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I suppose it's nice now to just have an 'official' version of Snorre Ruch's music to sit down and enjoy, and not have to search through the 'Grymyrk' and 'Trondertun' tapes for melodies that can reach the ear through layers of tape hiss - being able to finally examine an album of his as a whole instead of constantly referring to what has happened before in the Norwegian black metal scene, what he has gone through personally, how many bands have been influenced by the Thorns material, etc. After a while, things like that tend to wear on my patience... I think it has been generally accepted now that Ruch (as Blackthorn, along with Bard Faust) had a tremendous effect on the emerging Norwegian scene in the early '90s (something which he elegantly downplays now, I'm sure with a little smile), and everyone knows the history of Mayhem, etc., so it isn't worth talking about it again here. Let's just say that this album was highly anticipated, not only because of Thorns' history, but also because of all the people who were involved in its recording (members of Satyricon, Dodheimsgard, and Mayhem). It's always a sort of confusing affair when a band that has been mainly known through tape recordings or demo material makes a dramatic entrance onto the international stage with an official album. Expectations are obviously high, there are camps aligned for or against the new incarnation of the band before the album is even released, etc.
I am grateful in a small way that Ruch did not go back and record his earlier material again for a sort of 'postmortem' revisitation of the early demo tapes... while that may have been interesting for archival purposes, the tapes on their own have really served their purpose already and the effect of that material would probably only be ruined through a re-recording. Part of its allure is of course the bad sound quality of the recordings, the fact that it has probably passed through so many hands to get to your ears, etc. - it seems to have travelled down the last decade through so many minds. And while Moonfog released, in a small edition (of 3000?) along with the Thorns vs. Emperor CD, a separate disc which contained the Thorns material (thanks go out to Vrag Moj for sending me a CD copy of that a little while ago), its influence had been felt for years already. It was just nice to finally have it on CD. Ruch, in an intelligent fashion, concentrates really only on pushing the Thorns style even further into the future, in a way that might have been done eight years ago, it's true, but one that still sounds fairly innovative even now. All of his trademark atonal melodicism is still intact, the guitar playing is as stylish as ever, the six string sound is as inspiring as it ever was (there probably isn't a colder guitar sound in the history of metal, except for Darkthrone), the efficient, lean, no-frills songwriting is firmly in place, etc. What this album represents is simply just the Thorns legacy pushed even further, expanded upon, added to and increased in range.
It can be kind of depressing to think of what this man could have accomplished had he not been incarcerated for a number of years, had he been given access to a proper working facility and the right equipment (which Satyr finally offered to him, in a wise investment), and if he had been left alone to deal with his inner demons and record those struggles in a series of albums. Surely his legacy would now eclipse even Varg Vikernes' (they are linked in so many ways, these two musicians), as they are both so original, so uncompromising, and seemingly so sure of their artistic vision. I suppose it is good, however, that at least he was allowed to release this, which I'm sure will go a long way towards fulfilling the reputation he earned through two demo tapes.
So, what about the album then? Well, to start off, we have the production: arctic, powerful, eloquently clean, controlled and almost 'sterile' in its application, as if it was wearing a white lab coat, a gas mask, and had been scrubbed with disinfectant. Beneath the surface, however, there are diseases breeding in the darkness... the first hint of this is of course the multiple layers of sound in the mix: the overriding, arching guitars, the different strata of synths, samples and keyboard effects, and then the drumming (Hellhammer, altered digitally via Pro Tools to sound more 'electronic') which is placed right in the middle. The balance of the instruments is done almost perfectly...nothing stands out above the guitars when they are carrying the weight of the song, for example, or the synths when all the melodic prerogatives have been placed on their shoulders. The drumming is excellent throughout, in a manner which I guess could be called 'solidly extreme', meaning that Hellhammer is backing the pure aggression of the stiletto/scalpel guitars at all times without ever falling behind, but the production is set in just such a way to make it all blend together very smoothly - the rhythm elements are never obtrusive. This is a very difficult thing to accomplish, by the way: a combination of the drummer setting a pace, volume level, and intensity which is rigidly controlled, and then the correct manipulation of that sound through recording setups and equalization. The Norwegians grouped around Moonfog again show their expertise when it comes to studio work... this album just sounds excellent. As for the guitars, they were the most interesting segment of this recording for me at first (and for Arkadin as well), being not only exquisitely produced and immaculately recorded, but also processed and designed in an inspiring way. Ruch has always been known for his guitar playing, however, so... it isn't surprising to me that they went with an innovative sound here when it came to the strings... it grabs your attention from the start, first thing, and will continue to haunt you if you are in any way an enthusiast of the 'cold sound' that has become a Norwegian trademark over the last decade. Think of the classic Pytten 'Grieghallen' production, only updated and brought firmly into the 21st century.
