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The early 2000s were a good time for the Finnish side of the melodic death metal coin, a time where the power metal influences were just a bit more overt and the keyboard usage utterly shameless. Coming out in close proximity to the pioneering Children Of Bodom were a number of impressive acts, but arguably the ones that stuck the closest to the sound of the forefathers is that of the short-lived act Throne Of Chaos. While their brief stint playing consonant music meshed with toneless shouts and groans culminated in only one LP in "Menace And Prayer" and a somewhat obscure EP in "Fata Morgana" that had a couple of songs make it onto the Japanese edition of the former, the resulting sound is quite formidable and even challenges the quality level of "Hatebreeder" and "Follow The Reaper" in both atmosphere and intensity.
This outfit does a decent job in separating themselves from much of the pack by opting for a sound that is more methodically structured and easy to follow than the wild showboating approach heard out of Children Of Bodom and the somewhat meandering character of Kalmah. But at the same time, this is definitely a fast and furious endeavor that moves at a much more frenetic pace than the Swedish variant of this style as embodied in Dark Tranquillity, though these songs do tend to embody the level of consistency and flow that is generally found in a Gothenburg release. Perhaps the best way to differentiate the Swedish and Finnish sound is by seeing the latter as having moved a bit further away from the style's traditional death metal roots embodied in outfits like Dismember and early Entombed, resulting in a downplaying of the extreme thrash metal character in favor of a consonant, almost Helloween meets Malmsteen character meshed with a nastier exterior.
Whereas some might consider it a weakness, one of the charms of this album is that it generally sounds the same from start to finish and is relatively short in comparison to others of a similar mold. In fact, when considering the frequent employment of similar sounding minimalist melodic guitar lines, effects laden keyboard passages, and a largely one-dimensional shout with a slight barking quality out of vocalist and guitarist Taneli Kiljunen, it actually gets a little bit difficult to determine where one song ends and the next begins. This is an album that functions not all that different from Death's and Possessed's early output where one will note a number of similarities when things are cooking at full speed, yet will be able to differentiate the songs due to a few distinct breakdowns or lead guitar devices. It's a level of nuance that takes several listens to fully grasp, but there is so much raw energy and intensity in these songs that it is not much of a chore to listen to this multiple times.
Some albums have an immediate stand out song or small group thereof that are easily identified, but "Menace And Prayer" stands as one of the more difficult albums from which to truly pick a favorite part. The rapid paced riffing, occasionally blasting and keyboard showmanship on "Cold Bits Of Fire" definitely proves an enticing affair for any fan of the frenzied yet melodic character of "Hatebreeder", but at the same time there is a similarly intense yet somewhat more symmetrical version of this same majestic quality to be found in "Bloodstained Prophecy" and "Synthetia". Truth be told, this is the sort of album where one doesn't really want to pick a favorite, but instead would be content to let the album play straight through without acknowledgment of the skip/replay button's existence. It would be just as well to put this on perpetual repeat for a few hours just to let the triumphant fanfare truly sink in.
For anyone who found any degree of enjoyment in the late 90s and early 2000s Finnish melodeath scene, the verdict on this particular case is an absolute essential pickup. It might be a bit presumptuous, but this album pretty well outclasses everything that Children Of Bodom has put out, and the band's existence dates back early enough that they can claim roughly the same level of originality as said band. It's a genuine shame that this album never received a stylistically consistent follow up given how great it turned out, but this short-lived band did manage to put out two more respectable albums before hanging it up. But for those with limited budgets, this is the album to get by this outfit, and also one of a very select few to get from within it's wider field. The Reaper may continue to breed hatred, while the lord of the swamp may have reigned over his misty realm, but 2000 was the year that the monarch of chaos reigned his menacing prayers upon the masses.
Throne of Chaos has always been an enigma of a band to me. How they can shift their sound so drastically will always be out of my grasp. Deep down, we all wish they would have stuck with the sound typified in their debut LP "Menace and Prayer".
Generalizations are drawn constantly between Throne of Chaos and two of melodic death metal's biggest acts: Children of Bodom and In Flames. Now while there are obvious similarities between all three bands I find it pointless to beat on a dead horse of such caliber; nor have I ever been one to berate a band for working with the formula made popular by said bands. So long as the band carves their own niche and leaves the listener with something worthwhile.
To that end, Throne of Chaos have succeeded. What we have here is a modesty short, accessible slab of neoclassicaly-tinged death metal. Vocally, Taneli Kiljunen performs aptly, combining typical harsh screams with several spoken sections supplementing a strikingly alluring lyrical theme focused on such topics as suicide, insanity, and the like. I have a notable fondness for "The Scaffold Scenario", as it clearly represents somebody's last moments before committing suicide, cool stuff. Kiljunen and Joiku Harmaja are both competent guitarists, displaying hints of virtuosity and creativity in both the rhythm and lead sections. As expected, the guitar leads really headline the storm here. Solos are competent, but didn't stick with me as much as they could have.
Carl Sjöblom delivers a very atmospheric performance on the keys. He opts to take a more backseat approach, harmonizing with the guitar lead and adding some thickness to the background. This is of stark contrast to many other neoclassical keyboardists, and I find his method refreshing. Some of his sound choices include harpsichord, bells, and choirs. Snake Laitinen is the drummer, nothing more. He did little to separate himself from the crowd in my eyes.
As stated before, the album is of below-average length. That said, many of the songs just sound too similar to really stand out. Some choice cuts include "The Scaffold Scenario" and "From Clarity to Insanity". The rest of the album ranges from average to good, yet remains consistent. The production is clean, but a little lacking on the low end. All instruments are audible, save the bass.
Fans of melodic death won't regret checking out this hidden masterpiece.