The scene is set a with sombre, classically flavoured piano intro, just over 2 minutes long, full of emotion and drama. Anything could be coming next, Black Metal? Pagan Metal? Post Rock? Symphonic Metal? Doom? Almost the last thing I was expecting was the groove-laden psychedelia-spiced Hard Rock/Metal blasting out like a Retro Metal version of The Police. I don’t mean Starsky and Hutch, or Robocop in flares and a Kaftan for that matter. And to be fair, my “Sting” comparison is really only down to the height and delivery of the vocals (like in his earlier days). When you add everything in the band’s sound together, there is much more of Witchcraft’s debut, Horisont, Graveyard and Wolf to be found. Then, when you concentrate a little more on the music you might even hear evidence of anything from UFO, Budgie, Wishbone Ash, Rival Sons, Solitude Aeturnus and Bigelf as well as the recent offerings by Angel Witch and Epitaph.
The effortless ease that these talented Swedes manage to morph 70’s groove/prog with touches of NWOBHM is a joy from the outset. Really mixing up the tempos and ladling in fantastic lead guitar solos when they feel like it gives the whole album a laid-back, yet unified feel. “Above Below Within” strides commandingly between the up-tempo Graveyard-ness of tracks like ‘The Watchmen’ and ‘Sing To Sleep My Soul’, and the stripped back, more melancholy acoustic-led ‘Towards The End’ (which closes the album in a fabulously reflective way). Sometimes they do it all in one track like ‘Lady Of The Woods’ , whose killer dual solo is the track’s soaring, central crowning glory in between slower, more thoughtful emotive vocal passages. The vocals, as I mentioned are mostly in the high register, but are note-perfect, but is quite a feat when using the retro type mix on offer here. They lend themselves to a decent chorus or two as well (‘The Stone’ is a particularly good one), nicely placed in amongst the ever-present persistent riffs and rhythms.
Nocturnalia are a damn fine musical unit, a quintet that work perfectly together, but like all the great Metal bands of yore, the guitar-work seems to shine through on every song. Whether it’s stunning lead or growling, catchy rhythm, the guitars are right there every time. This is actually the band’s first to feature additional guitarist Linus Lundgren, but he sounds like he’s been with them for years, such is the mood of the album in it’s entirety. I also wanted to mention that there are some really nice occasional touches from classical pianist Elena Zorina too, just for a little added sparkle.
“Above Below Within” offers the lucky listener seven, well thought out and expertly crafted tracks that sit perfectly with each other, covering every mood and emotion you could hope for. Nocturnalia blend together so many familiar elements, yet the way they gel and sit with each other, you just feel that this is totally representative of the unique sound that the band have crafted together. A great album from an emerging band on only their second release – here’s to many more!
(8.5/10 Andy Barker)