Nocturnal Witch – A Thousand Pyres (2019) REVIEW

Stacked with half a ton of wood and roaring for six full hours, the traditional funeral pyres described as duty-bound purification in some Hindi texts continue within India to this day despite their horrendous effect upon the environment and slightly barbaric appearance to much of the ‘western’ world. Until 1920 a sati, the practice of self-immolation upon a man’s funeral pyre by his duty-bound wife, was frowned upon but still seen as a secular religious right by many. A cremation or a duty bound suicide are surely horrors to witness but, to consider the death that the slash-and-burn of sixty million trees per year brings to the world that horror’d pale by comparison. It becomes painfully clear in these end times that any/all ancient religion hadn’t accounted for the eventual ridiculous overpopulation of the planet. The apocalyptic instructions handed down to blind followers of any religion across the last several thousand years account for a holocausts worth of death year-over-year. Death is everywhere and the environment no longer offers any filter for it. Poisonous ash seeps into potable water, toxic clouds scour our weakening lungs, and blasphemic heavy metal no longer frightens the rabid self-eating zealots that perpetuate our destruction from the suburbs to our most wretched metropolis. The diabolical brethren who’d stake flag and fire within Thuringia, Germany and proclaim themselves Nocturnal Witch champion this rising death of the world, experiencing it with every sense and amplifying the forces of darkness through unholy thrashing black metallic fury. Their second full-length ‘A Thousand Pyres’ finds the duo yanking the cross, and the Christ attached, from the earth and stoking it alight with the fires of Hell before slashing down humanity with the immolated, weaponized savior as its mightiest flaming demise.

There are multitudes of sects within the black/thrash metal umbrella and perhaps the most under-served ratio is the black metal band that’d incorporate first wave black metal affect sparingly. In most cases Teutonic thrash metal and classic speed metal receive aesthetic gilding or rasping vocal affect but few incorporate true black metal for fear of losing the power of 80’s extreme thrash metal guitar work. On their 2014 debut full-length ‘Summoning Hell’ Nocturnal Witch fell in with the more average (read: Darkthrone inspired) and well-populated sect of blackened thrash metallers as contemporaries of Cruel Force, Nocturnal, early Ketzer, Urn and a thousand more… Though they were in good company to be sure, there wasn’t yet anything remarkable about the band on that first album other than they kicked ass in a very plain manner. On this second album Tyrant and Baphomet have given their sound a massive round of shock treatment and spiked their black metal riffcraft beyond expectation up towards the heights of ‘Envoy of Lucifer’-era Nifelheim and the modern development of Desaster. In some subtle ways their sound begins to creep towards the more thoughtful heights of Mongrel’s Cross as they move into the rapacious second wave just enough to kick their thrashing heavy metal ways up towards greater extremity.

Rabidly paced and razor-whipped, there is no denying the powerful black metal sound that Nocturnal Witch have landed upon with ‘A Thousand Doors’ but, those hallmarks of the sub-genre collision tend to show well in preview and the riffs are typically what matters in the long run. I wouldn’t personally be writing about these thrashers if they couldn’t bring a fuck-ton of riffs along the way, and it helps quite a bit that they’ve leaned into the ferocity of early Swedish and German black metal for their attack. I’m reminded of Zemial and Nifelheim most clearly at their fastest but, also a sort of Sorhin-esque needled attack they’ll build towards when stringing together those faster riffs. What I’m intending as a description should be much more clear with a quick spin of the title track, which sets the bar fairly high above their debut album and foreshadows some of the guitar work that comes later on. As the tracks shift between blackened speed metal and black metal I was effectively captivated by “Scorn and Wrath” which melded both approaches but began to jolt into a Merciless ‘Unbound’ state that wasn’t necessarily as Bathory-esque as comparably modern Destroyer 666 material but just as effective. On that same thread it seemed like “Follow the Call…” aims for a Hellenic black metal approach and manages to nail it with a particularly effective set of riffs. They haven’t created a complete masterpiece with this heavier focus on pure black metal but, goddamn if they aren’t the most effective moments on the album.

Of course I’d plugged this album as one of the ‘best of March’ before I’d realized that the release date had changed to the first week of April and now that list looks particularly stupid. Alas, it is a fantastic album all the same. If you enjoy Nifelheim black/thrash as much as I do, that’ll likely be enough of a mention to go grab a copy but any black metal fan hesitant to jump on a black/thrash record due to generic speed metal riffage I’d say you’re safe trying this one out. Highly recommended, though it might give you some of that classic thrash riff tunnel vision they do a great job of breaking things up with some epic black metal tracks. For preview “Dark Forces” will have blackened speed metal heads kick-flipping, “Scorn and Wrath” will get some melodic black metal fans on board, and “Follow the Call…” will have you hitting the repeat button and trying it all over again.

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Artist Nocturnal Witch
Type Album
Released April 9, 2019
BUY & LISTEN on Undercover / Evil Spells Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Nocturnal Witch on Facebook
Genre Black Metal,
Blackened Thrash Metal

Dark shapes dancing. 4.0/5.0

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