Nocturnal Rites - The 8th sin 2/5
1. Call out to the world
2. Never again
3. Not the only
4. Tell me
5. Not like you
6. Leave me alone
7. Till I come alive
8. Strong enough
10. Pain and pleasure
11. Fools parade (outro)
That it took until their 8th CD for Nocturnal Rites to run aground is not the most disappointing thing. The real let-down is that after 7 CDs, the least of which being no worse than average, for them to turn out a wreck like 'The 8th sin' is almost shameful.
Let it be known right from the start that it shouldn't make any difference which era of the band you prefer out of the more traditional Anders Zackrisson-fronted first 3 releases and the increasingly polished later efforts that have featured Jonny Lindqvist – 'The 8th sin' would be seen as an immensely disappointing CD from any band that enjoys a reputation like Nocturnal Rites.
Taking a step back, the CD that preceded this one, 'Grand illusion', can almost been seen as a triumph over its origins. As good a CD as it is – and it is very good – it's easy to see not only that Nocturnal Rites had started to run out of inspiration, but were also in pursuit of a more simplistic approach. Nearly every song on the CD followed the same pattern – being all around the same length, the same speed and featuring a solo in the same spot every time. The only song that broke from the pack slightly was "Cuts like a knife", which was a blatant (if very enjoyable) rip-off of Kamelot's "March of mephisto", right down to the Jens Johansson keyboard solo.
What not only saved 'Grand illusion', but also turned it into one of the best power metal CDs released that year, was the sheer strength of the melodies and the heroic vocal performance of Lindvist. That the listener may not even have noticed if the lead parts, vocals and smothering keyboard arrangements were lifted from one song and dropped over the rhythm guitar, bass and drums of another wasn't important – with nearly every chorus an anthem in itself and the songs all dragged along by powerful melodies, they managed to turn out another quality, if somewhat formulaic CD.
And this is exactly where 'The 8th sin' fails. The songs all come from the same stable as those on 'Grand illusion', but feature virtually no lead guitar or memorable riffs at all, with only the choruses seeming to have any effort put into them. Interchangeable verses that run over arbitrary power chords are the blight of this CD. Nils Norberg, a phenomenal lead guitarist, is used virtually the same way on every song – a painfully short solo in the same place nearly every time. All his contributions are well played of course, but they are so short and unconnected to the rest of the song they feature in that it feels as though Norberg was sent into the studio to record a handful of solos which were later dropped at random into the finished songs.
Coupled with the reduction in the presence of the guitar is the choruses becoming even sweeter and more hummable than before. Huge choruses are of course almost essential in power metal, but there is a line between anthemic and simply poppy that has to be respected, and that line is certainly crossed more than once on the CD.
To make up for the lack of riffs and, in some cases, actual music going on in the songs, the band have taken the bizarre step of throwing some programmed beats into the mix. Not that electronic elements in metal are inherently a bad thing, but it really is something that has to be left to the experts. Dark Tranquillity can pull it off, but on songs like "Tell me" and "Strong enough" it literally sounds like the session keyboard player accidentally leaned on the 'rhythm 2' button during recording - it really is lunk-headed and needless as that.
In addition to the programming, there are a few desperate attempts to mask the sheer crushing repetitiveness of the songwriting. The female duet vocals that appear from nowhere and add nothing to the piano ballad "Me", the admittedly excellent opening solo tacked onto the front of "Not like you" that swiftly disappears into another sound-alike verse, and of course the ever-present thick layer of keyboards are all simply window dressing that any experienced listener could see through from a mile away.
The question presents itself – why would a heavy metal fan want to listen to a song with minimal guitar presence and electronic beats? The answer is that they wouldn't – but a commercial rock fan with a spare few quid in his back pocket just might. This is a serious allegation to level at a band of Nocturnal Rites' standing, but with songs like the "Till I come alive" – basically an Evanescence song with Linqvist on vocals – there really seems to be no other way of looking at it.
In fairness, there are a couple of moments here and there that call to mind better days – the opening track "Call out to the world" and "Not like you", the only real instance of heavy drumming on the full CD, wouldn't sound out of place on "Grand illusion". Other than these 2 shining moments, only a couple of choruses almost rescue their respective songs on the strength of Lindqvist's vocals. But it takes more than a memorable chorus to make a quality metal song - whether doing that is a concern of Nocturnal Rites anymore is up for debate.
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