When it comes to describing the music, I don't feel any small synopsis will do in this case. For me, listening to this album now, it's as if Ruch has finally captured the sound that all of these people in the Norwegian scene who have been turning towards electronica have been searching for over the last few years - a sound and style that borrows heavily from electronic music, but which (thankfully) does not sacrifice the guitars in the mix, or the sheer heaviness which they bring with them. Because of this, I can definitely see this album being something of a strong influence both within Norway and outside of it in the future... what Dodheimsgard were searching for, a complete synthesis of electronica and black metal, Thorns has found, without the finished result being a detriment to either genre. Due also to the length of this album and the number of new elements being introduced it is something of a journey, but all the songs flow together or proceed with ease as separate segments and any time spent listening to the music can only be seen as a wise investment, from many different standpoints. Overall, an eloquent, impressive display, a great album.
In the early 90s when Varg Vikernes of Norwegian black metal band Burzum stabbed and murdered Euronymous, Varg’s driver, Snorre Ruch, was arrested and put in jail for eight years. This detour to prison pushed Snorre Ruch and his band Thorns into almost total obscurity for all this time, and even though Thorns was among the first handful of true Norwegian black metal bands (first forming in 1989, before Darkthrone had even released Soulside Journey), very few now know of him or his band. After release from prison in 2000 he was encouraged by fellow black-metalheads to write more music for Thorns. What resulted was a phenomenal black metal album full of pent-up aggression and ice-cold, piercing riffs that would have put Darkthrone to shame had any of it been put to record in black metal’s glory days.
Unlike Varg Vikernes’ apparent desire to isolate himself from other musicians, Snorre seemed interested in collaborating with other icons of black metal. Satyr, Hellhammer and Aldrahn all got together to help record vocals and drums, offering a good variety of screams, growls, snarls, and distorted whispers.
I waited too long to really explore this band. Everything on here is absolutely phenomenal. The intensity in the first minute of the first track Existence will blow you out of your seat. The guitars have been recorded without any trace of warmth or resonance—the riffs they produce are wild, strange, and they’re fiercely freezing. Hellhammer’s machine-gun drumming is some of the fastest I’ve ever heard him pull off, and it’s varied to boot. The guitars plays wicked, weird black metal riffs, full of melody without ever letting up aggression. And though the album has a decidedly industrial tone, the synths are well-placed, used just enough to unsettle the listener, but they never consumer the music or sound contrived. The only time they really come to the forefront is during the closing track and the first part of Underneath the Universe, but even when they’re absent the electronic atmosphere is sensed through the sound of the guitar buzz.
The vocals are pretty varied and great as far as black metal goes. Despite every song switching between Aldrahn and Satyr on vocal duties, I think the two work cohesively with each other. Both of them are top-notch and perform greatly to keep the music creepy. Even though the vocals are often electronically distorted, it’s always far from being overdone just because it fits so well with the vocals. I almost feel like the album was produced with these vocals in mind, because in the landscape of buzzing and screeching, the voices of Satyr and Aldrahn are almost like instruments on their own. Though I personally way prefer Aldrahn’s voice to Satyr’s, they’re both great. I almost never mention lyrics, but the lyrics here are very interesting to pay attention to. They only further emphasize the atmosphere with their songs about of malicious deities and misanthropy.
Thrones does not strive for the typical black metal, and Snorre does not seem interested in regurgitating standard black metal formula. He tweaks and shifts without coming off as pretentious. There are no atmospheres of wide-open-nature or forests in winter—the landscapes have been contaminated and polluted, and their waters have been poisoned. With rapid tremolo riffs stabbing through blankets of distortion at seemingly haphazard moments with bizarre melodic patterns, everything in the album feels twisted and gnarled. Even with the cold, tinny guitars, everything sounds quite wide-open and deep, like a voyage through space, path lit only by distant galaxies and nebulas. There’s enough variation throughout the album to keep the listener fully interested, especially after the first few listens to the album. Any black metalhead into pure, raw, speedy tremolo riffs will find a lot of great stuff here, namely in the songs Existence and Stellar Master Elite. Anyone into a more doom-oriented sludgy approach or an industrial soundscape would be into Underneath the Universe II and Shifting Channels. There’s enough of a good blend of tone in the longer songs to satisfy, and, though the placement is a little strange on the album, there’s a really good synth-structured track that adds a lot of depth and neatly divides the album and the music on it.
