Noctule is a U.K.-based, one-woman black metal band, founded by Svalbard vocalist Serena Cherry. During the 2020 lockdown in Britain, due to the COVID pandemic, Serena had a lot more time to indulge in a favorite pastime of hers, playing video games. While diving back into the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it occurred to her that the themes of the game would combine well with her other great and terrible love, black metal.
She started by fleshing out a few ideas around characters, items, and quests in the game, and once it became clear that the project had legs, she heeded the call to adventure and followed her muse on a fantastic journey of self-expression. She has now returned to the world village of the internet, thankfully alive (and presumably having avoided taking an arrow to the knee), having penned, for our enjoyment, eight songs that illuminate various mythical encounters she has had within the Old Kingdom.
As alluded to previously, Serena’s work with Noctule is less an act of soundtrack (or even story) adaptation, and more of an anthology of original adventures, set within the game world, in which you are now locked with her in a battle, not only for survival, but the destiny of your eternal soul. In old-school, RPG parlance, Serena is your dungeon master, and you have entered her keep. You must now roll a die to determine your fate. Pray that the odds are in your favor.
This first epic wrought under the Noctule name is titled Wretched Abyss. While the name of the album, and all of its song titles, are drawn directly from the world of Skyrim, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t actually have to have played the game, or have any prior knowledge of its lore, to enjoy the album. It stands alone as in independent work, and if no one told you that it was in any way connected to a Bethesda property, you might not have otherwise known.
So, how do the elements of Skyrim impact the music of Noctule, you may ask? It’s complicated to unpack this question, but the way in which influence intersects with execution is surely to the benefit of the album as a whole. For one, Wretched Abyss just sounds like a black metal album. It fits pretty neatly within the parameters set out with the second wave of Norweigan black metal, with a few twists, of course.
This brings up another important point: the compositional qualities of the songs on the album are so tight and adeptly sequenced, it almost shocks the mind to consider it as derivative of another work. However, Noctule truly stands on the should of a giant and with its sight above the tree line; it can see much farther than its fellows and chart a path that was heretofore unimaginable.
Even the direct callbacks to the game (outside of the song titles) are less conspicuous than you might think. Serena is primarily playing black metal riffs in major chords on Wretched Abyss. This allows the compositions to be reminiscent of Jeremy Soule’s original game score while managing to evade being dominated by the mastery of his influence. The vocal work as well bears the imprint of its inspiration as the typical, rattling, reptilian, black metal cries take on a shocking, thunderous quality bearing the mark of the storm voice or Thu’um. Again, you probably wouldn’t catch these aspects if no one brought them to your attention, but they do make a difference and help to separate Noctule’s sound from her ghastly contemporaries.
Despite its origins, Wretched Abyss feels wholly self-directed and without antecedent. The fact that it’s sprung from a massive, existing mythos like a giant emerging parthenogenetically from the flesh of Ymir is almost beside the point. Noctule’s sound is a strange confluence of clean, redemptive guitars, performed in with clarity of a band like Pelican and the primitive ferocity of Mayhem.
It contains choral hymns that will sift your hair like a warm, summer breeze while they undergird grooves that retain a cold sense of defiance of fate, savagely reminiscent of Immortal’s own anguished revolt. Wretched Abyss probably going to be one of the more unique and memorable black metal records that will be released this year. Check this one out now while it’s still on the cutting edge and before it’s all anyone else wants to talk about.
Buy and stream Wretched Abyss below via Bandcamp: