Cherry digs into ‘Skyrim’ legend with Noctule’s fiery black metal debut offering ‘Wretched Abyss’

Photo by John Ashby

Heavy metal and videogames go so naturally hand in hand that I feel stupid even pointing it out in this intro. Of course they’re perfect together. I remember being in high school and playing hours and hours of “Metroid,” “Castlevania,” and “Wizards and Warriors” as I played the shit out every Iron Maiden, Helloween, and Metallica cassette ay my disposal until the print wiped off each side.

That was 150 years ago, but the idea remains. Serena Cherry obviously agrees with that sentiment, though her game choices are far more current as her new black metal project Noctule examines the world of “Skyrim” on debut album “Wretched Abyss.” Cherry also fronts the awesome Svalbard, but under this banner, she digs into classic second-wave black metal without the shitty politics, hammering with eight tracks that are flooding with melodic riffs and adventurous playing that it’s super easy to get caught up in everything. Cherry’s guitar work always was a huge highlight of Svalbard’s music, but it’s even more gigantic and alluring here, and her vocals are downright mean and vicious. This is an awesome display that buries you in power and strength, engulfing you in dragon fire.

“Elven Sword” gets us started with shrieks and a melodic gush before the pace is shredded, and great leads hold it all together as the glue. The track jolts your blood, the guitars remain white hot, and the fury drowns out at the end. “Labyrinthian” is spacious when it starts with great melodies pouring in and the riffs just flexing in your face. Cherry’s vocals crush as everything spills into a breezy gaze, a quick breather after your throat is chopped heavily. The playing is elegant and dark, guitars flood your senses, and everything burns out with heavy emotion. “Wretched Abyss” has Cherry’s vocals slice through as the leads rush with color. Melodies light up as the shrieks pound your flesh, and then things turn dramatic and stirring in a hurry. Portals into the stars open, the playing enraptures, and everything ends in the laps of an angelic chorus. “Evenaar” opens with a different pace as the playing chugs, the growls crush, and the leads add new rays of light. There’s a warmer post-rock vibe to much of this before the drums come unglued, your head fills up with clouds, and the growls well, sent to the finish line with devastating guitar work.

“Winterhold” has great leads swimming as a thick fog rises, and then everything gives way to speed. The drums club as the playing encircles, and exciting gusts make your adrenaline surge, and the shrieks maul, burning off into the night. “Deathbell Harvest” drips into the scene before rushing through, as the riffs stab and draw spurts of blood. The melodies crush amid warmth while the playing churns guts. The leads explode with energy, Cherry’s shrieks devastate, and the guitar work makes lava spit from the earth as the track winds down. “Unrelenting Force” lets the riffs sink in, and Cherry’s vocals open new abrasions as heavy punches are landed. The guitar work stiches everything together as the vocals crush hopes and dreams, the melodies flood your mind, and everything blisters as the track comes to a fiery finish. “Become Ethereal” is the closer, starting with a synth fog and orchestral keys, feeling tragic and classical in essence. The keys continue to trickle as the shadows loom larger, the darkness thickens, and the passage slips into cold, murky waters.

Noctule really exposes just how much of a stranglehold Cherry has on traditional black metal, at least as far as the song structure and heaviness is concerned, and “Wretched Abyss” is all the evidence you’ll ever need to prove that. Not that anyone should have wondered that because Cherry has displayed unreal chops every time she commits her visions to permanent record, and this “Skyrim” based album is one of her most impressive collections to date. As dizzy and nauseous as that game’s play often makes me, this music sends me into the stratosphere, blazing with energy and power as Noctule’s music fills the empty crevices in my brain.

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