The album’s full of a lot of great, unique black metal that should make early 90s black metal fanatics fall in love. There are plenty of great memorable moments, awesome riffs, great interludes, and good vocals. Thorn’s self-titled is proof that black metal is not dead—the good stuff is out there if you look for it. Though the album may seem a little soulless on the first few listens, it has great growing power. The cold industrial tone is pulled off very well, and the odd structure and flow of the songs works well with that, even though it may seem a little alien at first. If you consider yourself any kind of black metal fan, you’ll definitely love this album after a few tries. It’s hard for me to settle on a favourite track on the album because I think every song, including the halfway point instrumental, carries its own weight.If any song is better than any of the others, it’s only barely.
Originally posted on http://www.spirit-of-metal.com/
Carrying on with my reviews for best black metal debuts ever (Ascension's 'Consolamentum' & Ved Buens Ende's 'Written in Waters'). I would like to catechise about Thorns.
Thorns is the sole project of Snorre Ruch; a band lots of people know of, normally more due to the hassle that Snorre Ruch got himself in when he accompanied Varg on the night he slayed Euronymous, then helped him dispose of Varg's bloody clothes and all that fun stuff. Well, after coming out of jail Snorre was knocking around with some riffs, meeting up with old friends and Satyr (at the time running Moonfog who were putting out some of the best Norwegian black releases) convinced Snorre to record them, Satyr pulled in the help of some famous friends: Hellhammer, Aldrahn from DHG and himself to do vocals and made an absolutely stunning album, thank you Satyr for convincing Snorre to release this as this album as it is revolutionary for black metal and industrial black.
Thorns are an industrial black metal outfit, yet unlike the majority of industrial bands there is minimal electronic influence, only occasionally can synths be noticed through the release (most significantly on the ambient 'Beneath the Universe Part I). The album is a razor sharp organic affair, the guitar-tone is lifted straight from Satyricon's 'Rebel Extravaganza', unsurprising as Satyr produced the Thorns album, anyone familiar with 'Rebel Ex' should know how cutting and destructive the guitar tone is, devoid of all warmth, just pure scathing distortion. The guitars are tight, restrained and razor sharp. Snorre's style of playing is highly original, and it is he that is credited, along with Euronymous for typifying the black metal style of riff (why he was hired to play second guitar for them and he's spoken of as progenitor of a few riffs on De Mysteriis), utilising higher strings, tremolo riffs and stranger chord progressions, instead of standard power chords. However Snorre's compositions are very strange, vast amounts of dissonance and bizarre notes are utilised to tremendous effect showing a clarity and maturity since the infamous' Grymyrk' demo a decade previous. Hellhammer's drumming is probably the fastest that he has ever achieved, the pedals that open up 'Existence' (the opener to the album) are absolutely blistering. Vocal duties on the album switch between Aldrahn & Satyr, with the latter giving his best vocal performance by miles; clear, highly distorted and with a colossal degree of control, the gurns that he offers up on 'World Playground Deceit' are something that you would never expect to hear Satyr proffer, additionally the screams he lets loose at the start of 'Interface to God' are expelled with a fervour bordering on evangelical zeal.
There is little variation in the song styles, with each being a methodical, visceral ride. The album is highly mechanical sounding, yet based almost solely on organic instruments, which is something that is an insurmountable feat. The album is testament to the power of composition and production, the fact that this album sounds more industrial than the majority of industrial black metal releases is stupefying, honestly. Surprisingly as well, the release manages to sound 'spacey' and 'futuristic', normally cliché terms that are bandied about to little affect; Thorns manage to achieve an ethereal yet mechanical sound, far removed from humanity and our simple meanderings.
Unfortunately there has been only one release so far, an E.P. where they covered Emperor songs (Thorns vs. Emperor - each band covering the others older songs, a project where Snorre's friends tried to introduce people to Thorns again and give them credibility in a scene becoming burdened by second-rate bands), additionally they have recently released some of their older material which by comparison to Thorns' 'Thorns' pales in comparison, yet it is noteworthy for seeing the establishment of black metal in its infancy. A follow-up has been in talks but regrettably has been in development hell for years now.
