My relationship with Noltem dates back over a decade and a half at this point, all fueled by a chance discovery on a small forum, a search fueled by a desire to hear more folk-inspired, dark, dreamy metal. Then the venture of sole-musician Max Johnson, Noltem’s demo Hymn of the Wood would become the band’s epitaph, the band itself fizzling out after a label fell through for the fabled Ashes EP in 2007.
Noltem would eventually return (and with my help). I introduced Max Johnson to drummer and vocalist John Kerr (Pyrithe, Seidr, Yahar’gul, you get the idea), who together recorded the Mannaz EP which was released in 2015, ten years after Hymn of the Wood. Similar in style to the demo’s atavistic, calming dark metal and folk musics, Mannaz was an atmospheric affair, taking from Noltem’s roots and bringing them into the mid-2010s with a significantly stronger black metal influence.
Now armed with new bassist Shalin Shah, Noltem all but completely sheds their former self in favor of the progressive and challenging. Take, for example, album opener “Figment,” whose powerful opening progression truly sets the tone for the rest of the album. Using big, leafy chords and live, punchy, grooving drums, “Figment'”s progressive nature isn’t necessarily “prog,” but still sets itself apart from the atmospheric black metal tag to which their label (Transcending Obscurity) imbues this album. Aligning themselves more with “dark metal” (a nebulous tag I like to use for bands which aren’t quite black metal but still carry its spirit with a sense of melodic longing. Notable bands would be Agalloch, Thy Serpent, and so on), Noltem’s approach is almost a complete departure from their folky roots, though Johnson’s songwriting still has some “folky Easter eggs” up its sleeve. In short, Noltem doesn’t really care about fitting into one box anymore. They aren’t necessarily black metal in the same way they aren’t “prog;” they carry the style’s spirit as an appendix to their own home style, a seemingly endless fusion of styles and emotions which fill the listener with a sense of pastoral longing and colorful feelings. Listen to an exclusive premiere of “Figment” below.
(Illusions in the Wake releases October 10th on Transcending Obscurity. Preorder it here.)