Wednesday 3 January 2024

Narbeleth - A Pale Crown (2024)

Country: Cuba/Spain
Style: Black Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 5 Jan 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives

From what I can see, Narbeleth were a Cuban band but moved to Spain in 2020 when their founder Dakkar relocated from Havana to Pontevedra in Galicia, home of one of my happiest discoveries at Apocalypse Later, Blue Merrow. Of course, they sound very different, because Narbeleth play fast black metal. Never mind all the versatility the genre has found lately, this doesn't depart far from its traditional sound, with the sole exception of production. Ignoring the purists' penchant for the muddiest production possible, this is clear and rich and sounds all the better for it.

It also sounds very Scandinavian, which shouldn't surprise given that the closing track, The King of the Shadowthrone, is a Satyricon cover. The only touch that feels at all Cuban, or indeed Spanish, is a surprising drop midway through On the Sight of Dusk into an acoustic guitar duet. Given that all instruments here except the drums are played by Dakkar, I assume he's duetting with himself and doing a very good job of it. It's a brief section but a welcome one. However, I have to wonder why it exists, given that there's no attempt anywhere else on the album to vary the band's core sound.

Maybe that's because black metal fans tend to come in three categories nowadays. There are the purists, already mentioned, who don't want anything that doesn't sound like the Bathory debut or has any pretension towards commerciality. Then there are the open minded, who love to mix black metal with every other genre they can find, from ambient to jazz to, well, bluegrass. Some of those experiments have become my favourite albums of recent years, so I guess I'm largely in that camp. This ought to appeal to the third group, who are fine with bands selling many albums and using the money to pay for good production on their next release, as long as they sound damn good. They're not concerned with originality, just capability.

And, while I have no idea how well Narbeleth's previous five albums have sold, this fits perfectly in that third bucket. It's unmistakably and unashamedly black metal, unwilling to depart far from an established formula, but done very well indeed. The guitars are clear but generate that textbook wall of sound. The bass is neatly audible but mostly supports the slabs of sonic texture the guitars lay down. Occasionally there's a run that elevates a song but we have to listen carefully for them. The drums, courtesy of Vindok are frenetic when they need to be and also slow down well. Many of my favourite sections here feature the slower drums.

Put all that together and you have another black metal band in the northern European style, just a very capable one. They don't try to do much that's different but they do what they do very well. I would find it hard to call out a favourite track because they're all relatively similar and what might work best for me, like, say, Witness and Provider, may not for you, for exactly the same reason. It's down to how the riffs generate mood and that's a personal thing. If you like one track, then you'll like all of them. I might like that one most, because of what the guitars do, but I like them all.

And, as I'm finding with black metal, that often has less to do with the guitars or drums and more to do with the vocals. Dakkar delivers those in a relatively deep pitch for black metal, more growl than shriek or perhaps shriek converted into growl. Either way, he's clearly still black rather than death because of how he sustains his syllables. Nobody is going to listen to any element of this and call it anything but black metal, pure and simple. No words are needed in front of that.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, that means that there's not a lot to say about it otherwise. If you're into this sort of thing, then you'll dig this and it stands up well to a repeat listen or three. If you're that third category of black metal fans, then add a point or two to my rating to reflect how you'll receive it. I prefer more originality to my black metal but you'll be fine without. Of course, if you're not into this sort of thing, then nothing here will convert you and nothing here will come close. You already don't like it. You don't need to try it to see.

This is Narbeleth's sixth album but the second since Dakkar moved to Spain. I'm guessing that his shift in continents hasn't affected his style in the slightest but that odd but welcome drop into an acoustic vein in On the Sight of Dusk makes me wonder if he's open to something new. We should be able to find out on the next Narbeleth album.

No comments:

Post a Comment