When it comes to Black Metal and solo Black Metal projects out of Greece, Nocternity has been a leader of the pack for quite some time. Hailing from Athens, this outfit came to life back in 1997, finally releasing its debut full-length, En Oria, in 2001. Fourteen years have passed since then, and fans have been treated with four EPs and splits, all fairly well received, as well as the En Oria / Crucify Him compilation in 2004, not to mention the only other full-length over the course of this time, Onyx, in 2003. Eventually, founding member Khal Drogo (former Vorphalack) took over all the duties of the band, leading to the long overdue third album, Harps of the Ancient Temples, which is being handled by Necroshrine Records, as well as Iron Bonehead Productions for the cassette version. This album [according to the accompanying press release] also marks the group's return to trio status with vocalist W (Lunar Au5rora) and percussionist N.S. (Sadistic Noise) joining the fray. With an album that, according to Khal, "has been in the works for a decade now," does Harps of the Ancient Temples stand as a worthy follow-up, or has all this time only hindered what this new formation present?

According to Khal, this new outing is meant to be "...stripped to the essentials…back to basics. It aims to be hypnotic and to take the listeners to our musical landscapes, delivering what we have in our souls and what we consider to be the black metal feeling.” One spin through this new album makes it perfectly clear that the goal has been accomplished. Harps of the Ancient Temples finds itself in the dawn of the second wave's darkest, coldest outfits atmospherically. Early releases from the likes of Darkthrone and Mayhem are channelled, but thrown into a slower Doom Metal pace, playing up the frostbitten landscapes even more, all while carrying natural atmospheres of their own that go along with the fairly analog audio quality. This isn't a modern Black Metal venture along the likes of Marduk, but a far more restrained approach that thrives in the eeriness of forgotten woodlands and mythos.

"The Black Gates" perfectly sums up what to expect from this release. The slow pace does end up fairly hypnotic, blending deeper spoken word segments with harsher rasps, sometimes in the distance, carried on the winds that create a dark and somewhat hazy environment that is as glorious as it is able to chill you to the core. The bass guitar heavy foundation on this one accentuates the infectious grooves, complimenting the slightly sharpened buzz of the distortions in an early NWOBHM manner that Mercyful Fate would appreciate, all the while having a subtle melody behind both string instruments that come off a tame Dissection. There's also "River of Woe", which does allow for some backing keyboard notes through much of the mist-filled performance. The layered vocal approach makes it seem like you are surrounded in the cold, isolated fog that has crept over all you can observe.

There are a few songs here that manage to push past the six minute mark, and, while they also stick to the slower pacing, some manage to really stand out through simple additions. "Harps of the Ancient Temples" sounds like a march to your own demise, especially later on when the bass guitar really takes over for the Doom-laden grooves. What sticks out, however, is the regional influence in the music, presenting a bit of Middle Eastern flair. It's more dominant in the final few minutes with the additional leads that end up layered over that aforementioned procession, as well as vocal hums in the background, and what sounds like additional keyboards or effects on one of the guitars to play up a mysterious tone. Then there's "Blood Rite Tree", which is just incredibly depressing. Steady drums that focus on the bass kicks compliment the miserable, mournful chords being performed. There are some hooks from time to time, such as around three-and-a-half minutes in, that wind up a bit eerie or on the side of Horror, but the overall sinister negativity really weighs on the listener throughout the performance, and is far too hard to simply shake off by the end.

Now, this isn't to say all the songs move along slower. "Titans" presents a sinister faster pace, though it still sounds restrained, never achieving that necessary amount of venom being spewed from the instruments or hushed raspy snarls. Akin to the regional aspect of "Harps of the Ancient Temples", this song finds plenty of regional influence in the guitars, though its largely the bass riffs that allow it to shine over the tighter leads. It isn't the most memorable of performances, but it does end up a nice change of pace that only needed to happen the one time.

Harps of the Ancient Temples is an well paced homage to the grim and desolate days of the Black Metal style's second wave. Beautifully crafted atmospheres with mixtures that blend the realms of digital and analog to the point that it pulls away from the norm in all the right ways. This isn't a cheap, gimmicky flash in the pan, but rather an emotional expression of the group's geological roots, warfare, and memorials. If this new opus truly took nearly ten years to write, then it was all well worth the time. Infectious songs that lure you into a trance, with exception of one faster assault, all without breaking a sweat or the intention of playing so hard it'll break your neck. If you have yet to hear Nocternity, this is the album you desperately need to check out if you consider yourself any sort of Black Metal fan.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.