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Album Review: OCCASVS – Nocturnal Majestic Mysteria

occasvsYou will be surprised by Occasvs. From the album’s opening notes through its winding, relentless journey, you will be surprised over and over again. To simply think of Occasvs as another “black metal band” or “blackened death metal band” is to greatly undercut the achievements of the intensely multifaceted music the trio have created with their debut record Nocturnal Majestic Mysteria.

Songs are built as the music demands, with no regard for established songwriting structures yet with every regard for sensibility and sophistication. Themes and motifs emerge and disappear at will, some returning and some not, but all serving their purpose before yielding their place to new ones as is deemed appropriate by the needs of the music at each moment in time. At no point are you allowed to relax and find solace in having safely predicted what the next passage may bring.

Though this volatility can make it a challenge to form a concrete image of each song’s identity, it fits with the overall conception of the album as one complete work. Occasvs call into question the idea of a song as a fixed, discrete entity in favor of allowing their creative impulses to remain in full control of the music’s direction at all times. While several of these transitions do feel more abrupt than may have been intended, any hiccups are immediately resolved as the ever-churning tempest resumes control.

Album opener “Andante Nocturno Op.7” paints in its own way a telling image of what is to follow. The track is a deeply nuanced symphonic composition reaching nearly nine minutes in length, and the decision to open the album in such a way must have presented to the band quite the creative challenge. Occasvs is a metal band – they know this, and after having listened to the album multiple times, I know this as well. But to begin your metal band’s debut record with nine minutes of your very own Fantasia requires either extreme confidence in your songwriting skills, a bordering-on-delusional conception of yourself as an artiste-with-an-e, or both. If this indulgent orchestral extravaganza doesn’t ensnare and hold your audience from the first few seconds, odds are they aren’t going to have formed enough trust in you to make it through to the rest of the music. And if they lose patience and jump ahead, your grandiose overture is rendered impotent.

To declare your identity to the world on Track 1 of Album 1 in the very atypical way that Occasvs have done is a risky move, but one which in their case ended up being massively successful. The orchestra’s entire sonic palette is tastefully utilized so as to avoid an overwhelming sense of clamor or sonic suffocation. The song’s skillful arrangement reveals a composer who I imagine hears exactly what he or she wants, then creates it. Tension is subtly built and crescendos accented throughout with effective use of varied percussion. Things reach a thematic head two-thirds of the way through, and it’s there that the song could end – but not Occasvs. The song’s melodic theme returns reinterpreted for one final minutes-long build until ending, for real this time, with several forlorn brass notes that directly foreshadow the second track’s opening guitar riff. Consider my preconceptions shattered.

Speaking of guitars – it’s with the second song “Triumphal Defeat” that we finally get them, as well as the rest of the band. As gripping as the album opener is, Occasvs are, remember, primarily a metal band. Turbulent guitars signal the transition as within seconds, the listener is swept into a storm of tremolo picking and blast beats. With the exception of mid-album interlude “Psychic Burial,” there are few moments at which the band cease their assault.

An essential weapon in the Occasvs armory is not revealed until four minutes into the second track, or nearly 13 minutes into the album as a whole – this being the band’s greatest secret yet, the operatic baritone of vocalist Nolvz. Admittedly, I didn’t love this aesthetic choice at first as much as I do now, though I attribute that largely to how unexpected it is. While substituting his stentorian harmonies with more growls would not necessarily be doing the music a disservice or making it any less original, it would surely remove a number of the album’s grandest “fuck yeah” moments. It’s a seriously cool addition to the music, and Nolvz nails the delivery. In addition to his very memorable clean vocals, Nolvz employs guttural death growls, a half-distorted low drone, gritty full-throated shouts and a classic dry black metal rasp, many of which can be found layered over each other for added effect and texture.

The album’s production is crisp and balanced, a necessary approach for music as mind-numbingly intricate as this as it provides plenty of sonic real estate for each musician’s performances to be appreciated. An acoustic interlude midway through a song fills headphones with as much volume as the sludgy breakdown that follows it. Even the bass, an instrument often overlooked in many metal mixes, is given plenty of room to shine, all while the lead guitar slices with ease through the din.

Album closer “Union” was chosen by the band as the album’s first teaser track, and I’d agree that it paints the most comprehensive picture for listeners in terms of what this band is about. It’s no easy task to fit a band like Occasvs into a nutshell, but this song manages to capture all their most engaging elements. If you’re looking to wet your feet before jumping in, “Union” makes for an excellent starting point.

Nocturnal Majestic Mysteria is so densely packed with musical ideas that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but it’s worth putting in the time with repeat listens in order to appreciate all the band have accomplished. There’s not a single point on the record at which the music feels forced, trite or phoned in, whether it be during the eight-plus-minute symphonic overture or throughout the subsequent exercises in anthemic black metal bombast. The album is a stunning triumph, and I fully expect Occasvs will continue their journey to even greater heights.

Occasvs will release Nocturnal Majestic Mysteria on September 26th via Unspeakable Axe Records in CD, tape and digital download formats. Pre-orders are available now on the label’s Bandcamp, and you can preview the third track “Under Human Eyes” over at No Clean Singing.

About Ivan Belcic

Ivan Belcic is a writer, musician and artist currently living in Prague, Czech Republic.

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