can’t imagine a time where I’ll see the album as any less than one of the finest extreme metal albums of the new millennium.
Істина acts as a mirror sage to its predecessor. Beyond the introductions, both albums seem to rise and fall in a similar arc. By all means, Істина sounds like a direct sequel to Голос сталі in every sense of the word, right down to the same gurgling horns at the beginning. “Мольфа” opens things up proper on a similar note to the last album’s second track: thrumming mid-era Bathory-esque fanfare that builds up to a tense burst of black metal and playful flute riffing. If you feel a nagging sense of déjà vu here, you’re not alone; Nokturnal Mortum have kept their twinkling vision more or less the same over the past decade. Fans of Голос сталі have reason to rejoice, sure, but dishing out such a close-blooded continuation after such a long time has this album more underwhelming than it should have been.
Nokturnal Mortum packed the arrangement with the density of a neutron star. Every repeated listen spotlights a new layer in the mix, and unlike a similar but inferior bombast like Wintersun, the arrangement never feels burdensome. This gorgeous, folk-imbued wall of sound remains the best thing about the band at this stage in their career, and even if the riffs and songwriting aren’t quite as vibrant as they were circa Голос сталі, they’ve lent the material the same fine-toothed comb variety composition. On my first half-attentive listen, I was disappointed by the material on the basis that it was sounding like the generic folk-black metal I always love Nokturnal Mortum for proving wrong. The style may not have changed a wink in eight years, but you can tell from the attention to detail that the album’s been a long time in the making.
I was never going to complain hearing that near-perfect folk metal formula brought about again. Nevertheless, it feels like something is missing. Whatever made Nokturnal Mortum’s masterpiece feel uniquely magical was clearly watered down by the point they finally got around to press the new one to record. Істина‘s certainly grown on me, now to the point where I can consider it an otherwise impressive statement in a quality-stacked year. The comparisons between these two seems inevitable; even if they intentionally planned it out that way, I can’t help but feel that it fell somewhat short of expectations.
Nokturnal Mortum staged a long wait for this album; the standard was set unbelievably high. If it stands as any consolation, as relative disappointments go, Істина is easily the best I’ve heard this year.