Review Summary: Fine-tuned atmo black with some twists
The ‘similar bands’ referenced on Connecticut-based band Noltem’s Sputnik profile (and the comparable collection mentioned on their Bandcamp) read like a “who’s who” of the world of atmospheric black metal. From progenitors like Ulver to more recent headliners, European and American, like Drudkh and Agalloch, this assortment is undoubtedly high-class, but I’m not sure it does Noltem any favors. This isn’t to say that the group's new LP, Illusions In The Wake
, doesn’t fall under these artists’ purview, as influence from many of them can indeed be cited throughout the album. It’s just that, when such a broad range of the most successful and acclaimed bands in this particular subgenre are brought up in this way, there’s an inevitable expectation that Noltem may just be a derivative and generic representative of the style. Fortunately, this very much isn’t the case. While building from a foundation of atmospheric and melodic black metal, Noltem have succeeded here by integrating a number of other threads into their music to create a record which is very much their own, along the way demonstrating an uncommon level of craft for their first full-length.
The six tracks Noltem present here run a gamut of genre stylings. While black metal has typically been a bit of a monochromatic genre (and often all the better for it), here the music eschews the limitations of only frostbitten shades of black and gray to be more reminiscent of the gorgeous and lush album artwork, diverse and colorful despite retaining grit and even brutality. First of all, Illusions In The Wake
frequently seasons its blackened textures with progressive influences, which don’t take long to rear their head. Opener “Figment” features soaring guitar solos which emphasize this side of the band’s sound, even as it is one of the less adventurous tunes on offer. Closer “On The Shores Of Glass” is an even better example of this tendency, a lengthy instrumental which veers sharply into proggy metal goodness. In addition, much of the music here has a groove-laden and sludgy tinge, and periodic blackgaze and post-rock moments also arise, like in the lengthy outro to “Ruse”, even if the band doesn’t fully commit to this direction. The great thing about this album, though, is that these genre experimentations don’t feel forced, and flow together effortlessly. This isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, let alone on a debut album (the band’s only previous releases were widely spaced out, a demo in 2005 and an EP in 2015).
All told, Illusions In The Wake
feels like an ambitious release within a digestible runtime (under forty-one minutes in total). While there’s nothing here truly unprecedented, the songs are a confident and deft-handed exploration of a number of styles. I wouldn’t claim that this album is a classic, but it’s a blast to jam nonetheless, and given its masterful execution there should be high expectations for the band’s future output.. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait too long for a follow-up.