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You know that moment- when listening to something, when watching a movie, whatever- when you know that "this is gonna suck"? Well, here it was about 50 seconds in. Decent intro, a band name that may have been inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire (but it wasn't, another disappointment), and then, the first riff and the vocals, the vocals, the vocals. SHITTY TUFF GUY SHOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUT. Give me strength!
Well, it's not like the rest of the band was doing anything terribly amazing either; I guess at least the band didn't waste time letting me down? This isn't complete rubbish, admittedly; some cool moments when things are on the build; that cool moment near the end of Like a Moth to Flame, the little interlude later in the album, the ebb and flow of the album's centrepiece (and easily the best song) 'I Once Had the Crown'. Nicely post-y, having more of a prog feel as opposed to the fairly average/terrible "sad hardcore" riffs that are otherwise scattered around; you definitely get the feeling that these guys would be much, much better if they dropped the ham fisted, boring attempts at heaviness and just went for a full on attempt at a prog/post- type album.
But they don't, and this album fails under the massive amount of weak, powerless "riffs" and really god-awful vocals. Genuinely curious as to why they hired a vocalist here; surely most grown men would be able to pull off these vocals? Emotionless (well, I'll pay angry but that's about it) and the sort of stuff that's at the same inflection and volume no matter what he's singing. Really fucken awful. The "riffs" are similarly awful; I hear this band is influenced by BtBaM and that's not too surprising, as real shitty sad hardcore (post hardcore for those feeling charitable) styled guitar work is splattered all over the album. Big sad chords! The occaisonal run of palm muting! Nothing that could be called a riff by anyone sane! Really, really bad stuff. The metalcore background had me hoping for some cheesy but enjoyable mix of Opeth-ian prog and And the Gates worship, but instead it's Opeth-ian prog and post-hardcore rubbish. Horrible!
To be honest, I'm quite surprised that we haven't seen more metalcore bands "mature" into this kind of progressive, unambigously awful metalcore-ish type stuff. I guess I should be grateful for small mercies? This is pretty lame music and no one needs to listen to it. Long, mostly boring and full of awful riffs.
It’s a fascinating thing to see an album like The Wretched Sun come together. Although the guys in Iron Thrones had already written much of the material present here before they won the No Label Needed contest, winning the contest took this unsigned foursome from the underground to the foreground, with much of the recording process captured on video and posted along the way. Now, Iron Thrones were already rather accomplished for an unsigned band, having self-recorded and released (for free, of course) their excellent debut album Visions Of Light. Still, it’s a major change going from producing your own album to having it professionally produced. A lesser band might have cracked under the pressure here. Fortunately for us, Iron Thrones are not a lesser band.
The Wretched Sun, first of all, is not actually an album. At six tracks, it’s considered an EP, although when you consider that those six tracks clock in at more than 41 minutes, you wind up with an EP that’s longer than some albums released these days. The Iron Thrones guys are no stranger to longer tracks, though, and The Wretched Sun‘s six tracks are filler-free and well-written from start to finish. Each track is carefully crafted and employs the non-standard structures that are so popular in progressive metal, but the guys do an excellent job of keeping things tight without veering into self-indulgent wankery.
In general, The Wretched Sun is not too dissimilar from its predecessor. The songs are mostly mid-tempo prog-death with a scattering of clean interludes, which are used a bit more extensively here. There are a few more upbeat moments that make up some of my favorite parts of the album (the mid-section of ‘Like A Moth To Flame’ comes to mind immediately), as they change things up a bit and serve as a nice counterpoint to the slower sections. In general, the songs are well-paced and varied enough to keep the listener’s attention without bludgeoning them over the head.
Indeed, much of the album’s strength comes from its subtleties. The reverb on Steve’s clean vocals (an Iron Thrones first, sparingly used to terrific effect) is a prime example. So is the way that Pete’s drums shift the tempo in ‘Ever Flowing’ while the guitars continue on the same pace. The extended clean interlude on ‘Against The Grain’ is great, with Curt’s bass-work accenting the guitar as the drums provide a wide variety of fills. And Steve’s guitar solos are impressive in that, instead of trying to dazzle with pyrotechnics, they flow with the music, providing emotion and melody without being overpoweringly flashy.
The Wretched Sun does set itself apart from Visions Of Light, though. The production, handled by Will Putney, is a bit more spacious, but the instruments don’t sound over-produced. Adam’s vocals are strong, alternating between higher and lower tones. Clean guitar interludes are a little bit more prevalent, although they’re certainly not overused and definitely help contribute to the album’s melancholic atmosphere, especially on the epic centerpiece of the album, the nearly 12 minute ‘I Once Had The Crown’. And as I mentioned before, clean vocals are used twice (toward the end of ‘Against The Grain’ and in the middle of ‘And The Sky Came Falling Down’), buried a little in the mix and with a bit of reverb, and they really add a new dimension to the music.
Even when the band is at its heaviest and most punishing, the riffs carry a strong amount of melody, helping to fully immerse the listener in the atmosphere that The Wretched Sun creates. And in the end, the songwriting is really what sets Iron Thrones apart. They make no secret that they have been heavily influenced by Opeth and Between The Buried And Me, but they also know how to incorporate these influences into their music without directly ripping off either band. There are elements and moments that recall both bands, but Iron Thrones are decidedly their own band, and it feels like things are really coming together.
The Wretched Sun shows that Iron Thrones have managed to avoid the sophomore jinx and justified their victory in the No Label Needed contest.The Wretched Sun is a truly impressive piece of music from start to finish, and one of the best releases of the year. Miss this at your own peril.