Thorns should be experienced by anyone interested in black metal, to see where it came from and how one of the earliest musical influences in the Norwegian scene has progressed, tracks such as 'Stellar Master Elite' & 'Existence' will likely be the most accessible to the metal masses, whilst awesome, songs such as 'World Playground Deceit' and 'Vortex' are where the weirdness starts to shine through with epic results.
An album of pure excellence, truly worthy of the title: Stellar Master Elite.
(Originally written for www.baileysmmcreamy.blogspot.com)
Thorns is the main project of a renowned member of the early Norwegian Black Metal elite, Snorre Ruch (he who was present alongside Varg Vikernes for the murder of Øystein Aarseth, for those who were unaware). Thorns' early demos were held in high regard amongst the majority of black metallers, rightfully earning him a place as second guitarist in De Mysteriis... era Mayhem before Øystein's death (in fact, he supposedly wrote more than a few riffs that ended up on the finished album).
After the jail term for his involvement in the murder, 2001 saw Thorns release their debut self-titled album, with guest vocal work from Aldrahn and Satyr, and drum work by the ever present Hellhammer. Crushing with its super speed Black Metal with the opening track "Existence", Snorre and co. created a masterwork of deep space futuristic Black Metal that set the blue print for a lot of bands that would follow in a similar vein. Be it the blasting attack of "World Playground Deceit", or the slow intoxicating landscapes of "Shifting Channels", Thorns do their best to completely mindfuck you with their aural mayhem. This is one album where the samples are not thrown in on a whim at the last minute either, with every second of music being primed with a foreboding almost industrial depth for maximum effect on the listener.
This was probably one of the only Black Metal albums that was welcomed by the kvlt krew, even though it didn't necessarily exude the intensive, introspective 'true' Black Metal ethos upon first listen. Multiple spins would soon prove this was every bit as dark and shimmering as the classics, albeit in a twisted, cybernetically enhanced way. The 'universal soldier' of the Black Metal world, if you will. Thoroughly convincing, and totally immersing, Thorns imbibes Black Metal and assimilates it into its own uniquely twisted form.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
Wow, not a single review in over 4 years! That must tell you something…either this album is pretty obscure, or it’s impossible to review. I am leaning towards the latter there, because the things that are going on in this album can confuse you. You know what you want to say, but then at the same time, you have no idea. So, with that in mind, I shall attempt it.
This is Snorre’s debut album, and only full-length in 19 years of existence! That’s a long time between drinks. Still, don’t let the relative inactivity put you off, as this is a really great album, which fuses black metal and industrial together seamlessly. What creates the industrial feel of this album would definitely be the guitars. They sound like they have a small amount of distortion, yet feel very raw as well. It’s quite hard to explain properly, but they have quite a “cold” sound to them, if that makes any sense at all. Needless to say, it fits well into the style of music played. And the riffs are catchy…maybe too catchy for black metal standards. The beginning of “Stellar Master Elite” contains a great riff that doesn’t exactly fit for black metal, yet Snorre makes it fit.
The vocals are a raspy growl, which enhances the industrial feel again. Guttural or screaming vocals probably would not have had the same effect here, because they’d be a little too extreme. I quite like the vocals, and Snorre’s spoken words on “Vortex”. A very competent addition.
The drumming is not anything outstanding, but in this case, it is a good thing. They’re mixed well, but not loud enough to be overbearing to everything else. Hellhammer, who everyone will be familiar with from Mayhem, Dimmu Borgir, and many other bands, shows his skills here with impeccable timing and some rapid double bass work. However, one thing I noticed…does he do any blast beating at all? I can’t recall any song where there’s blast beating. If this is true, then it’s a wake-up call to other bands of any genre that you don’t need to blast continuously to be good! I commend the songwriting ability of Snorre to not have to fall back on the trusty blast beat.
Now, the industrial elements. Just listen to the track “Shifting Channels”. If you want industrial, you got it in spades here. The drumming and the samples in this track are phenomenal pieces of work, and gives the track a really mechanical vibe to it. The guitars have a secondary role here that is a welcome relief. “Underneath The Universe 1” is a mostly ambient track, and sounds very minimalist. With the absence of vocals, there is very little happening in that track, but do not panic, as the entire 7+ minutes don’t feel forced or overdrawn. It proves to be a nice lead-in to part 2, which spans nearly as long as the first part.
