Nightside oracles

MOON ORACLE: Muse Of The Nightside

Release year: 2021
Label: Bestial Burst/Signal Rex

Considering how black metal is supposed to be individualist music, where conformity, adhering to trends and following leaders blindly are tantamount to mortal sin, it’s almost funny how many do just that. It’s also of course entirely natural: this is what the bulk of humans do, and black metal has grown to be too big to be a genre of leaders only.

But if conforming and being just like everyone else is a mortal sin, then in many ways doing the polar opposite just for the sake of being different is just as wrong. I mean, if one’s only reason to be different is to show disdain for trends and those going with the flow, then essentially one is as bound to those trends as those following them.

Uh, basically, what I’m trying to say is that if following suit and going against the grain for the sake of going against the grain are two polar opposites, then usually the most interesting stuff is to be found somewhere in the middle. Not at either extreme. And after this lengthy, rambling intro, guess where you can place Finnish trio Moon Oracle?

Yeah. There in that middle ground. Moon Oracle aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel or do something that hasn’t been done before in black metal. But at the same time, they certainly aren’t your boring dime-a-dozen black metal band rehashing Satanic Warmaster riffs.

Moon Oracle themselves describe their music as an unholy union of archaic black metal and eldritch doom. There’s an element of truth to this, but it certainly isn’t an exhaustive description. Down-tuned, but not in the same way as Archgoat whose expression borders on death metal, bass-heavy and raw to the point of crude are how I’d describe Muse Of The Nightside.

There are plenty of elements from classic black metal on the album: shredding riffs, fast-paced drumming, sparsely used synths, and so on; Moon Oracle by no means try to hide the DNA of black metal tradition in them. But with prominent bass, a lower tuned guitar sound than usual and plenty of torturously slow sections, Muse Of The Nightside truly has its own character.

But the purely musical characteristics are only one part of Moon Oracle’s distinct character. Vocalist Harald Mentor (who also runs label Bestial Burst and has been active in about a thousand projects throughout the years) adds character by the loads: his vocals are a harsh, raspy, gravelly, animalistic snarl, which sometimes seems to drag just a bit behind the music, giving it all a slightly disturbing, disjointed feel. The fact that there are plenty of rough edges in the instrumentation just adds to this slightly off feeling: it’s obvious the band weren’t even trying to capture technically perfect performances, but a primal energy.

In many ways, Muse Of The Nightside is a throwback to maybe 15-20 years ago, to the time before “the Finnish black metal sound” established itself. In the same way as countless acts back then, most of who released a few releases before petering out, Moon Oracle combine traditional black metal with a strong will to forge something distinct out of it. And, just like then, things aren’t honed and polished to characterless perfection: instead, the production values betray an affinity for the primeval and even bestial both when it comes to sound and performance.

You can interpret the above as encompassing both the good and the bad of that era.

The good in the sense that it was a time when a lot of interesting sounding stuff was released (much of which has fallen into complete oblivion now). Moon Oracle truly has their own character, even if their sound is rooted in familiar elements.

The less good – not exactly bad because I quite like Muse Of The Nightside – in the sense that quite often bands of that era never got around to fully realizing their visions, bringing their concept to maturity. To reiterate, Moon Oracle is obviously intentionally raw, crude and primitive. But at moments it feels like a bit of honing, crystallizing the vision and concept a bit more, would have been benefical. Some of the rough edes are even needlessly rough.

The end result isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. There’s a certain hostility in the primitivity and even crudity of sound and performance, which will be off-putting for some. The music offers precious few hooks, melodies or other catchy elements to make it easier to get into it. It is very boneheaded music in that sense. But on the other hand, it’s not the kind of music that actively tries to repel and alienate the listener. It just is, in it’s own primitive, esoteric, nocturnal harshness, disinterested in whether it reverberates with your sensibilities or not.

So, if you’re one of those who enjoy raw, somewhat unconventional takes on black metal – from early Barathrum and Countess to, I dunno, (early) Uncreations Dawn and some of the stuff on now defunct Saturnian Productions – this might be for you. I’m not saying Moon Oracle sounds like them, but maybe it takes a similar kind of musical bent to dig into this.

Muse Of The Nightside has genuine character, and there’s a sense of deep mysticism beneath its primitive veneer. Despite my reservations mentioned above, the scales easily tip more to the positive.

Visit Moon Oracle on Bandcamp

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