Though it's not a heavily riff-based record, Onyx is nevertheless a solid step forward for Greeks Nocternity, both in its production values and the level of immersion being transmitted through the airy, subterranean aesthetics of its compositions. You can hear a tad of En Oria's influence upon the sodden, sinking emotions dominating its track list, but really it feels like a fresh act. What is remarkable about the album is its ability to capture the listener with so little nuance and complexity, just a dark and consistent trip into the most shadowed alcoves of the writers' minds, and I admire that the band stick to their fascination for fantasy, with at least one song here devoted to George R.R. Martin's famous fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Fuck, they even included chain mail links with the limited edition of the album...how cool is that?
"The Song of Hammers" is a curious choice to open the album with, being largely instrumental, but it's nonetheless monolithic in its breadth. Searing, distorted guitars hint at dissonance behind a steady, marching gait, with percussion crashes off in the background, and light synthesizers brooding in various, understated layers of atmosphere. The title track is more what you'd expect if you heard their Crucify Him EP, a blasted strongarm of raw black metal in the vein of Norse icons Burzum, Mayhem and Emperor, but still admittedly gloomy and spacious. But it's the 9 and a half minute epic "Secretya Ayra (The Key)" which gels it all together, a work of both dour atmosphere and teeming, simple black metal tremolo lines, with some killer lyrics and climactic, descending melody deep in the bridge. "Valyrian Steel (Blood of the Dragon)" is the above mentioned A Song of Ice and Fire tribute, and it moves with a callous and measured cruelty, while "The Red Dawn " has a great intro and some concrete, depressive guitars.
The outro here is performed by great German ambient/black artist Vinterriket, but its martial depth adheres pretty cleanly to Nocternity's over-arching devotion to ambient aesthetics. It's a nice touch. Ultimately, Onyx sounds rich without being excessively raw, and due to its 37 minute length, never quite wears out its welcome, so the Greeks really seemed to be coming together. The one element holding me back from appreciating the sophomore any further is simply that the guitar lines are often rambling and predictable. Their atmospheric envelope helps keep my mind adrift within the compositions, but if you were to examine them independently of their environs, they seem as if they'd be quite dull. Still, they are saved by the sum of the package, and Onyx is a decent album if you appreciate the grim, mythic, and fantastic. Or if you appreciate a thriving, dark space in which to watch your breath frost and wither.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (logic of the impossible)