So there it is. Most of the songs don’t reach any great speeds, but they don’t have to. The song structures are good enough to carry each song through without being boring or contrived. This is truly a shining light in black metal, and metal in general. A definite, timeless winner.
Best tracks: Existence, Stellar Master Elite, Underneath The Universe 1, Vortex
P.S. I should also add: For those who condemn Snorre for his involvement in the murder of Euronymous, you may be biased as to how you view this album. While I personally don’t agree with his actions there, I can’t deny the effort and greatness that this album provides. I’m not going to let his actions stop me from getting enjoyment out of his work here. Just putting it out there.
My interest in Thorns had begun when I read a Kerrang review (surprise, surprise) that gave this album a very good review (4 or 5 K’s, I can’t remember – I never brought that issue of Kerrang anyway) and I’ve been waiting for my chance to have this album, I borrowed a copy of this album off a mate of mine and it increased my interest in Thorns. I finally brought this album one day in 2003.
Now for the review:
The first full length release from the most mysterious of Norwegian bands by Snorre Ruch and associates of various calibre such as Faust (Emperor), Hellhammer (Mayhem) and Satyr of Satyricon amongst others in the bands long and unknown history, released the (in)famous demo tape, Grymyrk, which many say influenced their music. Snorre himself was (alleged to be) involved in the murder of Euronymus when he was (supposed to be) the driver of the car that took Varg Vikernes to Euronymus’ flat.
Since signing to Moonfog records, Snorre has revived Thorns and has since made a split album with Black Metal legends Emperor and this album. Thorns have a lot of history behind them and does this album live up to history? The answer to this question is yes, this album does rise to the challenge.
The album is Black Metal with splices of Industrial in it, while Aborym’s “With No Human Intervention” Industrial sections are mainly dance based at times and likely to turn people away, Thorns is a more calculated, colder machine of an album with the timed, constant beating of anvils over slow, funeral doom/black riffs in the third song “Shifting Channels” showcasing the industrial side of Thorns while “Interface to God” and “Stellar Master Elite” show the more Black Metal face of the band. Each of the songs has its own individual character, thanks to Snorre’s guitar riffs and use of samples and synths.
The Guitar is downtuned to near distortion, sounding like static though one can hear the riffs underneath the distortion while having an ambient feel. The bass is a shower of static which is created through synths. The drumming is by Hellhammer, who keeps in time with the riffs, provided by Snorre Ruch himself with the two guest vocalists, Satyr and Aldrahn from another Black/Industrial Metal band: Dodheimsgard taking turns as vocalists during the album.
There is also usage of sample and other sounds in each of the songs, Aldrahn’s vocals are goblin-like and rough and Satyr’s are similar yet different. Snorre Ruch sings on the last song, “Vortex”, which is talking over a low male vocal chorus with keyboards and samples every 10 seconds which gives the impression of a god with the power to give and take life. The production of the album is clear but leans towards being raw.
“Existence” starts with fast riffs and timed drum before coming to a stop for a vocal sample before carrying on in a militaristic fashion with sounds like alien creatures buzzing around you before coming to another sample and more riffs which brings the song to a close with more bizarre sounds.
“World Playground Deceit” Begins with slow riffs which brings the listener to the world of grey before speeding up when Satyr takes up the vocals, the riffs are still distinctive despite the amount of distortion, the speed of this song goes from slow to fast.
I covered “Shifting Channels” earlier in this review in some detail while “Stellar Master Elite” is another fast song which starts with swishes of distortion with drumbeats that countdown to the arrival of the guitars, this is the main source of headbanging in this album as it’s probably the thrashiest song (next to “Interface to God”) as it sounds like a mid-pace thrash song before the swishes return briefly before end with a blastbeat with distorted thrash riffs.
“Underneath the Universe” is a song that is over two tracks at 15+ minutes; the first part of this song (Track five) is spacious ambience with militaristic drumming and guitars up to halfway through before going to more spacious ambience. Part two (Track six) follows on before Snorre’s Guitars enter in their glory. Aldrahn and Satyr take turns on this song while the drums stay constant in their beat. There are times where synths and keys arrive in place of the guitars but they provide a break in the riffage while carrying the atmosphere of the song before the riffs return and take turns with the synths before the song closes off with some more synths with militaristic drumming to accompany them.
