I was shocked to discover that Harps of the Ancient Temples has literally zero harps on it. Not one. It’s not disappointing. It’s just a fact. It does have guitars and some synthesizer-like sounds arcing over the plodding blackness but harps? No dice. I guess Nocternity was super busy in the twelve years since their last full-length—too busy to learn how to play harp or at least meet a gypsy woman that knows her way around one. Regardless, harps or no harps, the album was well worth the extensive wait.
I guess I shouldn’t poke fun at Nocternity. It’s not like they were doing nothing in the last twelve years; they did release three EPs and three splits. That’s not too shabby. Also, the band’s mastermind, Khal Drogo (yes, that is a Game of Thrones reference) was busy running the Kyrck Productions label, which has re-issued many a lost jewel from the 1990s underground metal scene. The time he spent tearing through that very specific era of music was sure to influence his writing for Harps of the Ancient Temples—and it absolutely did.
The music itself is subtle—sort of a stripped-down version of their prior, long-format work. The effect of the plodding rhythms and guitars like cascading falls of water is somewhat hypnotic. It actually feels ancient—which is, admittedly, what the band set out to accomplish. In contrast with their last album, 2003’s Onyx, Harps feels as it it’s been stripped to the bare basics—almost like they’ve decided to pack light for a spelunking expedition. They’ve stripped away extraneous effects and tricks to write music whose every note is effective. It’s still black metal, but the gothic and doom influences are apparent in the overall mood, and this stripped-down approach effectuates.
All instrumentation is nothing short of practical—effected to literally sound like the white noise of waves crashing upon rocks. As a result, the music washes over you as would the incoming tide. The vocals vacillate between whispers, as featured on the title track, and the kind of dungeon-like barks we hear on “Titans.” As the album flows onward, tracks like “B.O.D.D.” allow for the presence of a soaring, floating guitar pattern that feels like a lead part. (Though we won’t actually get one of those until the phaseout of “Blood Rite Tree”) As for the album arc, it’s similarly subtle but effective. Each track slowly adds layers to the core sound, which builds the overall intensity and infectiousness of Harps of the Ancient Temples. Because of the subtleties the album certainly will grow on you. What opens as merely “interesting” results in comforting reassurance after a few listens.
My promo copy did not include the bonus track, so when I refer to Harps of the Ancient Temples, I’m speaking only of the eight-track, nearly-fifty-minute-long LP. The sound varies only slightly from song to song, so don’t expect a whopping heap of diversity. But nonetheless, the album is a pleasant one. I’ve had a few months with this thing, which is the perfect way to experience the album. Being able to come back to this album again and again, and let it wash over and infect my eardrums and inhabit my organs did wonders for the listening experience.
Harps of the Ancient Temples is full of references and subtle shout outs to the Scandinavian foundations of black metal. But the album is, in itself, more of an ode to the roots of the Greek black metal scene than anything else. It’s utterly unselfconscious throughout. Nocternity is just a band attempting to make music that they love and allowing their roots to pour through that music and inhabit their external existence. And it works. So throw this record on and summon the spirit of Hades.