Album Title: The Dread March Of Solemn Gods
Label: Vendetta Records
Date of Release: 30 April 2021
On one of my infamous evenings of ‘research’ where I trawl my inbox, promo databases, and the web at large to identify new music to listen to, review, and bring to a wider audience, I happened upon a band called Ninkharsag. After listening to one track, I spent the rest of the evening desperately trying to get hold of the relevant PR person so that I could hear their new album in its entirety with a view to bringing you all a review. Happily both the band themselves and their PR colleague were incredibly helpful, so here I am bringing you the review I wanted to write.
But why was I so keen to delve into the world of Ninkharsag? Based on the track I heard, I felt that the music was right up my proverbial street. And therefore, I felt that it would be of interest to many of my readers too – or so I hoped at any rate. And so it has proved, but more of that in due course.
By way of background, Ninkharsag was born in 2009 in the UK, although only became a fully-fledged band a couple of years later. According to their press release, the band was formed with the sole aim to “create cold, majestic Black Metal in the classic, unspoilt style of old.” They released their debut ‘The Blood Of Celestial Kings’ in 2015, although I must admit that it completely passed me by. However, based upon the content of ‘The Dread March Of Solemn Gods’, their sophomore full-length, I can attest to the fact that they have definitely succeeded and with a great deal of aplomb as well.
Sometimes, in the modern age, it is comforting to hear music that harkens back to a previous time, rather than desperately trying to rip up the rule book in search of something completely new. I love experimentation as much as the next metalhead, but sometimes, I want to don those rose-tinted glasses and bask in days gone by. That’s where Ninkharsag come in; they are clearly inspired by bands that have gone before and they do sound like they could have come from another decade. But they do so with respect, a clear love for the music that they create, and without doubt do remain relevant in today’s extreme metal scene because their authenticity and quality shines through.
Over the course of ten tracks and fourty-four minutes, Ninkharsag, who I understand take their name from a fertility goddess in Sumerian mythology, remind us what a great ride old-school black metal can be. But this isn’t the black metal of Dimmu Borgir or Cradle Of Filth, if indeed these bands can still be referred to as such (a conversation for another day). This has more in common with early Emperor, or Dissection at their pomp. Indeed the cover artwork for ‘The Dread March Of Solemn Gods’ borrows a similar colour scheme and style to the great ‘Storm Of The Light’s Bane’, meaning that before even hearing a note, I’m salivating like Pavlov’s dog.
But there’s more to Ninkharsag than just being a Dissection clone. Yes, that’s the biggest overall reference point, but I can also hear a fair smattering of other influences, including Bathory, Mayhem, and a little dash of thrash for good measure. What’s most important however, is the final product – how does the music sound? How does it make you feel? After several bad days at the metaphorical office with the day job, I have taken to listening to this record morning and night when out with the Dog Of Much Metal. By the time I return, I feel better, and much of it has to do with the listening experience that Ninkharsag provides.
Naturally with this kind of release, there’s the obligatory introductory instrumental. Entitled ‘Night Wrath’, it features a lone acoustic guitar and dark, theatrical soundscapes dominated by what might pass as a choir from the depths. Then, after a few cinematic sound effects, such as the neighing of a horse, the piece erupts in a more metallic direction with dual guitar riffs from Kyle Nesbitt and Paul Armistead that immediately demonstrate a propensity towards a cold and raw, yet melodic style.
With little warning, the title track explodes with a flurry of drums from James Pipprell alongside fast-paced, spiky, thrash-imbued riffs. The rhythm section, including bassist and newest member Aleksander Kokai drives the track on, providing the battery that allows those frosty riffs to dance upon. Kyle Nesbitt also sings and his gruff delivery is delightfully spiteful, somewhere in between a black metal rasp and more of a death metal bark. At the midway point, a groovy riff comes from nowhere and the melodic sensibilities emerge gloriously, with Kokai’s bass a surprisingly integral ingredient. There’s a NWOBHM hue to the music, as Nesbitt indulges in a touch of spoken-word for extra drama, before the song picks up pace nicely to the conclusion of a cracking opening song.
The Dissection influences are hard to ignore within the follow-up, ‘Under The Dead of Night’. The riffs are fast-picked and icy cold, summoning a grim, unforgiving visage in the mind of the listener, as if wading through a blizzard. But the riffing is melodically-charged, creating an irresistible extreme metal composition with genuine memorability and accessibility. I love the moments of respite, the changes of tempo, the injection of groove, all of which are perfectly placed as far as I’m concerned. But just when you think things can’t get any better, they do courtesy of a galloping melody, laced with a playful lead guitar line that stops me in my tracks…or is that my eleven year old dog sniffing yet another pee-soaked lamp post? I’ll go with the former.
The quality rarely lets up at any point across this record and I could quite easily mention the majority of tracks as they all offer something worthy of comment. However, personal favourites include ‘The Necromanteion’ with its sinister, atmospheric intro that gives way to a blistering black metal riff that shows literally no mercy. ‘Discipline Through Black Sorcery’ contains some great heavy metal riffs with strong, groovy hooks that make them pop out of the latter stages of song very cleverly, whilst fitting in with the controlled cacophony that surrounds them.
Then there’s ‘The Tower Of Perpetual Twilight’ which is arguably the most melodic of all the tracks on the record. The lead guitars are more pronounced as the classic metal influences are brought closer to the surface, whilst retaining that dark, black metal cloak that envelops all the music on this release. However, if I was to pick an absolute favourite, it would have to be ‘Spectres Of The Ancient World’ thanks to the sprawling melancholy riffing that really strikes a chord with me. The melody is beautiful, but really poignant at the same time, whilst the acoustic interlude and slower final section only enhances the bleak, yet sublime misery contained within the song.
Recorded at Foel Studios with the assistance of Chris Fielding (Winterfylleth, Primordial), the album also sounds just right. You can hear each of the instruments with a really good clarity but at the same time, there is nothing overly polished or precise about the overall sound; there’s a raw, organic quality that suits this music to a tee, whilst it retains the power to do justice to what is, after all, an extreme metal release.
What else can I say about ‘The Dread March Of Solemn Gods’ that hasn’t already been said? Nothing really. If you’re into black metal that harkens back to the days of early Emperor and Dissection but that still sounds vital and fresh, then this is an album that you have to hear. And once you hear it, it is an album that will almost certainly find its way into your collection.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: