As an enthusiastic admirer of this German band’s 2010 album Leere (reviewed here), I welcomed the chance to hear their newest work Schwarz-Karg-Kalt (“black-barren-cold”), which is due for release next month. In a word, it’s excellent.
Uniting elements of black metal, death metal, and doom, Thorngoth have delivered a monster of an album that’s both massively powerful and mesmerizing, both harrowing and ethereal. It’s atmospheric music, but unlike some forms of metal labeled with that term, it doesn’t rely on ambient sounds, prolonged repetition of motifs, or songs of extended length. Instead, Thorngoth build an aura of enveloping darkness and doom through the accumulated weight of the music across the space of nine tracks.
The title song, which opens the album, is an effective introduction to Thorngoth’s plan of attack. It employs huge distorted bass and guitar riffs and compelling drum rhythms, creating a titanic low end that radiates power as a result of the superb production of the recording. As happens on other songs, shimmering keyboard effects and layered, reverberating guitar notes provide a counterpoint and a contrast.
The song also provides a first taste of other techniques the band use to create variety in their music. Although the song’s overall pacing is relatively slow, it includes a blasting assault of grinding guitars and vocal howling, as if the band are giving you fair warning that menace lurks around every corner in what’s to come.
Because this first song really is an introductory track, the vocals are barely in evidence. You don’t really discover Akhorahil’s vocal style until the second song, “Im toten Feld der Wirklichkeit”, where you’re greeted by cavernous, gargantuan roars, like a demon leviathan rising from the deep. But as with the instrumental music, Akhorahil doesn’t fall into a monotone on the album. Instead, he frequently elevates his voice into jagged mid-range growls and even harrowing black metal shrieks. Needless to say, there’s no clean singing.
Although most of the songs are of the stately or mid-paced variety, the band do vary the tempos within songs, and some (such as the appropriately named “Aggressor” and the closing track “Alles ist erstarrt”) turn into black thrashing masses of metallic force.
The album has very few quiet moments, usually appearing at the end of certain tracks where ghostly synthesizer effects reveal the void or isolated guitar notes echo sadly. More often, Thorngoth are unleashing sonic hurricanes — dense, all-encompassing waves of layered, grinding guitars and blasting/hammering drums.
Through the howling wall of those maelstroms, acetylene-bright guitar leads pierce the murk or atmospheric keyboard melodies surface faintly. At times, you even get ringing guitar melodies that wouldn’t be out of place on a post-rock album.
All of which is to say that although words like “titanic”, “massive”, and “epic” spring to mind first in thinking back over the album as a whole, the music changes, and all that weight is leavened by a variety of small touches that keep the songs interesting, as well as crushing.
Thorngoth may be a black metal band at heart, but on Schwarz-Karg-Kalt they’ve ventured further into the realms of death and doom than ever before, and the results are strikingly impressive. Their music has evolved since Leere, but as much as I loved that album, I like this new one every bit as much. Highly recommended.
(Rating for submission of review to Encyclopaedia Metallum: 93%)
Schwarz-Karg-Kalt will be released on April 12 and will be available through the band’s web shop (here) as well as Amazon and numerous digital download outlets.
Thorngoth have released one complete song from the album for streaming — “Im toten Feld der Wirklichkeit” — as well as an album preview that includes excerpts from many songs. You can listen to both below, and both can be downloaded for free via these players.