“Interface to God” is also a song with thrashy riffs form start to finish, this marks of the end of Satyr’s and Aldrahn’s participation in this album with Snorre Ruch himself taking over the vocal role in “Vortex” which starts off with low, quiet synth with a sprinkle of keyboards and sounds with layers of guitars slowly coming into the fold before going bursting into a march of slow to mid-paced riffs and steady drumming before ending on a back of the voice of male voices and the low end of a keyboard.
This is a rollercoaster of Black Metal majesty from a man whose importance to Black metal is more than anyone, even the most observant of observers, can recognise though it isn’t a thrash bar two songs, this is a really an album to travel to a plane of fantasy and the soul of those who create it. Hail Snorre Ruch, an underrated herald of black metal, in my opinion.
I don’t usually give such high scores in album reviews, but then again albums rarely obliterate me like this one. To put quite simply, despite a couple of small flaws, it’s a masterpiece. Thorns is the brainchild of Snorre W. Ruch, but this is by no means a one man band. Instead of a steady line-up, the different songs on the album have quests performing vocals. On drums is the omnipotent drummer, Hellhammer, who plays on all tracks, while vocal duties switch between Bjorn Dencker and Satyr Wongraven.
The album kick starts with furious song structured on unique, memorable riffs that are guaranteed to float around your head for days to come. Amongst eerie samples and sound effects, reigns a spacey feeling that gives more than an idea of what’s to come. Dencker’s spaced out vocals give the song an outworldish feel, a feel that is trademark to the album. The following track is just as special, with a unique feel to the distorted guitar playing, Satyr’s talking vocals and Hellhammer’s perfect drumming. ‘World Playground Deceit’ only reassures the listener that they are in for a treat. ‘Shifting Channels’ further enforcing that conception, although being quite different from the first two tracks. It starts off with an absolute feeling of the unknown, brought on by continuous sound loops and effects galore as well as the sudden change in the pace of the song from heavy industrial noise patterns to fast layered guitar sections, only to revert back again to the initial blue print. Dencker’s robot-like vocals help create a futuristic atmosphere, that comes together beautifully as the song progresses.
The next track, ‘Stellar Master Elite’, gets off to a fast start and further shows off Snorre’s unique style of guitar playing as it effortlessly changes riffs at high speeds.
The next two tracks go hand in hand as an epic, two part song that’s sure to leave most flabbergasted. The first part of ‘Underneath the Universe’ is strictly instrumental, consisting mostly of freakish sounds and noises with only a little bit of guitars and drums in the beginning minutes of the song. While the ill near silences, that pop up at times in the song can be scary and immersing in their own right, the sounds can tend to be a little tiring if the listener’s not in the mood for a song like this. Gladly, the second part is even more inspiring. With excellent drumming that contradicts unique riffs, and a stop-start structure to the song, that at one points passing through a mesmerising verse with spoken vocals layered by keyboards amongst the absence of drums and guitars, the track is easily a highlight.
Faster than the previous songs before it, ‘Interface to God’ leaves the listener guessing with intricate riffs and changes of pace. To top it off, the epic feel to the song, accompanied by some brutal screaming vocals by Satyr and the fact that the track feels like numerous songs put together into one killer epic make it by far the most enjoyable song from the whole album.
The albums comes to an end with ‘Vortex’. Yet another song that starts with strange sound treats, and this time even some keyboards. This is also the only song on which vocal duties are handled by Snorre himself. His vocals are mostly spoken, while the song maintains that stop and go feeling also evident on the rest of the album. But this song is different. The climax, the spacey feeling and the freaky vocals make this stand out from the rest. Definitely a great ending to an already great album. Masterfully thought out, and even more so executed this is hard not to recommend, as I’m sure that this will stand out as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Thorns is a kind of lost treasure for anyone familiar with the Norwegian Underground Black Metal history. Active since 1987/88, often quoted as an influence by major BM artists, Thorns have always been quite a miserious aura about themselves, the most popular fact probably being that main man Snorre W. Ruch played as a second guitarist in Mayhem around the "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" era (and indeed some riffs here and there on the album can be heard on Thorns' "Grymyrk" demo too) and allegedly partecipated to the murder of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous at the hands of Varg Vikernes (Burzum), although his (hypothetic) part in t was never made clear; he did, however, spend some time in jail like other fellow BM musicians in the early 90s.
