Serena Cherry, best known as the front woman of Svalbard, is getting ready to release an undeniably unique album about award-winning role-playing game Skyrim. Of the album, Cherry has said, “I have always associated Skyrim with black metal. The snowy mountain settings, the morbid themes, the Norse mythology backbone – it just goes hand in hand for me.” Entire concept albums based around video games will always be a topic of intrigue, and Noctule does a spectacular job of capturing that adventurous spirit Skyrim brings out in all of its players.
“Wretched Abyss” – named after the manifestation of Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric prince of Knowledge – features 8 tracks about the weapons, dungeons, and plotline of Skyrim. First track, “Elven Sword,” is as sharply cut as the double-edged blade it is named after. Within a second of its opening, there is a series of shouts thrust out atop the righteous thwack upon the drums. The fury of the guitars pierce the skin like blustery winds, and Cherry’s shrieking, cold-steel vocals come as an instantaneous shock. This track is a blizzard of instruments swirling around a frozen wasteland, and these riffs absolutely cut. I mean, they just feel razor sharp. Between the chugging tempo changes and the varying layers of intertwining heaviness, the instrumentation on this piece sounds very much like a blackened symphonic movement.
Next up is “Labyrinthian.” This track is wonderfully dramatic. The beat of the drums sounds like running through the snow, frost crunching beneath your footfalls. The slow down into the acoustic guitar passage feels like gliding through the air as the world below glimmers. The atmosphere this track exudes simply feels so positive. “Labyrinthian” really is something else, and words fail to give it enough praise!
The riffs on “Wretched Abyss” are utterly stellar. The drums kick in and the song rumbles into a faster paced piece, guiding you along with the chill of ghostly spirits. How every single line of instrumentation fits beautifully with one another is beyond me.
Track four, “Evenaar,” is splendidly spine-chilling within just seconds of listening with its layered vocals that gently flutter forth and hover for a moment before the guitar drifts in. The guitar work on this track, and every track for that matter, is just phenomenal, period. The lovely vocals lingering behind the crash of drums and the splintering of the riff makes this song extra magical. Within the game of Skyrim, “Evenaar” means to extinguish. Of the track, Cherry said, “It’s about that flame of hope dying out, which is something I think a lot of people felt during lockdown.” Meaning aside, this song would sound perfect as the audial backdrop of any boss fight.
Next track, “Winterhold,” thrusts you into a soundscape of tremolo whirling forth like a harsh wind rounding the walls of an ice cave. The unconventional structure and reinforced riffage are a force to be reckoned with, and the harsh vocals add such a great dose of vigor to the piece.
“Deathbell Harvest” begins in a bit more of a dejected stance than the tracks that came before. The feeling is quickly mitigated, though, by the forceful pummeling of the drums that come in. The guitar climbs up, skybound, and the track takes off. Around the 3:00 mark, clean vocals blow in and elevate the track while the instrumentals rumble onward. In Skyrim, Deathbells are used in the crafting of poisons, and similarly, this strength of this track could cause serious damage to your health. Proceed with caution.
The swiftly alternating notes found upon the next track, “Unrelenting Force,” propel forward enough of a potent driving power to promptly knock the listener off of their own two feet. Cherry’s shrill shouts are both fear-inducing and deeply empowering. These riffs are endlessly amusing and never cease to amaze. The album closes with “Become Ethereal,” which comes as a slight change from previous tracks. Deep, choral vocals ease out over this purely instrumental track, and it certainly is a befitting exit to a wonderfully played out journey. The album has ended, but the story continues on… If you return the needle back to the first groove, that is.
Serena Cherry’s ear for drama would easily do any action-heavy video game’s O.S.T. justice. We shall all wait with hopes that there is even more to come in the future.
Recommendation: This is an album that whispers, “Come closer. Bask in my presence.”