Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thornspawn - Blood of the Holy, Taint thy Steel

Thornspawn - Blood of the Holy, Taint thy Steel
2000, Baphomet Records

At first I was hesitant to review this album, approaching it in a halting manner. Whenever I would start to type out my thoughts, I would start to feel as if unseen presences were reading over my shoulder, eager to either read their triumph or their downfall. I am linked to this band almost on a personal level, sharing friends with the guys in this group, and they certainly know of me. When you are placed so closely to a subject before you, the search for objectivity is clouded if not completely mired. I am going to do my best to approach this album as if none of the above were true, and in the manner of a critic or reviewer who has a certain level of familiarity with the band but who is not swayed in a positive or negative direction. Is this possible? Is this all a doomed experiment? Let's see.

I know that many people in the black metal underground, especially here in the States, have been eagerly awaiting the release of this album, for a few reasons: one, Thornspawn has become, over the last year or so, something of a champion of the cause of American black metal, an axis upon which the scene slowly is revolving; two, Thornspawn are not exactly innovators, but rather traditionalists, and in their music they call for a 'return' to an older (and much more lethal and relevant) style of black metal - many other people feel the same way (including me); and three, because Thornspawn is rightly hailed and heralded by so many bands, putting this album out is something of a clarion call for the rest of the scene - 'if we can do it,' they are saying, 'you can too.' This is rather exciting for a lot of American bands, especially the ones waiting in the wings on the Baphomet label, eager for their share in the glory. The American black metal scene, filled as it is with backstabbing, poor musicians, creative strife, poor communication, petty rivalries, ego casualties, the lack of a clear aesthetic consciousness, and all kinds of ill will, is nevertheless a very strong and individualistic or original musical movement. Perhaps it is that same individualism that causes so many conflicts, I can not tell. In any case, the American scene has been ready for some time now to rise up and take the reins of black metal on the world stage. The release of this album is like the sounding of a horn urging the hordes into battle.

Nationalism aside, what can I say about the music?

Without any hint of intro, prefatory remarks, a readying sample or two, or a slowly building acoustic piece, Thornspawn launch into the first song, the title track, with all the viciousness and dark malevolence that has marked their career to this point. This song, 'Blood of the Holy, Taint thy Steel' will be familiar to those of you who have been following their releases in the underground, as it appeared on a 7" EP put out by Profanation Records, Lord Imperial of Krieg's amateur label. Updated for this album, the evil guitar tones are now more prevalent than ever - not only the most obvious lashings and puncturing slashes of Necron and Swornghoul's main themes, but also the microtones underneath that add layers of atmosphere and abyssic intent. This song reels about drunkenly, battering left and right, speeding up, slowing down, but always retaining a caustic destructive force propelled by Blackthorn's concussive drum pounding and acid-soaked vocals. It is not until the third song, I think, 'Storming the Heavens', that Thornspawn's real melodic style comes through with power and conviction - indeed this album progresses naturally, getting better and better as it spins through its fifty minute running length, and by the middle of the record, say the fourth and fifth songs, you begin to really hear this band's original take on Darkthrone-style battering black metal chaos. There is nothing weak, feminine, sensitive, poetic, or 'gothic' about this album: it is all intensely dark, destructive, chaotic, hatred-inspiring, raw, and bitterly crushing. The guitar melodies offer little room for enlightenment, hope, or inspiration - they are there to maim, hurt, and spread their tales of wickedness. I really don't think there is another American band, at least, that has this much anger and black violence in their music. Very impressive.

What I like the most about this album are the few riffs that really lend themselves to furthering Thornspawn's originality within this scene - the melodies that stand out as uniquely Necron's creations: the first slow intro riff and its mirroring counterpart in 'Storming the Heavens', and then the switch to a tremelo-picked version of the same melody, the riff that starts at exactly 2:50 into 'Man, Thy Name is Satan', a beautiful example of Thornspawn's oppressive ability to summon darkness, the second riff in 'Ancient Path' with its shadowed undertones of chiming atmosphere, the second fast riff in the title track, with its swirling descending notes, etc. I think that if Thornspawn can concentrate on these elements, expanding on their initial musical exploration of tenebrous atmospheres, their next album will be able to rival the best in the genre. Much like Darkthrone, they seem to be able to create compellingly seductive tints of psychosis through the most violent means - never resorting to slow 'constructive' passages but instead breathing out a black air of chaos and destruction that carries with it very idiosyncratic layers of expression within. Not many bands are able to do this - create chilling soundscapes as an after-effect of their aural violence.