VOTA REVIEW: The Spirit Never Dies split, Graveland/Nokturnal Mortum

Nearly a decade has passed since the two undisputed kings of Slavonic Pagan Black Metal graced the same record together. Once again the war horns have sounded in the east, and both Poland and the Ukraine's finest have answered the call. The wait is finally over. It's not often that I review CDs, in fact this is the first one, and to be honest I still would have preferred this on wax, but as it's the only format available I had no choice and I have been waiting patiently since its announcement before finally getting my hands on it.

It's no secret around here that I'm a huge fan of both Graveland and Nokturnal Mortum, so to have three brand new tracks from each band on one release is a dream come true, especially considering Graveland haven't had any new material for three years with Nokturnal Mortum producing nothing for five! So to say I was a little hyped for this record is an understatement. Unfortunately I was just too late to get the beautiful wooden box version of this split as they had literally just sold out of them as I placed my pre order - something I'm sure some dude in Greece or Portugal will screw me over for at a later date on Discogs. For a CD, though I have to say that the layout and the artwork on the eight panel digi pack is really nicely done. Varnish effect logos against matte artwork and a nice composition theme of light into darkness give the whole package a really nice presentation. Despite this excellent design however I'm just not feeling right about the new Nokturnal Mortum logo, but maybe it's just something you do when a band changes logo and you get all pissed off before getting used to it only to repeat the whole process a few years down the line when they change it again. Anyway enough of my incessant ramblings, let's get down to why you are reading this; the music.

Nokturnal Mortum have never been a band to stay stagnant and as I explained in the Ukrainian Black Metal article last year they are constantly evolving. Well five years have passed since the last outing from the band and the music presented here is a step forward once more. Unfortunately the first track from each band is just an intro but they do their job of setting the scene and mood for the two tracks that follow. The two Nokturnal Mortum Tracks are very somber in mood, and very proggy in execution with heavy use of the keyboards, though not in a tacky or overpowering way. As always they are full of great riffs and excellent guitar work which has become a staple of Nokturnal Mortum releases. The tracks are lengthy, but they hold your attention throughout; constantly switching up and changing in a style that makes me think of Khors. Sounds of gunfire and the cries of modern warfare can be heard between the tracks, contrasting the usual sounds of clashing swords and dark ages warfare respectively from the intros. I can only attribute this and the somber mood of the surrounding songs that this is some reflection of the political strife and conflict that has been going on in the Ukraine over the last couple of years. I won't start delving into that here but I highly recommend you have a read up on the situation if you have an interest in the politics of man. Unfortunately I do not understand the lyrics so I can't really comment on the themes of the songs as they are sung in Nokturnal Mortum's native tongue, I can only go on the feeling they convey. All in all I enjoyed the first half of the split, and although I was hoping for something more in the vein of 2004's Mirovozzrenie the music presented here was engrossing and well worth the wait with the keyboard sections at times feeling like a nod to the band’s roots. I look forward to the next full length from one of the Ukraine's finest.

Now if Nokturnal Mortum was there to whet the appetite then Graveland's contribution is the main course. It's well known that I'm a huge fan of Graveland, especially the early work, but the change of direction Graveland took on Creed of Iron worked for me as well - with the more heathen ideas Darken had for that album as he branched out as a solo project after the departure of long time band mate Capricornus. Instead of just letting the band die it was a far cry from Celtic Winter or Thousand Swords but still I could see what he was trying to do with it and the formula worked, the only problem was that it stuck for far too long and what followed was a string of albums that were all pretty much more of the same. In my opinion it wasn't until Will Stronger Than Death that Darken really expanded on the Creed of Iron framework and with this he started pushing the sound forward and he achieved this again on Thunderbolt of the Gods. Fast forward to 2016 and we reach Graveland's contribution to this split. It begins with a beautiful folk piece which uses what sounds like a Celtic drum and a viola. This intro came as quite a shock as I was expecting the usual bombastic keyboard intros accustom to Graveland records with the sounds of galloping hoofs and horns etc. The piece really sets the mood and atmosphere for the tracks that are to follow. What we are presented with are two tracks that finally bring what Darken started on Creed of Iron to its logical conclusion. The keyboards are replaced with folk instrumentation, giving the backdrop of the tracks a rich and earthy sound, and gone is the drum computer, instead replaced by real drums - provided by Horns and ex Moontower drummer MiroslawRosinski (also part of Graveland's new live line up) - with the folk instruments played by long time Lord Wind collaborator Anna ‘Alruna’ Oklejewicz. It's a breath of fresh air to hear Graveland sound this organic and I think Rob Darken has finally seen his artistic vision for the sound of modern Graveland come to into full fruition. Don't get me wrong these are not some typical folk metal tracks, they are Graveland songs through and through. The plodding mid tempo drumming, Darken’s signature vocals etc, but it just all feels more wholesome, more complete and more fitting with the direction he has been taking the band musically and aesthetically over the last decade.

When all is said and done this is a really nice CD from two titans of Eastern European Pagan Black Metal. Nokturnal Mortum’s contribution was enjoyable and a definite must for fans of the band, and it was nice to have some new material from the band after so many years. I eagerly await the next full length. It was Graveland however that truly shone on this collaboration with a much needed step forward musically. If you are a 90s Graveland purist I would give this one a miss but if like me you see some artistic merit in Darkens vision of post Creed of Iron Graveland then this CD will come as a welcome surprise. It's available now from Heritage Records. But as I stated earlier the wooden box version is unfortunately sold out. Support!



Artist - Jesters of Destiny
Title - The Sorrows That Refuse to Drown
Label - Ektro

Thirty years after Jesters of Destiny arrived, dropped Fun at the Funeral and disappeared back into the night, they’re finally back with a second full length release courtesy of Ektro Records, and whilst it could never live up to first album, the eccentricity of the band shines through once more and it’s a crazy ride from start to finish. Pick it up on April 4th!


Artist - Hammerfest IX
Date - 23rd- 26th March
Venue - Pwllheli, Wales  

One of our main highlights of the year, this month we’re off to Wales for Hammerfest, HRH’s Heavy Metal flagship. With the return of two Power Metal titans alongside a host of others, this year looks to be one of their best ever. We’ll be covering the whole festival