Album Review: Notturno – “Inside” (DSBM)


Notturno Inside
> Depressive suicidal black metal
> Italy
> Releasing October 6
> Hypnotic Dirge Records

Extreme metal is perhaps one of the most aptly titled genres of music – pushing the boundaries of sonic art as far as they can. Black metal, in particular, truly embodies the breadth of meaning this carries. While death metal and grind certainly deliver on the sonic and sometimes visual elements, neither truly commit to the emotional extremity that is so regularly expressed through black metal. Black metal is commitment to the extreme, through corpse paint and blast beats, through troubled history and radical new worlds. Notturno seek to explore the inner ranges of extremity, mining downward to find something fundamental buried Inside.

Formed in 2022, Notturno came prepared and immediately debuted their first record Obsessions, and after its release started work on this follow-up LP. Despite this projects’ scant 18-month lifespan, the members are grizzled veterans of the scene. The band is headed by Vittorio Sabelli, best known as the primary instrumentalist of Dawn of a Dark Age, joined by drummer Sven Vinat of Himinbjorg. The lineup is finished by vocalist Kjiel, known for her work in a number of other DSBM projects, including Lifeless and Sacrimoon.

Photograph by Riccardo Ziosi

My earlier discussion of extreme metal’s linguistic nature was not merely waxing poetic, but reflective of the expectations set by both listener and musician. Black metal may be the genre most committed to the idea of artistic totality – from the album art, to the body art, to the sonic noise, everything about black metal is steeped in maximalist tendencies towards everything, and why not? The beauty in this is an embracement of sensory rapture. But this makes a mark on any band that chooses to consciously steer away from this sense of totality, and Notturno do choose to approach differently.

Intro track “Peace” is aptly titled, featuring a hauntingly beautiful piano passage accompanied by orchestral instruments, but not for the grandiosity of orchestra, but rather the rich depth of sound that embodies a kind of aching tranquility, one already lost to the future. This leads into “Autumn Leaves”, which carries this feeling of melancholic peace forward on acoustic guitar. The twang of the strings and slight reverb over barely audible orchestral strings is the bedding upon which Kjiel’s first engagement is placed, but as a breathy spoken word section that she seems to struggle just to utter, to admit to herself and the listener. The instrumentation slowly picks up but continues to sound closer to a neo-classical/folk guitar track than anything resembling black metal. This makes the eventual shift towards Kjiel’s harsh vox and Sabelli’s wonderfully melodic electric guitar hit even harder, like the anguish being expressed can no longer be captured through traditional musical elements and must be brought forth through painful and wretched methods.

Photograph by Riccardo Ziosi

As “Autumn Leaves” evolves, the vocals are fleshed out by low cleans from guest vocalist Davide Straccione of Shores of Null, that lend further character to the emotion being painted on the canvas of Inside, dancing between spoken word and harsh screeching, acoustic and electric. This powerful dynamic sound is the signature element of the record, carving a wide range of expression across the roughly 36 minutes, angular aggression trailing off into beautiful woodwind and piano, before the energy picks back up again. Leaves don’t fall from trees all at once; the seasonal shift is gradual but inevitable, like a spectre looming on the horizon.

“Obsessions” is a track built around an acoustic riff that keeps playing, building up around this central pillar, unable to let go of this one motif that carries from the beginning of the record, and even when the audible parts of that riff drop away, the structure it has created remains, a negative space that lingers waiting to be refilled. The atonal piano keys that start appearing a few minutes in feel like stab wounds that slowly come to drown out the harsher black metal before it spotlights. “Once Again” starts with very blackgaze-y open notes, dripping with reverb and pain, and is the most heavily black metal track on the record, but still finds room for dynamic audio, like the extended acoustic section with flute and a long display of Straccione’s rich voice. When the drums and electric guitar finally return while he sings it feels electrifying, and Kjiel feels like she carries more fervor in her voice. Final track “No Passion” features some wonderful plucky acoustic accompaniment to Kjiel harsh scream-speaking, the words achingly wrought from her gut.

The production on Inside is full of space, with appropriate weight given to the bottom end yet not so much as to bury the rest of the compositions. The various non-metal elements sit perfectly in the middle and are still completely audible throughout the record even alongside harsher and heavier components, and when parts are less audible it comes with intention and purpose.

Album art photograph by Riccardo Ziosi

That classical and acoustic instrumentation feature so heavily on this record without approaching anything resembling symphonic black metal is a fascinating accomplishment, because I think if you broke it down there might actually be a higher amount of non-metal elements on Inside than metal. Yet this feels so intentional in craft that it actually allows the black metal sections to carry more weight, to feel more wrought and harsh. While these elements are nothing new to the genre, the band has committed an essentialization of the black metal sound through its larger absence in the sonic template of Inside. In sloughing off the excess of black metal totality, and exploring inward to the inner boundaries of the genre, Notturno have found a deeper and more dynamic fundamental black metal truth.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Notturno is a depressive black metal band with a sense of adventure, following the flavor of the emotional journey rather than genre script. Their willingness to so heavily involve non-black metal material allows the metal to feel punchier and more impactful. Inside is one of the most dynamic black metal records I’ve heard in years.