Spectres of Bloodshed

July 3, 2020


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Australian black metal musician Nightwolf has been quite busy in recent years, as not only has he been releasing almost an album a year with Runespell but his other band Blood Stronghold has been just as prolific.  While both groups pull from somewhat similar territory, Blood Stronghold finds Nightwolf teaming up with Polish drummer Krew, who has been in more projects than can possibly be named in a single review.  For their third full length Spectres of Bloodshed the duo has stripped things down in favor of heroic and medieval focused black metal that recalls the Polish scene of the 90s.  While it falls a bit closer to Runespell at times when compared to past material, the songwriting here still captures that ancient flame and proves to be just as compelling.

Where 2017’s The Triumph of Wolfish Destiny had guest keyboard arrangements from Evilfeast’s GrimSpirit which created a much thicker atmosphere, on Spectres of Bloodshed the emphasis has once again returned to the guitars.  The minute and a half opener “Edict of Conflict” kicks things off with a triumphant melody and pounding drums that seem like they’re sending you off to an ancient battle, with “Unbowed Wolves” opening up appropriately into pummeling blast beats and riffs that have a warlike cadence about them.  Unlike some of the other black metal groups from Poland and Norway that have inspired the material here, there’s a cleaner overall tone throughout the course of the album and while there are still jagged edges throughout tracks like “From the Depths of Veles Sea” weave mystical and empowering melodies over top of the drum work.  There’s a very 90s feel to the recording in general, especially when it comes to the snare and bass drum tone which sound a bit compressed yet still add to the power the material generates.  Admittedly without the keyboards you’re likely to find that Blood Stronghold’s latest bears quite a bit of resemblance to the last few Runespell albums, but Spectres of Bloodshed still manages to impress.  This is particularly noticeable on the two lengthiest tracks where the group stretches past the eight-minute mark and manages to weave triumphant battle hymns and more introspective melodies clad in darkness without any of the ideas feeling too repetitive or stretched out.

Nightwolf’s vocals skew towards the raspier side, and they’re very prominent in the mix throughout Spectres of Bloodshed.  Where a lot of black metal of this type buries its screams and growls underneath walls of distortion and in some cases even has them sounding like they’re coming from a completely different room as the rest of the band, here they tower above the instrumentals and add extra bite to each verse.  There are noticeable variations in pitch here, as the vocals move up and down naturally with the music rather than sticking with the same tone for the entire album, and you’ll also notice that everything is enunciated well enough that you should be able to make out the lyrics fairly easily.  It’s an approach that suits Blood Stronghold’s material and summons you forth into times long past.

Each release from Runespell and Blood Stronghold has seen Nightwolf further hone his craft and channel the type of medieval inspired and triumphant black metal that defined parts of the Norwegian and Polish scenes in the 90s.  Though his bands bare similarities to each other, the soaring melodies that call listeners to arms and the wave of intrigue woven around the softer passages makes this album one of his best releases yet.  This is an album you can truly get swept away in, and fans of black metal’s murky and otherworldly roots will want to grab this one.  Spectres of Bloodshed is available on vinyl from Nebular Carcoma and Satanik Requiem, on CD from Putrid Cult, and on cassette from A Fine Day to Die Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

Nebular Carcoma · Blood Stronghold - Crowned Virtue

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