Regardless of whether you agree on their political stances or not, Ukraine’s Nokturnal Mortum can’t be dismissed for not having a huge impact on black metal, especially the kind influenced by folk music and rooted in symphonic grandeur. Their third demo –– disputably their first full-length –– Lunar Poetry recently turned 20 and deserves to be recognized for its excellence in songwriting and creating one of the strongest wintry atmospheres conjured in a black metal album from the 90s.
While Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir had already brought symphonic elements into a black metal-based sound, Nokturnal Mortum took it to the next level by integrating instrumentation from traditional Ukrainian folk music. The opening title track on Lunar Poetry has savage, windswept melodic black metal riffs but is overlaid with layers of strings that do more than just follow the basic chord patterns, and there are also clear influences of traditional metal in the galloping rhythms, soaring leads, and occasional solos. For as primitive as the recording is, the arc of the songwriting is incredibly mature, nuanced even, for a self-proclaimed demo. “Perun’s Celestial Silver” has become a classic track and a live staple for the reason that its ambition and compelling structure is not hindered by its age, and Nokturnal Mortum’s sound is distinct enough that it still holds up all these years later, despite the clearly dated production values and electronic drums.
Those looking for palpable atmosphere in black metal need look no further than Lunar Poetry. There are constant undercurrents of both sorrow and triumph here in the NWOBHM-style guitar harmonies, the distant screams, and dynamic orchestration that drives the songs almost as much as the metal components of Nokturnal Mortum’s sound, best displayed on “Carpathian Mysteries” and the anthemic “Ancient Nation.” When winter rolls around, this is one album that always comes back to the forefront of my memory, but even aside from nostalgic personal connotations, it is one of Nokturnal Mortum’s most significant works and paved the way for more classics such as Goat Horns and NeChrist.