When I take a step back and try to figure out what's going on in the world of metal these days, two radically divergent things become apparent. There's a schism going on, with a set of bands trying to move us forward into whatever god-forsaken trend is going to take over the world next, while another set is trying to move us backwards to a time when music was simpler. I tend to cast my lot with this latter group, the bands that ache for a time when 'studio magic' meant making people believe a warlock was helping you record, not a computer playing your parts for you.
But even amongst that set, there's a bit of a problem. Many bands have been able to copy the sound of the past, but they seldom hit upon the spirit. It's not enough to play through vintage amps and record to tape, there was a freedom and energy in the songwriting back then that is almost never captured these days, but when it is, it's undeniably different and superior to all the pretenders.
Noctum is another in the long line of bands that draws their influence from the past, in this case the occult hard rock of the late 70's and early 80's, an era of which I can't claim to possess any special knowledge. “Conflagration” opens the album with the grainy, overdriven guitars you would expect, and a nod to the immortal King Diamond in the background vocals that rise up and shriek through your speakers. Noctum takes additional influence from the King's original band by taking a bit of a progressive bent, slowing the song to a dirge for the lengthy solo section, before letting it come back to life.
“Liberty Or Death” follows along the same path, and has a chorus that reminds me of another song I can't quite place. Similarities aside, it's a strong number. The third song, “Resurrected In Evil”, is when I realize what it is I've been hearing. Noctum has made a better second Ghost album than Ghost themselves did. The harmonies in the chorus are so reminiscent of Ghost that the comparison can't be avoided. And once my mind made that connection, the rest of the album gained an identity it didn't previously have. In my mind, it shows the adventurous path not taken by the reigning attention kings of all things occult.
Noctum is adventurous on “Final Sacrifice”, but they do it within the boundaries of the traditional guitar/bass/drums format, which anchors their sound more firmly in the worlds of rock and metal. Whether the heavy doom riffs at the beginning of “Resurrected In Evil”, or the more involved playing in the instrumental “Deadly Connection”, Noctum isn't sitting back and pumping out an album of identical songs. There's a lot of flow and movement to the guitar work, along with an overdose of hearty soloing.
“Final Sacrifice” may not be a heavy record these days, sonically, but it is heavy nonetheless. The darkness of the story bleeds into the guitar playing, which is the record's biggest selling point. Noctum fills the record with a ton of great playing, all the while maintaining the less is more ethos that makes it feel integrated to the songs, and not an exercise in showing off.
“Final Sacrifice” isn't a perfect album, and it could use a bit more polish on the vocals, but there's a lot to like about what Noctum is doing here. They capture the dark spirit of evil and run with it, making an album that never threatens to become too cartoonish. It's dark, it's heavy, and it's the perfect palate-cleanser for anyone who thinks Ghost has lost their way.