Nocturna "Daughters Of The Night" review
Disclaimer: I am friends with people involved in this band, so my review may be biased, but it is my opinion and I stand by it.
When I started this blog over 5 years ago, my plan was to write High End Audio equipment reviews as well as music reviews. And, although I have heard a lot of great music of various genres during this period, nothing compelled me to write a review of an album, and thus all the entries in my blog have been about equipment, audio shows or private audiophile events. Until now.
Symphonic metal is a genre that was once my favorite, but apart from two most recent Nightwish albums, this style had largely lost its appeal to me over the past 15 years. That suddenly changed in late October of last year, when YouTube offered me to watch a video called "New Evil" by a band called Nocturna. The video's thumbnail, showing two attractive women. was intriguing, so I clicked on it. And boy was I glad I did!
Nocturna is a new symphonic / gothic metal band from Italy (Milan, Lombardy), created by two singers, Grace Darkling and Rehn Stillnight, and multi-instrumentalist, composer and graphic artist Federico Mondelli (Frozen Crown, Volturian, Be The Wolf). Grace and Rehn are the main focal point of this band, while supporting musicians, Hedon (guitar), Antares (bass) and Deimos (drums) are somewhat anonymous and wear masks in the videos. But by now it's become kind of an open secret, that Hedon is actually Federico himself. He also created the stunning cover art for the album. I have seen some comments online comparing Nocturna masks to Slipknot. In my opinion, that is incorrect. Their silvery masks remind me of half-masks worn by the legendary progressive metal band Crimson Glory early in their career. And that is a huge plus in my book.
The first single "New Evil" was followed by a second single and video called "Daughters Of The Night" in mid-December. A third single "Blood Of Heaven" was unveiled as audio only one week before the official album release on January 21st, 2022 on Scarlet Records. I pre-ordered my copy of "Daughters Of The Night" CD back in November based on the strength of "New Evil" alone. The following two singles only confirmed my premonition that this album would be something special. While my copy of the album (along with "New Evil" t-shirt!) is in transit from Italy, I have been streaming it non-stop from TIDAL in CD quality (44.1 kHz, 16-bit) on my main system as well as my headphone rig (see Associated Equipment list at the end of this review).
The opening instrumental track "Spectral Ruins" sets the epic, yet somewhat somber mood with background male choir effect that reminds me of Gregorian, before a keyboard passage brings it to a climax, that breaks into the powerhouse that is "New Evil".
The track starts with an energetic power metal guitar riff joined by the powerful and tight rhythm section, before Rehn's clear and high soprano vocals begin telling the story. Soon after, Grace's powerful mezzo-soprano steps in and creates an amazing counterpoint, which, as you will discover for yourself, is the unique feature of this band. On the chorus each singer can be heard quite distinctly at first before they harmonize their voices towards the end. This is symphonic metal afterall, but the keyboards and orchestral arrangements never overpower the voices or the instruments.
The title track is next and it seriously kicks it up a notch in power and intensity.
Grace's powerful voice comes on first against the galloping guitar riffs and rhythm section, "Fire...", followed by Rehn's angelic operatic singing and once again they are joined together on the amazing chorus, yet still very distinguishable. A blistering and melodic guitar solo interjects before the ladies take it up again with the chorus and bring this whirlwind of a song to a satisfying conclusion. "So here we are..." indeed (see what I did there? 😀)
The next track called "The Sorrow Path" warrants a special mention. In my opinion, it is the absolute gem and the heart of this album. It is a very powerful and emotional ballad that starts with just a haunting piano passage, then followed by Rehn and Grace's alternating voices, soon joined by strings, before the rest of the instruments come in on the powerful chorus. I literally get goosebumps when the chorus comes on. It somehow tugs at my heart strings and I haven't been able to figure out why yet. Perhaps reading the lyrics in the booklet, once I get the CD, will solve this wonderful mystery. Another beautiful solo by Federico, another beautiful chorus and then the piano and strings end abruptly, like an unfinished love story from long ago...
"Sea Of Fire" is another extremely enjoyable, but straightforward track, that haunts me with the beauty of its vocal melodies and mysterious lyrics, concluded by yet another beautiful guitar solo. "Blood Of Heaven" is the heaviest track on "Daughter Of The Night", punctuated by thrash / speed metal rhythms reminiscent of Federico's other band, Frozen Crown. Once again the ladies' vocals simply shine here, taking this track to another level.
"In This Tragedy" is the most progressive track on this album, and it's the longest one at 6:06, where both Grace and Rehn stay in the upper registers and once again join together in angelic harmony on the chorus. There is plenty of odd time signatures here to satisfy even the most demanding prog metal snob. This is another quality of this album that I truly appreciate, that no one song sounds the same. Each has its own distinct flavor, but all of them flow naturally one after the other. "Darkest Days" is another track with some progressive touches, that is followed by another instrumental track called "Nocturnal Whispers". Some reviewers dismiss instrumental tracks like these as filler. Let me assure you, there are NO fillers on this album. None. Every track serves its purpose. "Nocturnal Whispers" sets the mood and prepares the listener for the last chapter of the musical journey that is "Daughters Of The Nights". "The Trickster" is the most epic song on the album that makes me tap my foot every time I play it. Grace and Rehn's harmonizing voices are at their absolute best here and must be heard to be believed!
There is, as I told Federico, a major issue with this album. It's too short! Before you know it, the album is over and I immediately want to hear it again, and again and again! In all seriousness though, this is a perfect example of quality over quantity. This is a rare occasion when a debut album from a new and as yet unknown band delivers such quality material, that rivals multiple outputs of many well-established acts on the scene. It is that good! Granted, musically there is nothing new here, strictly speaking. But the whole result is greater than the sum of its parts. The level of talent of all involved is unquestionable as is the level of professionalism.
As an audiophile and a reviewer of High End Audio components, I cannot omit mentioning the production quality of this album. Andrea Fusini, who recorded, mixed and mastered it, deserves a special mention here, because he did an outstanding job. Every song sounds clear, detailed and yet doesn't lose its power. Every instrument as well as Grace and Rehn's voices are clearly distinguished within the sound stage. I often lament the lack of proper production on metal albums. Thankfully, "Daughters Of The Night" does not suffer from the disease known as "loudness wars". (You hear that, Sascha Paeth and Miro?!) It will definitely become one of my benchmark albums when reviewing audio equipment.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the band for coming together to create such amazing, beautiful and deeply touching music. I wish them nothing but success and will be looking forward to seeing them live later this year (hopefully!), as well as new and exciting music by Nocturna and other bands and projects they are involved with. I believe this band is destined for a great success and I urge you to support them by buying their album and merch here:
Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 streaming amplifier
Pear Audio Blue Little John turntable with Cornet 1 tonearm
Hana SL MC cartridge
Massif Audio Design mpingo / cocobolo record weight
Gold Note PH-10 phono stage
Gold Note PSU-10 inductive power supply
OPPO BDP-95 Universal Disc Player
Audiovector QR 5 loudspeakers
Transparent Cable RCA interconnect
KirmussAudio speaker cables
Google Pixel 4a 5G smartphone running BubbleUPnP client as control point
Headphone rig: Acer Aspire 5 laptop running Audirvana ver. 3.5.51 as source
Monolith 24459 Desktop Balanced Headphone Amplifier and DAC with THX AAA Technology
Schiit Magni 3 Headphone Amplifier
Meridian Audio Explorer² USB DAC
Audeze LCD-XC closed back planar magnetic headphones
Audeze LCD-1 open back planar magnetic headphones
HIFIMAN HE-400i open back planar magnetic headphones