Album Review: Noltem – “Illusions In The Wake” 7.5/10 (Atmospheric Black Metal)

Written by Ellis Heasley

NoltemIllusions In The Wake
Atmospheric Black Metal from Connecticut, USA
Releases on October 15, 2021 via Transcending Obscurity Records
7.5/10

It’s taken nearly two full decades for Noltem‘s debut full-length to materialise. Formed in 2003 by Max Johnson, the project soon took a lengthy hiatus with just a single demo to its name before re-emerging in 2015 with the three-track Mannaz EP. Now, more than six years after that, Johnson is back with his Mannaz collaborator John Kerr and bassist Shalin Shah to finally unveil Illusions In The Wake. The long wait seems to have paid off, with this record offering a mature and sophisticated take on a strand of atmospheric black metal which has been pretty popular for a while now.

Even by this school of black metal’s typically more accessible standards, Illusions In The Wake is an especially melodic record. It can be cold and bracing, and there’s definitely a general sense of grandeur, but it rarely gets all that nasty or abrasive. The guitars often shine in particular, with Johnson providing plenty of slower and more thoughtful lead parts in addition to the all-but-requisite soaring tremolos. The album’s second and title track provides a fine example of this – a weighty, progressive offering that seems to journey to a lot of places over a relatively trim seven minutes.

Neither Noltem’s knack for melody nor their general progressive leanings prevent them from being thunderous in their fury when they want to be however. Kerr’s vocals certainly tick a more ferocious box, these sitting a little lower than black metal’s typical icy fry screams without descending into guttural absurdity. There’s also plenty of the usual blast beat and double kick drum work, also handled by Kerr, with prime examples arising in the second half of opener “Figment”, as well as in the pummelling fifth track and firm highlight “Ruse”.

Artwork by Anthony Hurd

Helping to prevent Illusions In The Wake from becoming just a wash of atmospheric intensity, the band do make some attempts at dynamic variation on this record. Third track “Beneath The Dreaming Blue” for example starts out more downbeat and shoegazey, with this serving to sharpen the band’s blasting attack when it does arrive. They follow it with the interlude-like “Submerged”, a short piece comprising delicate clean guitars and distant waves and leads. Even the aforementioned “Ruse” finds some respite within its maelstrom, ending on a lengthy passage of clean guitars and proggy synths and pads.

With six tracks spanning just a touch over 40 minutes, Illusions In The Wake is the kind of length all records like this should be. It wraps up just when it needs to, with the grand instrumental closer “On Shores Of Glass” winding down to a reflective few moments of piano and synths. With references in both progressive and atmospheric black metal, it’s not the most original record you’ll hear this year, but the craft and flow is solid throughout. The results are epic and expansive, and a worthy addition to the record collection of anyone who likes their black metal a little less sinister or miserable.

Rating: 7.5/10

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