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With their just-released third album, entitled Leere, Germany's Thorngoth has created an opus of searingly intense but hauntingly beautiful black music.
In English, the German word "leere" means emptiness, and in assorted German-language interviews the band's principal creative force, Sorath, has explained that the album is intended to reflect aspects of our current time -- in which much of human society experiences emotional emptiness in their daily lives and a depressive hollowness, devoid of meaning.
As a reflection of that concept, Leere is indeed filled with melancholy. The music creates an atmosphere that's dark and brooding. Yet it's also piercing and impassioned, charged with hammering rhythms and attention-grabbing bursts of technicality. Regardless of the underlying concept, the music itself is anything but empty. Listening to the whole album in a single sitting is a completely enveloping experience that's both dreamlike and headbangingly intense.
With the exception of a short instrumental track, called "In der leere" (into the void), the songs on the album have no titles other than Roman numerals -- "Leere I" through "Leere VIII". So the titles don't give many clues about the songs' meaning. In addition, Thorngoth's vocalist, Akhorahilsings in German, and I’m not sure I could make out all the words even if he were singing in English.
But those Sorath interviews do give more clues to what's going on lyrically. Each song explores different concepts or emotional states of being -- including emotional emptiness, inner struggle, purification by destruction, endless wandering in search of meaning, judgment, irrational feelings of oppressiveness or apprehension, a sense of being torn and broken.
Not exactly cheery subjects, and the music isn't a fun-loving romp either. But that doesn't mean that listening is a downer -- far from it.
All the songs include instrumental work that employs the familiar stylings of black metal -- minor-key waves of tremolo-picked chords cascading in shimmering walls of sound, hammering double-kicks and bursts of assaultive blast-beats, and the muffled thrumming of the bass. And those mid-range vocals are of the vicious, jagged-edge variety, occasionally erupting into shrieks or plummeting into deep gutturals.
But despite those recognizable techniques and styles, this isn't exactly traditional black metal music. The songs employ propulsive, headbanging rhythms. They mix the waves of tremolo chords with emphatic, grinding riffs.
Songs such as "Leere III" and "Leere V" feature howling and serpentine guitar leads, and "Leere VI" includes an acoustic guitar interlude and even clean singing (albeit a gravelly sort of bass vocal). Even the bass guitar is allowed to shine through on songs like "Leere III" and "Leere V".
The tempos move up and down, with the shifts marked by abrupt changes in the drum patterns and some of the instruments dropping out of or into the mix. The instruments join forces within songs to build the intensity level up into the red zone -- and then change to black 'n roll rhythms or quiet passages that provide an almost welcome relief from the harrowing.
But don't ever get too comfortable with those quiet interludes, because they're almost always followed by eruptions of blistering force.
Even though the album was recorded and produced by the band itself (mainly by Sorath), we think it sounds great. It's not the old school black-metal muddiness. The instrumental playing is so good that it deserved the kind of clarity achieved by the production work.
Leere isn't the kind of album you'll go to for a quick-fix of balls-to-the-wall headbanging, but with time and close attention, it provides an immensely rewarding listen. I hope it gets the kind of exposure outside Germany that it deserves.
Thorngoth have been slowly but surely developing into one of Germany's most exceptional, traditional black metal artists since the release of their debut Thelema of Destruction in 2007. Not a band to shy away from self-improvement, their followup Rauhnacht was drowned in higher production standards and a mix of faster, Norse violence and evil mid-paced hammering tempered with a slight, graceful penchant for melodies that never indulge themselves beyond the gathering storm. Their latest effort, a nine track concept titled Leere, follows very closely in such weighted footsteps, offering another dynamically pleasing journey into the turbulent terrors and triumphs which only serve to show that black metal is not yet dead, its last fleck of corpse paint not yet shriveled off the face of its bearer and left to mix with human sweat into the dirt.
As my experience with German has been limited to one hot semester at University, I am at a loss to truly describe this concept, but judging from the foetal being that lies amidst the bleak blackness of the cover image, and that 'Leere' is a term like 'void' in English, I could only imagine that the albums individual components and tracks flow together like a study on the interminable transition of life to death, and birth from the same nothingness that the life's blood inevitable withers, dries or spills towards. We are all walking dead, since the moment of conception, striving to mete out the failsafe frolics and pleasures of the flesh and heart before they become null and still, passing the shared world onto the next generation, and Thorngoth's music truly captures this desperation as it segues through thundering, melodic passages and slower, writhing chords like an umbilical chord that grimly asphyxiates the listener's warm, pulsing center.
The riffing style here is perhaps not the most original, and there are similarities borne to a number of artists in the Swedish, Norse and German scene like Dark Funeral, Dark Fortress, Immortal, and earlier Enslaved to name but a few. However, what I truly loved about the album is the very punch of the guitars, with melodies glinting like fresh blood just at the edge, and the rasped vocals of Akhorakil mixed just so perfectly across the top, often spinning into a welcome, deep clean tone that is more than adequate for the somber burden of the chord patterns. Grond is a storm giant behind his kit, but unlike many bands he's not racing to prove he's the swiftest of the drum titans, he is content to let the pace sit right below the tireless walls of Sorath and Vulgrim and then wreak hell upon the atmosphere when it is most suitable.
Though most of the 44+ minutes of Leere will do well to hold your attentions in place as you mentally ruminate about the bleak realities of our cyclical, doomed existence, there are particular points at which the band surges forth with more inspirational writing than the din of its surrounding, like the cavernous, juggernaut momentum of "Leere III", calmly popping out at one point to allow the bassist Corpse to manhandle his strings in a hypnotic pattern. "Leere V" is a slower, resonant piece with a huge wave of guitar tone that cautiously steps forward like a procession of shadowy, undead cavalry, ever in advance towards their next wave of mutilation and soul sucking; the soundtrack to a lost vagrant slowly dying of thirst in the deserts of the Abyss. "Leere VII" leads off with a wonderful riff, salivated over with the glisten of painful but beautiful, reined in melodies before the charge begins; and the closer "Leere VII" is loaded with morose atmosphere and steadily striving sadness in the guitars.
Leere is not your typical ode to Satan and the fallen lords, but one of rapt abandonment and the most vile certainty of impending death upon us all. This is a fairly serious, level record, and while its not the most well endowed as far as individual riffs are concerned, its a wonderful sum bereavement that should thrill seekers of German potential within this genre. There is very little to complain about. A more striking guitar line here or there would not hurt, but this is ultimately a satisfying entry into the vaults of realized misanthropy, a heavy stone grinding upon the axe of temporal, linear life conclusions, sure to both ruin a sunny day and enthrall that dwindling fraction of darkness within every awakened sentient.