Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thy Infernal - Warlords of Hell

Thy Infernal - Warlords of Hell
2001, Moribund Records

Well, I received a full promo kit with this release, courtesy of Odin, who also works at Napalm Records America, and who has, with his current crop of albums on his label, made a quantum leap forward in terms of presentation, packaging, press promotion, etc. - in fact, everything with the Moribund label has changed towards a more 'professional' outlook, and when I read, for example, in Thy Infernal's little bio here that one thousand promo copies of 'Warlords of Hell' are being sent out into the underground, I can't help but grow a little green with envy. I wish I had the resources to do the same with any label I started up. It is a well-known fact that there are a lot of bands in the underground, as a whole, that never manage to sell a thousand records or discs in their career as a whole, and because once one is firmly entrenched in the mindset of the underground, subject more to the overall volume of a band's acclaim rather than the number of people joining in the applause, it is easy to forget how small the international metal scene really is. How many people will ever read this review, anyway? So, in a conclave as shrunken, attenuated, and insular as the black/death metal underground - those hordes that actually seek out, listen to, and support small, growing bands - a thousand CDs released into their midst, virtually free of charge, is not so much a way to increase post-promotion sales as it is just a method of making sure a large number of listeners actually hear the album and have a chance to appreciate it. I hail Odin, among others, for making this commitment to growing bands, and putting his money where his mouth is, caring, above all, just for the music....

Anyway, this record arrived with a full-size promotional poster, meant for record shop windows or the walls of a club, and it has, in large print, a quote from Bruni of Unrestrained! magazine, which claims that this is, in his words, 'quite possibly the best US black metal release ever' - a quote that I glanced at askance when I first opened the poster, but which rang through my mind as I listened to the record, as a sort of terminus, a starting and ending point for my concentration on the twists and turns of the music. I tried to justify this sort of acclaim to myself - just how could Bruni say something like this, and leave himself so wide open? To be sure, the American black metal scene has always needed a hero - say, someone (or some band) with the notoriety and passion of Judas Iscariot, the talent and melodic gifts of Noctuary and Demoncy, the outright brazen chin-up aggressiveness of Thornspawn, Profanatica, or Kult of Azazel - a group, in short, that summed up the entire thrust, impetus, motivation, and unique power of American bands. I am not sure Thy Infernal are this band, but with this release they come damn close - closer, really, than any other black metal band from these shores have ever been before, as they do, in a seemingly effortless manner, combine all the best elements of US black metal (the spotlight being on their sheer rabid voraciousness, akin to some Australian metal bands that you've probably heard of - descending directly, in a tree without branches, from America's death metal heritage) into a lethal, caustic, excoriating whirlwind of flailing black carnage, maiming, disemboweling, and sending souls to suffocate in the flames of Gehenna as it spins and rages right on the edge of losing control. To be sure, I now have the regrettably bad habit of comparing black metal releases to destructive natural forces (and I always have Destroyer 666's first album or Bestial Warlust in mind, as a sort of prototype, as I do this), but if this analogy ever held true it does so now. Thy Infernal have, with this album, spawned something completely, unnaturally terrorizing, a swelling of insane voices, vicious discordance, and beautiful dark melodies ripping forth in a holocaust of seven compositions straight from the mouth of Hell itself, and when you start this disc spinning in your CD player, you are really pushing the red button on what will soon be a series of storms bursting forth from your speakers...

Beginning with a short introduction of traditional backward-masking (this is, after all, the Devil's music) and a swelling crescendo of monstrous, demonic voices, the album quickly throws itself forward into the breach with an explosion, sounds of swords clashing or being drawn from scabbards, and the scarring blitzkrieg of Thy Infernal's malevolent guitar playing, full speed ahead, in media res - like falling from the sky into the midst of a battle - and aimed like a razor sharp set of encrimsoned fangs at your jugular. Extolling, above all, not only the most chaotic, disruptive elements of blackened death, but being, in their own way, a sort of offering and shrine to the Dionysian forces of music - the unleashed capacity for rapturous, violent creativity - this group have come together to add a sorely-needed shot of unbridled energy into the muscular and often awkward arms of American metal.

Out of these seven apocryphal hymns to Armageddon, the first three - especially the second, 'Rotting in Hell', and the third, 'Wolfstorm' (all references to Angelcorpse aside) - are the most impressive, and are intelligently placed at the forefront, the front lines, in order to attack you from the start. 'Rotting in Hell' catches my appreciation from the very beginning because of its elegant, understated, powerfully epic intro riffing, swirling and marching like a suicidal death brigade, at the vanguard, descending a vast precipice to storm a city or fortress, throwing themselves in a blaze of glory into pyres of self-destruction. This main melody, here at the beginning, is what launches Thy Infernal immediately into the 'elite' of US black metal, if one wanted to use that term, as it combines the evocative power of early Norse tenebrous tremelo six and five-string play with a uniquely grim edge that just might be this band's trademark sound. I blush as I say this, but this melody just makes me close my eyes and clench my hands into fists - it truly takes my mind into another place and time. Also vastly imposing is the bizarre riffing on display in 'Wolfstorm', which sends striking, rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs into a blistering, trembling, lightspeed shower of sparks and glints of steel - managing to be both technically numbing and a high octane assault at the same time. Believe me, you just have to hear this....and rather than trying to describe the music at length, I would just have you seek this out and let it circle like a vulture a few times. I don't think you will be disappointed.

It is very instructive to me, as a musician, how one or two highly evocative, stirring melodies, perfectly constructed and completely abstract in their power to affect one's sensibilities, can completely make or break an entire album. I think of Sarcophagus' second record, for example, where just one little acoustic guitar arpeggio, in the middle of the first song, makes the entire track (and the album as a whole) transcend the ranks of the ordinary. When one stumbles across or dreams of a unique, powerful, strangely-disturbing series of notes, it is best to incorporate it any way you can into a song. The most important thing is to let the inspired melody breathe and live, and leave all the consequences of song structure and sonic architecture to be damned.

So, to summarize, what we have here is a uniquely puissant outpouring of deep American darkness - pure and uncorrupted from the trenches, as it were - and an album that I believe will be quickly setting a strong standard for other US groups to live up to. Simply put, owning this album is like having the sound of the world ending in a convenient package you can carry around in your pocket. It is up to you how you unleash it. It may not be the 'best' black metal release from this land (I feel uncomfortable making claims such as this), but it is tremendously, overwhelmingly impressive, and I can't help but think it will be calling an enormous amount of deserved attention to this relatively unknown band...congratulations Moribund and Thy Infernal!