Jun 082010

I’ve confessed before that I’m a relative newcomer to the charms of black metal, though I’ve found a lot to like and we’ve written about black-metal releases pretty frequently at this site. When I received a copy of the new release by Enthroned, I decided I really needed to listen to it carefully.

Why? Partly because (with some lineup changes) this Belgian band has been around for 17 years and partly because Enthroned has announced their first U.S. tour in almost a decade — and one of the stops is at our home base of Seattle. (We’ve got the full list of tour dates after the jump.)

So, I’ve been listening to Pentagrammaton — the band’s ninth studio album — and it continues to reverberate in my head even when I’m not consciously thinking about it.  It has become one of my favorite black-metal releases of the year.  I’ll try to explain why, and maybe that will help you decide whether it’s worth checking out.

The first thing that struck me was the production style. Now, to put this in context, lately I’ve been listening to a lot of death metal with “modern” production values — sharp, clear, and with an emphasis in the mix on a powerful low-end, with prominent drums, bass, and hammering rhythm guitar riffage.

Pentagrammaton is a different breed of cat. The production yields a fusion of the instruments in a shifting wall of sound, with a deemphasis on the low end of the register. The bass segment of the sonic spectrum is almost non-existent in every respect. Even in the drumming — which by the way is insanely pyrotechical — the heavy sound of the kick drums and toms are dialed into the background of the mix. Most of the time they sound like the muffled thunder of a distant storm.  (more after the jump, including a song to hear . . .)

A few songs, such as “Ornament of Grace”, include some chugging guitar rhythms, but for the most part the guitar work, too, is a blaze of tremolo-picked chords in the higher register of the scale.

This “old school” style of production is undoubtedly a conscious choice by the band, and dovetails with the presumed objective of the music. You can’t say the objective is to generate a more natural, organic sound, because I have to believe the low end of the instrumentation would be more prominent in the recording studio or on stage than what you hear on this CD.

Instead, what I infer is that the band was either deliberately trying to connect their sound to an earlier day when a “tinnier” sound was simply the best you could pull off as an underground band, or they were focusing their efforts (successfully) on creating a sonic hailstorm of shrieking malevolence.

Pentagrammaton howls in a borderline-deranged outburst of fury, with only rare breakdowns (as in the title track and “The Essential Chaos”) and well-timed departures from the blast beats to provide relief from the clawing assault. The tremolo-picking infuses the songs with dissonant melodies that are both dark and feverish — the soundtrack to a breakneck charge through a demonic landscape — and those intense, swarming chords can become transfixing as they crash over you, one rolling wave after another.

The raging vocals amplify the fearsomeness of the attack. Sharp-edged shrieking that’s both passionate and chillingly cold predominates, but occasionally gives way to cavernous gutturals, foreboding chants, and eerie whispers.

There’s one, seemingly obligatory long song (“Unconscious Minds” at almost 9 minutes), but it reflects the biggest departure from the template of the rest of the album with more pronounced rhythmic riffing and bursts of psychedelic guitar soloing.

I do find this album fascinating, particularly the rough-and-raw guitar work that both generates a wind-tunnel of shrieking chaos and also jumps and bolts like a wild mustang in a corral.

It’s a cliche to say something “isn’t for the faint of heart.” Doesn’t make it less true — Pentagrammaton isn’t for the faint of heart, but I’m really glad I gave it my time. Now, it won’t leave me alone, but I’m not minding that at all.

Here’s a track you can take out for a spin around the block.

Enthroned: Ornament of Grace

And here are the North American stops on Enthroned’s 2010 world tour:

Aug 4 Brooklyn, NY @ Europa – USA
Aug 5 Springfield, VA @ Jaxx – USA
Aug 6 Raleigh, NC @ Volume 11- USA
Aug 7 Atlanta, GA @ The Drunken Unicorn- USA
Aug 8 Tampa, FL @ The Brass Mug- USA
Aug 10 Houston, TX @ Walter’s On Washington- USA
Aug 11 Austin, TX  @ Emo’s- USA
Aug 12 El Paso, TX @ Club 101- USA
Aug 13 Tempe, AZ @ Club Red- USA
Aug 14 Los Angeles, CA @  Ultra Violet- USA
Aug 15 Ramona, CA @ Ramona Mainstage- USA
Aug 17 San Francisco, CA  @ DNA Lounge- USA
Aug 18 Portland, OR @ Satyricon- USA
Aug 19 Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven- USA
Aug 20 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theater – CANADA
Aug 21 Boise, ID @ RED Room – USA
Aug 22 Salt Lake City @ TBA- USA
Aug 23 Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater- USA
Aug 24 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room- USA
Aug 25 Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s Rock Club- USA
Aug 26 Detroit, MI @ Blondie’s- USA
Aug 27 Toronto, ON @ The Opera House – CANADA
Aug 28 Montreal, QC @ Katacombes – CANADA
Aug 29 Philadelphia, PA  @ Club Polaris  – USA

  6 Responses to “ENTHRONED”

  1. I’m just getting into Enthroned myself at the moment, and I’d say (about myself) that i’m a huge afficionado of black metal and have been for a long time. However they have just seemed to have passed me by. Haven’t heard the new one yet though, am focussing on the earlier stuff at the moment.

    BUT – one of the points you made, about the “de-emphasis” of bass on the new album has me worried, as it’s that sort of thing I don’t like in my black metal. If anything there should be more emphasis placed on the bass due to the common facts that a) lots of black metal bands have only one guitar (see later Marduk for a great example of how to use your bass playing to both beef up and add nuance to your band’s sound) and/or b) tend to focus on a lot of screeching, high end guitar and/or tremolo melodies (my favourite thing in the world) so need the bass to give it some heft and bottom end. Black metal bassists are an under-appreciated commodity.

    Also there’s an old interview with Peter Tagtren where he talks (jokingly) about being responsible for the introduction of the 5/6 string bass to black metal and informing black metal bands that you can do bass several octaves lower AND still be in tune. Lol.

  2. Really interesting comments, particularly for someone like me who’s still learning about this genre, and Tagtren’s quip is a gem.

    On the subject of the missing low end, I was really interested to hear the recent debut from a band called The Order of Apollyon (featuring ex-members of Aborted, Akercocke, and Cradle of Filth), but the bass end of the register is minimalized to such an extent that I just can’t get into it. “Pentagrammaton” doesn’t go that far. I’d be curious to know your reaction when you get around to checking it out.

    • Interesting. I almost picked that up recently, but opted to continue completing my Negura Bunget collection instead. I am definitely planning to check it out as I really like both Akercocke and Aborted. I’ll persevere with it too and let you know!

      Peter and Tommy Tagtren have been suprisingly involved with producing a lot of black metal classics over the years at their Abyss Studios. Definitely a key element in the sound and development of a lot of bands.

  3. Guess it shows my relative ignorance of black metal, but although I know of the Tagtrens, I didn’t know they were so involved in producing black metal bands. Definitely have a lot left to learn. I only discovered Negura Bunget earlier this year, and man, I sure wish I had found them a lot sooner.

  4. Watain “Lawless Darkness” is a new release you might wanna check out.

    • Thank you! That one has been on my radar screen and I have it already. I hear so much about that band, I’m definitely interested to hear the new music.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.