Fact is, as you can see by now, that very little is known about Thorns as a band (some other usual liner notes state that a handful of now known musicians such as Faust of Emperor had been involved in the band at some points) and practically nothing is know about the band's music. So, when Thorns resurfaced in 1998 signed to Moonfog Productions and finally ready to have some proper recordings out, curiosity immediately had me after them.
But it wasn't until 2001 that Thorns had their first real proper album released. And whatever the music of the band could have been in the past, this album is quite simply worlds apart from any other metal release I've heard in a long time.
To this day, Snorre Ruch is still the mastermind and only permanent member behind Thorns, handling guitars and electronics and of course the songwriting. However, being signed to quite an established label such as Moonfog gave him the chance to have the likes of Aldrahn (frontman in Dødheimsgard and already involved in countless other acts over the years), Hellhammer (drummer in Mayhem, and same as above) and Satyr (Satyricon) to grace his debut effort.
I have mentioned electronics, and yes, this album is indeed full of electronic tricks and treats, from sampled drums (Hellhammer is indeed credited for the "live drums" on the album, meaning the real ones), eerie noise loops or keyboard melodies; if I remember exactly, Snorre stated in an interview that most of the bass was done via synthetics, too. The main driving force, however, are the guitars, which are given a 100% peculiar sound by the excellent and very detailed production (this album was recorded over a period of 2 years!) and of course by Snorre's unique playing style. There's not a single lead in the whole album (and before you turn away in disgust, let me assure you that any attempt in that sense would be completely out of place here), but the man never sticks to your standard power chords. This is clear from the beginning of the first song, "Existence", a cosmic maelstrom of wicked riffs, insane vocals from Aldrahn and fierce drumming by Hellhammer; his earthquake like double bass is left quite low in the mix here, creating a distant rumbling effect which makes the song violent and surreal at the same time. The vocals are slightly electronically distorted too, but the effect fits the sound like a velvet glove, and at any rate you can tell most of the work comes frm Aldrahn's unique throat. Track 2, "World Playground Deceit" (featuring vocals and lyrics by Satyr), introduces us to the slower and more obscure (and more typical, state long time followers of the band) side of Thorns, which creates a cool contrast with the insane speed of the verse riffs; Satyr here uses a kind of "spoken" voice much similar to the one he uses in Satyricon's Rebel Extravaganza and Volcano, increasing the cold, non-human atmosphere of Thorns' sound.
"Inhuman", indeed, is certainly the key word to describe the third song, "Shifting Channels", a repetitive, slow, twisted-monded nightmare dragged forth by sampled metallic drum sounds, a constand synth loop in the background, Snorre's sick sounding guitars and of course Aldrahn's phenomenal vocals, more cruel and insane than ever. Depending on the mood you're in, this track can be an intolerable drag or a really scary experience. "Stellat Master Elite", a reworked version of an ancient Thorns song, goes in the opposite direction with its crushing groove. Odd-tempoed wicked riffs, relentless beats and energic vocals (by Satyr this time) make this one a little gem, probably the easiest track to get into of the whole cd and certainly its most "headbangable" moment.
For a complete change once again, "Underneath the Universe" is a post-apocalyptic epic stretching over 2 cd tracks (5 and 6). The first part is a nearly ambient delirium of spacey noises, with guitars and drums only making a brief appearance near the beginning, while the second half is a Doom-like song built on repetitive and very dark guitar riffs and more prominent keyboards than ever before on the cd - and indeed at the end of the songs all the instruments fade out until only the synth is left singing in complete nothingness; Aldrahn does most of the vocals but Satyr makes a short contribution in the second verse. Satyr dominates behind the mic again in "Interface to God", another pretty heavy number whihc could be described as "Stellar Master Elite Part II" if only this attribute wouldn't give the impression of a lack of personality of the song in question.
The album closes with "Vortex", a sci-fi nightmarish vision featuring eerie vocals by Snorre himself (he even uses a backwards reverb!) over layers of menacing synths and slow drum machines, before it explodes into total heaviness when the guitars and real drums kick in. Words actually fail to descrive how unique this particular song (and the rest of the album, for that matter) sounds. Insanity and genius at their best.
This records is defnitely not for occasional listens, for if you don't concentrate on it it will leave you with nothing to remember or enjoy. It's also a grower, and demandas several listenings before you can decide if you love it or hate it. My opinion is pretty clear; I'd just suggest you to proceed with care but definitely check it out: whatever your final impressions might be, I don't think you've ever heard anything like this before.