(In this month’s edition of THE SYNN REPORT, Andy Synn focuses on the albums released to date by the Swedish band This Gift Is A Curse, including a review of their most recent album A Throne of Ash, released by Season of Mist on June 14th.)
Recommended for fans of: Dragged Into Sunlight, Celeste, The Secret
The type of Black Metal meets Sludge meets Hardcore hybrid championed by Swedish spitfires This Gift Is A Curse has always appealed to me on a deep, dark level. I can’t necessarily tell you exactly why, but it’s true all the same.
There’s just something about the sheer, bloodthirsty intensity of the music, the absolute refusal to pull any punches or offer any quarter, that makes it impossible to resist.
It’s an ugly, nasty, nihilistic sound, make no mistake about it, but it’s also thrillingly visceral and alive. And the three albums produced by This Gift Is A Curse (the most recent of which was only released a couple of weeks back) are three of the very best examples of the style in all its grim and gruesome glory.
I, GVILT BEARER – 2012
The band’s debut is the most scrappy and stripped-down of their three records, but still doesn’t lack for power, something which the rampaging sludgecore of opener “The Swarm” immediately makes clear in a torrent of ear-scraping distortion and panic-inducing percussion.
“Inferno ad O.” feels more blackened, though no less brutal, as well as more dynamic overall, balancing the barely-controlled chaos of its more energetic moments with some suitably grimy grooves, which ultimately culminates in some creepily effective ambience that guides the transition into the mammoth, malevolent sludgery of “Att hata allt mänskligt liv”.
“The Crossing” is 03:13 of jagged, hacking riffs and rough, butchering hooks that dig themselves right into the base of your brain, after which both “Deceiver” and “1901” find the band embracing the more dissonant, noise-core side of their identity, overloading your speakers with a cacophony of harsh, howling vocals and painfully distorted drums.
With “Head and Arms” the quartet reach back to their Hardcore roots and stomp around like an angry dinosaur for four and a half ferocious minutes, before the cruelly catchy, brutally blackened sludge-storm of “Sounds of Broken Bells” sees the band raise their game even further by throwing in an extra dose of evil atmospherics that only serves to make the whole track even more effective and even more intense.
I, Gvilt Bearer culminates with the soul-crushingly bleak strains of “I Will Swallow All Light”, where the lurching riffs and apoplectic aggression are interwoven with moments of haunting, horrifying ambience to create a truly sinister soundscape designed to leave you simultaneously bruised and broken yet hungry for more.
ALL HAIL THE SWINELORD – 2015
The band’s second album is an even more blackened and furious affair, with the opening assault of “Swinelord” reaching almost early-Anaal Nathrakh levels of apocalyptic aggression.
“New Temples” maintains this opening blast of scorching intensity but injects a dash more rhythmic variety and a touch more method into the musical madness, and this transformation is complete by the time that “Rites” erupts out of the speakers in a bombardment of blistering blastbeats and staggeringly heavy, sludge-soaked riffs, only to finally culminate in a climactic passage of eerie, droning ambience.
Employing some surprisingly bright and beautiful moments, you could easily describe the almost eight-and-a-half minutes of “Xi: For I Am the Fire” as a monolith of sludgy, blackened Post-Metal, if not for how unflinchingly abrasive it gets at times, with the shimmering atmospheric side of the song balanced out by a veritable deluge of discordance.
“Hanging Feet” introduces an even doomier direction, with the thrumming, electric bass-lines and dense, devastating riffs making for an even heavier (albeit slower) This Gift Is A Curse than you might be used to, which in turn gives way to the swaggering sludgecore of “Old Lies” and the blastbeat-driven frenzy of “We Use Your Dead As Vessels”, each of which shows off a subtle different side of the band’s musical make-up.
Closing with the soul-stirring (but predictably stunning) strains of “Askrådare”, which provides just over eleven minutes of melody and menace, atmosphere and aggression, haunting hooks and heaving heaviness, All Hail the Swinelord is a potential modern classic that successfully melds multiple styles and sub-genres into one unholy, and unforgettable, metallic monstrosity.
A THRONE OF ASH – 2019
The group’s most recent effort is arguably even more intense and impenetrable than ever, but also sees the band stretching their more experimental side even further, whether it’s the way in which the pulsing soundscape of “Haema” so effectively sets the stage for the merciless, daisy-cutter riffs and bone-snapping drums of “Blood is my Harvest” to cut the listener right off at the knees, or the growing presence of distorted, disturbing elements of squalling noise which underpin so many of the songs this time around.
Of course This Gift Is A Curse haven’t lost their ability to simply smash your face in with pure sonic savagery, as the harsh hooks and red-hot riffs of “Thresholds” should immediately prove. Similarly, they’re still capable of holding their own against even the nastiest of Black Metal bands out there, as the insufferably dense and claustrophobic “Gate Dweller” demonstrates right from the get-go.
The doomier, sludgier side of the band’s sound is on full display during “Monuments for Dead Gods”, one of the more measure and smartly dynamic songs on the album, which eschews that frenzied approach of the preceding tracks in favour of a bleaker and more ominous approach which provides some welcome contrast and variety.
“Wolvking” is blackened, blast-fuelled Hardcore at its finest, with some of the meatiest, grisliest riffs the band have ever put to tape, whereas “I Am Katharsis” is as unfailingly aggressive and hideously hooky as the very best Black Metal anthems, albeit one whose anthemic qualities are sometimes buried beneath the sheer acidity of the band’s delivery.
Penultimate track “In Your Black Halo” is as violent, as visceral, and as venomous as anything the band have produced thus far, juggling blackened fury, Hardcore hatred, and sludge-soaked spite – not to mention some insufferably dark and doomy atmospherics – with unsettling ease, after which the primal, dynamic Post-Metal pounding off “Wormwood Star” brings things to a fittingly phenomenal end.
There’s absolutely zero doubt in my mind that This Gift Is A Curse deserve to be a much bigger, and much more famous, deal in the Metal underground. And hopefully this column will go some way to making that a reality!