2017 has been a generous year to fans of Swedish power metal. Not only did Dream Evil return after a 7-year hiatus, but fellow countrymen Nocturnal Rites have just released a new record after 10 long years. Though it may feature a new face in the form of Per Nilsson on lead guitar, “Phoenix” picks up exactly where “The 8th Sin” left off. Fans of the bands earlier works may be disappointed to hear this, but Nocturnal Rites is far better at this brand of incredibly melodic, poppy power metal. While other giants like Edguy may have had a noticeable decline in quality when they slowed down musically, the same can’t be said for Nocturnal Rites. “Phoenix” shows the band perfecting this sound.
Most tracks on “Phoenix” plod along at a mid-paced tempo, but manage to alternate between speedier heavy riffing, and slower, huge choruses. The riffs tend to have a bit more groove in them than most power metal fans would be comfortable with, but as soon as Jonny Lindqvist’s voice enters the song, any weak riffs are immediately forgotten. He sounds every bit as good as he did 17 years ago on “Afterlife”, but he now has a much more soulful, emotional range. Tracks like “Before We Waste Away” and especially the slow-burning “Repent My Sins” are practically clinics in impactful songwriting. Unsurprisingly, it is the choruses that elevate these songs, and really the entire album, to another level.
Where “Phoenix” truly differentiates itself from Nocturnal Rites’ previous records is in the lead guitar playing. The slower feel of many of the choruses continues underneath the guitar solos, and unleashes huge pockets for Per Nilsson to impress with his fretboard gymnastics. While many guitarists excel at either shredding or more emotional playing, Nilsson succeeds at both, often times in the same solo. “Repent My Sins” again stands out as being a song where he absolutely dominates. Several tracks give him an extended opportunity to solo, and he’s so impressive that even more solos would be welcome.
In fairness to Nocturnal Rites, there are a few times where they do something different. “The Poisonous Seed” is a speedier track that would feel right at home with anything released in the early 2000s. “Flames” is a somewhat stereotypical power metal ballad, but almost feels unnecessary due to several songs being able to create similar emotions in a much heavier format. Truthfully, Nocturnal Rites is at their best when they do this tamer, but catchier power metal sound. Although it might not be what old-school fans hope to hear, it is every bit as convincing as anything else out there in the scene today!
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"A Heart As Black As Coal"
"Before We Waste Away"
"Repent My Sins"
"What's Killing Me"
4.5/5 or 90%.