Every year, I look forward to enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and colors of autumn, my favorite season of the year, one that might not actually exist any longer. The forecast here in Pittsburgh has us no cooler than 66 degrees through the next two weeks, and the goddamn fall colors mostly are non-existent, so I guess I’ll just get ready for winter. Eventually.
I have this on my mind not because Noltem relish the atmospheric black metal that so often bends the knee to nature. Well, that’s part of it. The other comes in the color scheme of the cover on debut full-length “Illusions in the Wake,” which splashes purple, green, and gold over a mountainous setting that makes me think of hikes in Thomas, WV., in years past. The rushing waters and the propulsive black metal floods your senses, which seems by design, as the band—guitarist/keyboardist Max Johnson, bassist Shalin Shah, drummer/vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist John Kerr—immerses you in the world of rich hues that fill your mind to its tipping point. They’re joined by guest guitar soloists including Zach Miller (Pyrithe), Aaron Carey (Nechochwen), and Jordan Guerette (Fall of Rauros) to help flesh out compositions that don’t just lather you with sound but also stimulate your imagination.
“Figment” is the 8:30-long opener, and it arrives in rushing waves lapping the shores before the track opens in glory, the guitars leading the way. The shrieks hammer away, feeling feral and gapingly emotional, while the melodies sweep you under, eventually pulling you into colder waters. The drums rumble as the vocals crush, the pace keeps its foot on the gas, and spacious power eventually gives way to the same bubbling waves that greeted us. The title track has synth dripping and the vocals powering, while the playing has elements of castle metal to it, giving it a nice regality. Harder punches are landed by the rhythm section while the guitars are enraged, with the leads spiraling into the ground. The playing feels elegant, the final blows register, and the body heads into the stars. “Beneath the Dreaming Blue” melts into the scene, moving gently and thoughtfully before the roars swallow it whole. The melodies feel hypnotic before the power rushes in, strengthening the current, unloading a multitude of colors not unlike what’s on the cover, and ending in a haze of shrieks and madness.
“Submerged” is a quick instrumental that works the rushing waves back into the picture, the guitars create a haze, and the track bows out to the sea, making way for “Ruse,” an 8:48 gem that emerges in the heart of rich vibration and bustling power. The vocals wrench while the playing smears, bringing to the surface more varied textures and even some cleanliness that works its way in through the murkiness. Clean calls echo behind as the guitars awaken, a synth glaze thickens, and the track feels temporarily gothy, which makes your flesh chill. It feels like your head is caught in a fog, your mind eases into the colder temperatures, and the track ends at the feet of a dying machine. “On Shores of Glass” is the instrumental closer, and it’s a damn rousing way to finish this record, jolting and churning, increasing the moodiness. The drums pummel as the keys take on an alien buzz, feeling prog rock as fuck, agitating fires, and finally expiring as the souls it enchanted turn to dust.
It took a little while to finally get Noltem’s full-length debut offering in our hands, but that wait was worth it as “Illusions in the Wake” is a landmark effort as far as atmospheric black metal in 2021 is concerned. There is an energy at the heart of this record that is impossible to shake, a spirit that rages through it and into you, and it’s also a collection that gets more defined with each visit. Yeah, there are a lot of bands trying this same style, but very few are doing it with an inherent understanding and razor-sharp efficiency as Noltem, a band whose future we will follow with great interest.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/noltem
To buy the album (North America), go here: https://transcendingobscurity.aisamerch.com/
Or here (Europe): https://transcendingobscurity.aisamerch.de/shop-en_1
For more on the label, go here: https://tometal.com/