NARBELETH – Svmma Cvm Nox Arcana (2021)REVIEW

At the peak of the night, our best-hidden creeps scramble in a fever of writhing blackness for the air of frost or dew that sustains them away from the sun. All life ends exactly there, or, will when we can finally, gratefully no longer depend upon the dawn beyond the wringing of sweat in the darkness. To Pontevedra, Galicia-unbound black metal duo Narbeleth the deepest, most sinister unknown reaches of the night provide endless inspiration, a beauteous death resting on the eye’s horizon worthy of worship. ‘Svmma Cvm Nox Arcana‘ is the fifth ritual from the entity and inarguably the one that dances closest to the fire, whirling visions of endtyme and calling for the moon by name via pure and melodious black metal.

The earliest stage of development for what Narbeleth would become begins in Havana, Cuba of all places wherein the band Ancestor would feature guitarist Dakkar. This could be considered one of the earliest ‘pure’ black metal acts from Cuba, or, the first of ten that’d formed and released anything prior to 2005. In terms of black metal history within the Caribbean, there were certainly black metal related bands out of the Havana area as early as 1996 but if we are to weigh commercial extreme metal imitation versus youthful underground art most would consider this demo the first strong release from the region in its style, or, at least I would. Though the band weren’t such an important precursor to Narbeleth‘s sound it is still vital to observe the conviction of his guitar work in nascent state circa 2005 with the ‘In the Absence of Light‘ demo. The choice to strike out on his own in 2008 was well founded as it allowed Narbeleth to develop within a self-motivated chasm and eventually eclipse Ancestor‘s output by 2011.

When enforcing a solo black metal venture the only place to start is an honest display of skill level and in the case of his first demo (‘Dark Primitive Cult‘, 2009) it would be fair to say that this fellow had already long been honing skill in terms of writing classic early second wave black metal influenced pieces with some particular love for Norse and Svensk guitar dialects to start. Though that description sounds more tame than either ‘Diabolus Incarnatus‘ (2011) or ‘A Hatred Manifesto‘ (2014) actually were, it’d be fair to say the focus was upon orthodoxy and ugliness to start, though Dakkar‘s rhythm guitar work soon developed in voice enough to avoid too many plain regional indicators. Beyond a cover song on his third album (‘Through Blackness and Remote Places‘, 2015) the comparisons to Judas Iscariot and Arckanum became more justified in unison with previously fluctuating focus on melodic black metal guitar work, fluid movement at mid-to-fast paced speed now represented his strongest left-hand modulation. This, paired with what I’d consider some early Immortal-esque bludgeoning on ‘Indomitvs‘ (2017) and a proper drummer in ex-Sartegos member Vindok, represented a peak of what Dakkar would accomplish within his Primitive Studios setup in Cuba. An impressive level of skill had been developed, a personal voice stained each recording, and the realm of black metal orthodoxy had given way to a devout sort of melodic black metal-thrusted sound with a regal, dream-like lilt to its phrasing.

A pact was formed with ‘Indomitvs’ and this meant Dakkar would emigrate to Galicia and likewise make live performance and greater European presence for the band and from there they’ve built some reputation for what I suppose is quite obvious from the first few moments that ‘Svmma Cvm Nox Arcana’ plays. Trading the gloriously harsh ugliness of early 90’s teenaged black metal for the slightly more mature mid-90’s output and releasing what is perhaps thier most resolutely melodic material to date lends the Narbeleth name an almost exclusively beauteous yet still obsidian sharp feeling, not unlike ‘Distant in Solitary Night’ or ‘Nattestid Ser Porten Vid’ or even the more recent work from Djevel (in fact, they cover a NettleCarrier song here). That isn’t to say that modern day black metal’s overt and often disgusting sweetness doesn’t touch the sentimental hand of these pieces but that this album does hail precedence from outside of the usual Finnish, Polish, and French influences, most of the time. So, a lovely and impossibly dark set of songs but neither aimless nor saccharine when confronted, oozing with a too-strong dose of ether maybe but never soft-balled.

Narbeleth aim to suffocate with melodious rapture from the first strike of the guitar as “Nox Arcana” immediately begins to paint its picture, the appropriate mindset for the Swedish black metal attuned is probably Kvist though less sophisticated, perhaps Vinterland‘s more immediate slashes on ‘Welcome to My Last Chapter’ (see: “I’m an Other in the Night”) yet by the two minute mark we can already see this sentimental hand slowing the attack and drawing out the big reveal which, to be fair, is a beautiful sort of revelatory moment to introduce the album with since they waste no time reprising the slick main riff introduced to start. Though I was prepared to mark this record down as plain and “usual” at first glance I have to say the duo of the opener and “Cold Whisper Carried by the Wind” were enough to insist upon a deeper look, maybe not enough to sell the record outright but from the start we see Dakkar‘s main focus in songwriting has been upon creating a sort of “on edge” tension within all of the lovely melodies being flung about in consonant, gratifying order. It isn’t so much that the threat of what comes next has me clawing at my chair but that the greater arc of each melody always does go somewhere, full statements that feel like conversational prose or, restless existential poetics that cannot help but wander into the dark without a lantern. At the very least the presentation isn’t as vulgar as Narbeleth‘s most dear Scandinavian influences might infer. And it is worth stating that this is their first album with a full and resonant production value, all is revealed and yet still represents the careening grace of a coldly wandering entity.

“A Throne Over the Seven Stars” completes this first introductory arc and here I’d say most black metal listeners understand they’re in for another half hour of exactly this modus, though Narbeleth do actually go deeper into atmospheric and melodic extremes as we advance. “Moon of a Thousand Shapes” should stop most in their tracks, exceeding the expectations set with its elaboration of earlier acoustic accoutrement into a major piece of the “reveal” of the song, this is where I personally felt the switch had been flipped and a “melodic black metal” tag securely affixed. Side B is the sound carried on the wind, the biggest and most sweeping statements from the band to date, and though I’d found myself lost within “Towards the Most Primitive Matter of Our Nature” for its moment it was “Hear the Pale Moon Speak the Arcane Secrets” that convinced me to listen to ‘Svmma Cvm Nox Arcana’ several more times. It is a long arc to follow from start to finish but how the full experience ties up here on the last piece is more than the usual “basking in the afterglow of armageddon” feeling we get from modern black metal records, or whatever shit filler most toss at the end, but instead there is a strong feeling of the ‘self’ gathered and corporeal again and perhaps in awe of the transformative sojourn the lyrics take along the way. Either way it ended up being a valuable feeling to sum the record with and of course the NettleCarrier cover is both an extra and an extension of this feeling though I could always live without cover songs on full-lengths.

At some point listening to black metal cannot be a hobby else it dries away any interest in guitar music and instead my own listening must be reserved for the truly resonant and evocative works. Though I’d argue that Narbeleth are just now conjuring their portal to a self-designed world with ‘Svmma Cvm Nox Arcana’ it is already worthy of immersion within. I simultaneously see the continuum of possibilities for thier ambitious yet traditional expansion and yet feel nothing but contentment with this experience. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Svmma Cvm Nox Arcana
LABEL(S):Folter Records
RELEASE DATE:June 11th, 2021
BUY:Folter Shop [CD], [LP]
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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