Hit and miss on all levels - A review of Nokturnal Mortum's ''22 Years Among the Sheep''
22 Years Among the Sheep can't be seen as a greatest hits release but rather as a representative collection of Nokturnal Mortum's development over the past twenty-two years. The first warning sign is the fact that this compilation actually opens with an overture and what we get are indeed fifty-three songs over a running time of far over six hours. You will be able to wash your dishes, do your tax declaration, clean your entire apartment and write a review for this record while listening to this extensive collection of music. As you might realize by now, this is a classic example of quantity over quality. This release includes original tracks taken from previous records, previously unreleased alternative versions, live cuts and rehearsal tracks as well as three discs filled with Nokturnal Mortum songs covered by mostly unknown underground extreme metal bands. This compilation is all over the place in terms of production and song writing quality and is therefore not recommendable for potential new fans but on the other side a quite interesting release for die-hard fans.
Nokturnal Mortum offers exactly two types of music. The first one is epic black metal with occasional symphonic elements. This style works very well in the short and concise tunes but drags on for far too long in many of the longer tunes. The second type is pagan metal with Eastern European folk influences. Sometimes, these folk sounds are played by authentic instruments and sound great and unique but at other moments they seem to come from the keyboard which makes them sound plain horrible.
This record really has its ups and downs concerning sound and production. While some tracks such as the atmospheric opener ''Black Moon Overture'' or the much improved ''The Voice of Steel'' have been remastered and sound really gripping and organic, other songs sound absolutely terrible. ''Goat Horns'' is a potent track but the vocals are almost inaudible and the production sounds muddy to a point where that can't be justified by trying to keep some occult underground credibility anymore. The reason why we get a live version of ''Kuyaviva'' when the audience can't even be heard and no live atmosphere is being developed is also completely beyond me. The rehearsal version of ''Free Hendrik'' sounds as if it had been recorded with a potato and ruins what could otherwise be one of the better tunes on this compilation.
The song writing is just as messy as the engineering. A perfect example is this compilation's longest track ''As the Steel Eagle into Golden Svarga''. The track opens with gloomy and almost droning guitar sounds that evoke an interesting atmosphere. All momentum gets lost when the band stretches an initially promising idea to three repetitively numbing minutes. Instead of a transition after this endless build-up, the band suddenly speeds up things and bleak vocals kick in almost instantly. The main part of the song is actually compelling. The vocals are diverse and emotional, the riffs develop a depressive atmosphere without sounding redundant and the occasional folk and symphonic influences aren't overused and blend in very well. After seven minutes, the main part ends and a folk section with joyous melodies kicks in. The same joyous melody is repeated more than half a dozen times until it lost all its charm and what we get then are boring variations of the same melody in different forms for five vapid minutes until the end of the song. This song with a running time close to fifteen minutes represents this compilation very well because it offers everything from concise tracks with solid song writing, songs with both outstanding and uninspired sections and other tunes that are sleep-inducing in their lack of creativity.
The cover songs blend in very well because some of them are inspired and offer interesting variations on the original songs, others have a few energizing moments but are otherwise too similar to the original tracks and some are completely forgettable.
In the end, quality should have mattered over quantity. Nokturnal Mortum should have offered one disc with its greatest tracks in remastered form and one disc with the best cuts from the cover tunes. Since the band didn't do this, 22 Years Among the Sheep is extremely hit and miss and is overall far too long. This record is a missed opportunity to focus entirely on the band's strengths and present some promising local underground bands to the world.
Final rating: 50%
Listen to it right here: https://nokturnalmortum1.bandcamp.com/album/nokturnal-mortum-22-years-among-the-sheep-5xcd-digifile-a5-2« Concerts in Ottawa in 2017: Wild Side, Iron Reagan and Power Trip at The Brass MonkeyMelancholic depths - A review of Seventh Dimension's ''Recognition'' »
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