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This is probably one of the most well-constructed split releases I have ever come across. It isn't the usual first-half-first-band-second-half-second-band deal you get so often with splits, no, it gives the impression that both artists are genuinely working together, and create a sense of both halfs actually belonging on the same CD, rather than just happening to be randomly thrown on the same one. However, to make things easier for the reader, I will review both halves seperately.
Thorns - Snorre Ruch's peak of perfection - 100%
This man takes his guitar sound straight from hell. No, scrap that, hell is a nice, fancy weekend vacation place with 24 hour room service, a swimming pool, a view on a tropical beach, free access cable tv and quality entertainment compared to where these sounds are coming from. And it isn't just the sound, it is what he plays and how he plays it that makes Snorre Ruch such a unique guitarist. This is like nothing that existed before he invented it himself, not the usual "Rock & Roll simply played harder and faster" we got used to expect from Heavy Metal and its more violent subgenres to that point, no, this is a whole new dimension of cold, menacing darkness. It doesn't end with the guitars either. Snorre displays an impressive talent at programming. Breathtakingly driving drumlines take on a life of their own, shape the songs in ways you never before even imagined drums could, and lifts the atmosphere of the rhythm alone into the unthinkable with the addition of Industrial style noises. From machinal thumps to low-end synthetic growls, from strangely disturbing hisses to sounds too weird to even describe, the way Snorre constructs the rhythmic elements on this material is beyond just atmospheric or climatic, it is captivating at a level I never ever found on any other release again, except maybe to a degree on the best two songs of his own full-length, "Shifting Channels" and "Vortex". If you were to judge by my enthusiasm so far, I probably wouldn't need to add anything about the arrangements of the percussion with the guitars. Of course they are perfect! The way percussion and guitars interact is stunning to a point of eternally blissful delight. Moving from one climax to the next, the arrangements shower you with intensity, capturing the whole of you, pulling you into the world of creepily dark imagery this music creates. This is then rounded up by the synth, as if it needed any more rounding up... Snorre Ruch certainly decided to give us a complete overkill of magnificence here. The synths play a major role in two aspects: Most of the time, they provide a darl but very progressive and well thought-out background ambience. In fact, they are so far in the background that you may not even fully notice them during your first few listens, but when you are getting more familiar with the release, they hit you with their sheer ingenious complexity. Other bands would simply place two-note boredom that far in the background, Thorns composed a masterpiece of neoclassical, progressive Dark Ambient just to use as background ambience. You can't help but admire such obsessive-compulsive dedication to perfectionism about every single detail. Last but not least, Satyr, normally one of my least favourite Norwegian Black Metal singers, fulfills his role on this album to a point near perfection, delivering the best vocal performance of his career - by far. The vocals sound authoritarian and spiteful, and subtle effects add to their menacing quality, making them blend into the music perfectly.
This release is a monument to the incredible talent of Snorre Ruch. He succeeded in releasing some of the most eerie, menacing, pitch-black, ice-cold Black Metal there is, ever was, and ever will be. He has had his moments before, on his demos, and later, on the full-length, and all of those were highest class essential Black Metal as well, but nothing quite gets close to the songs from this split. Everything that can be done right about the sound of Thorns has been done right here, and if there is so much as a point of total perfection in a style of music such as this, here is where we find it, and here is the standard by which we can measure everything else.
Emperor - Mostly filler, but with great parts - 70%
This is - for the most part - likely the most unusual release Emperor ever made. Next to a rather shyly interpreted cover of Thorns' classic "Arie Descent", which is none the less impressive mostly due to the high class of the original, and a once again stunning example for Ihsahn's sickening love for the pompous and ultimately trivial in the supposedly "neoclassical" synth-and-clean-vocals-only reworking of the "Anthems..." song "Thus Spake The Nightspirit", we find two rather bizarre tracks, which seem to be mostly copy & paste job with elements from previous releases plus added backing electronica. But, first things first. The one or the other among you - myself included, actually - might wonder about the merit of including a cover of a song on a release when the original already appears earlier on the same (!!) release, not to mention that - as you might have guessed from the Thorns part of this review - an original that couldn't possibly be topped or even reached. But, all criticism of this rather odd choice aside, Emperor did succeed in adding something to the original by interpreting in a pretty different way. Nowhere near as eerie, this is more of a "party version", as in having a catchier groove to it and a generally more driving, upbeat feel. Nothing like the original in terms of atmosphere, but very solid and straight-forward, and a very pleasing listen, my compliments to Emperor for making something good out of a choice with such high risk for self-defeat. Hey, speaking of self-defeat... we now arrive at "Thus March the Nightspirit". Ihsahn sure likes to fool himself into thinking he is stroking his ego by creating something grand and ambitious, when he is really making an ass of himself by what sounds like he's been randomly throwing together some almost childlike pomp. This song is a category five hurricane of reeking pseudo-intellectuality, and it will probably leave your nerves in a shape worse than New Orleans, my ears certainly declared a state of emergency and called in the national guard already. I think what he tried here - once again - grew out of his apparent wish to hear his name spoken in one breath with the great classical composers of past centuries, and he seems to have thought that with enough pomp and fiddlery people might mistake this for a genuine attempt at classical music. Nope, just a cheesy little melodic Dark Ambient tune. Next, please!
Finally, the two songs I called "rather bizarre" before, and damn I really like them. I think that behind the godly classic "I Am the Black Wizards" and the "As the Shadows Rise" EP, this might be my favourite Emperor material, and it doesn't even sound anything like Emperor. As I said before, they seem to be assembled from a wide range of various bits and pieces of previous Emperor recordings (plus part of the song "Fall" from the Thorns demo "Grymyrk"), then spiced up with additional effects and apparently some pieces of programmed electronic beats for the rhythm. The songs create a very strange feeling, they have a strong science fiction touch, very spacey and futuristic. In fact, part of the intro reminds me of the Captain Future theme actually. But generally there is this feeling as if this is the perfect soundtrack for watching a starship cruise through the vast unknown of outer space, with a darker touch of course. There still is some morbid quality to these songs, their spacey feel doesn't really feel cheesy, especially not as cheesy as what we have come to expect from Ihsahn. These songs sound like an interstellar call to war, epic, but morbid in the subliminal expectation of galactic mass-genocide. Definitely some impressive material.
I wouldn't hesitate a second to call this release essential. For the Thorns material alone, this is something everyone should own and frequently enjoy. But, while plagued with a high ratio of what feels like filler material, the Emperor side isn't too bad, and this split as a whole is on a high standard from start to end. As for the rating... since - at least in my humble opinion - this is mostly a Thorns release with some bonus material from Emperor, the Thorns side weighs heavier in the total rating, so instead of a purely mathematical average I rate this release at 90%, because Thorns takes priority, and plays a more prominent role in the quality of this release as a whole.