Formed back in the 90’s, Nocturnal Rites released three rather Hammerfall-esque Power Metal albums before the Millennium, but for me they really found their identity with the introduction of vocalist Jonny Lidqvist and 2000’s excellent “Afterlife”. Four more albums of an equally high standard followed culminating with “8th Sin” in 2007. Then nothing for the next ten years! They never actually split up – one guitarist left to join Sabaton, but that’s about it. Well surely it can come as no surprise to anyone who has got this far down the review that 2017 brings a new Nocturnal Rites album! And with a highly respected Melodic Metal band like Nocturnal Rites it brings much anticipation and interest. However changes have occured…

Nocturnal Rites have added multi-talented guitarist Per Nilsson to their ranks (known as the guitarist from Scar Symmetry, but many other releases too) and although according to the band many of the songs were written before his inclusion in the ranks, there is a real Scar Symmetry vibe to the guitar playing. I don’t think the reason for the change in their basic sound can be laid at his door, but the band have certainly based their new sound around that down-tuned Modern Metal sound he, among others, is known for. There’s a bit of Evergrey in some of guitar-work too, and many of the songs have a more aggressive edge to them. However they have tried to blend this new-found attitude with their own unique melodic past and I’m really sorry to say that I’m just not sure it works. Hey, it’s just personal taste, but for instance one thing I loved about Nocturnal Rites was how Lindqvist’s fabulous classic Metal voice seemed to ride and compliment their songs so effortlessly, whereas now the drier mix and delivery of the vocals sometimes seem to fight against the songs and just don’t blend like they used to.

There are still some decent songs on here of course (their delivery being what it is) and tracks like ‘The Ghost Inside Me’, ‘Before We Walk Away’ and ‘Repent My Sins’ have plenty about them to please long-term fans, they just have a down-tuned, darker edge to their music. It all feels a bit awkward though when the band try and push it further like in ‘Flames’, which is a very melodic slower track, but with a strange In Flames (coincidentally) style angst running through the music that just doesn’t really fit for me. I’m also not a particular fan of tracks like ‘What’s Killing Me’ and ‘Heart As Black As Coal’ that have a tendency to come across as the musical equivalent of a stroppy, angry teenager – but maybe that’s one of the demographics that the album is aimed at so who am I to question?

If this is the direction the band are enjoying going in then it’s their prerogative and decision – it might just work for them and if this is the sound that has rekindled their interest in recording music again then that’s just fine, people can judge for themselves. It’s OK to try something new – a band should evolve, and if you don’t try new things you’ll never know how they will be perceived until you’ve released them. I’m sure many a fan of their previous sound will enjoy this new direction, maybe some will think it’s not that big a leap, but others might not be so keen, and it’s my job to try and inform people. Personally, and I hate saying it as I class myself as a fan of the band’s previous work, but I just don’t really get on with this album at all. I don’t think it entirely works, but the band clearly have their reasons for change and good luck to them – it doesn’t make them any less talented, it just makes them different from who they used to be.

(6/10 Andy Barker)