Nightwolf is clearly the kind of dude who likes to keep busy. One of the mainstays of the flourishing Australian black metal scene, in the last three years alone he’s released: a full-length as part of the duo Eternum; a demo, a split, two EPs and two full-lengths with solo project Blood Stronghold; several recordings as the bassist for Necrostrigis; and a demo and a full-length with another solo project called Runespell. That full length, Unhallowed Blood Oath, sees release from venerable Iron Bonehead Records, less than five months after the Aeons of Ancient Blood demo appeared and began to make waves in the international black metal underground.
For all intents and purposes, Unhallowed Blood Oath picks up right where Aeons left off. The production might be a modicum better this time around, but the music is still pure 90s second-wave kvltness. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and In the Nightside Eclipse provide the templates here: aggressive, tremolo-picked riffs, the occasional atmospheric keyboard accent, dramatic arrangements…
And yes…I can hear the thoughts of some of our more skeptical readers at this point:
Dude, it’s not like there’s a shortage of Burzum and Emperor inspired black metal out there. In fact, didn’t you just make the same Emperor comparison when reviewing the Hate Moon album a couple of weeks back? Why should I give a shit about this one, too?
To which I would reply: calm down, kvlt-boi, and let me finish…
I’ll concede that Nightwolf breaks very little new musical ground with Runespell. However, I would also contend that there’s a huge difference between simply paying homage to certain style and creating music within a style that can stand on its own merits. The homage might make for a fun listen or two, but it has very little replay value – those records are inevitably filed away and quickly forgotten. Unhallowed Blood Oath belongs in that second camp. And for me at least, the difference between the two comes down to execution. Anybody can write a decent second wave-esque riff, but not everyone can play that riff with conviction. I’m hesitant to use a word like ‘authenticity’ because it’s such a loaded term, but there’s a completely different feel to black metal played by musicians chasing a trend (*cough* Ghost Bath *cough*) and those why play it because its part of who they are, and it isn’t that difficult to tell which is which.
For anyone still skeptical at this point, the first couple of minutes of opening track “Oblivion Winds” should be enough to set you straight. After an ethereal-sounding intro, the song transitions into an icily melodic, majestically layered riff and what sure as hell sounds like live drums. It’s thick with atmosphere, but it all comes from the music itself and not any production tricks or ambient sounds. The vocals are placed perfectly in the mix - just audible enough to add a ghostly presence to the proceedings, but not so high to compete with the guitars for prominence. Nightwolf builds on a subtly modifies that riff throughout the song’s nearly ten-minute run time, eventually culminating in a mid-tempo, martial-sounding variation in the closing section of the song.
The rest of the album unfolds in a similar fashion, with the push/pull between aggression and melody responsible for maintaining the tension within each song. The acoustic instrumentals—the fingerpicked “As Old Gates Unfurl…” and the more intricate closer “And Wolves Guide Me Home”—provide nice contrasts to the heavier tracks, and are well sequenced on the album. The highlight of the record, though, is “Bloodlust & Vengeance.” As one might expect from such a title, the track has a definite Viking-era Bathory vibe to it, with plenty of complex melodic interplay between the guitar parts, particularly during the songs slower parts.
So while Nightwolf might not be doing anything on Unhallowed Blood Oath that the majority of black metal fans haven’t already heard several dozen times before, he’s doing all of them much better that I’ve heard anyone else do them in quite some time. So fans of second wave-influenced black metal, rejoice! For your album of the year has definitely arrived.
Unhallowed Blood Oath will be available on September 29 via Iron Bonehead Records.