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Riffs, bad luck, and cyborg dystopia. - 88%

ConorFynes, July 29th, 2016

It's depressing to think what Snorre W. Ruch might have accomplished, had he not been nabbed as "the other guy" in the murder of Euronymous. While Varg Vikernes' notoriety grew tenfold overt he course of his incarceration, Ruch's problem seemed to be that of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So it goes, the man who arguably wrote the book on black metal guitar never really had a chance to get his own career started. Going to prison for a murder-related offence never managed to sell him on the mainstream cvlt kids. Thorns has remained an underground name enjoyed by the select few who know, and it's probably best kept that way.

Snorre Ruch may have a wider reach in terms of his influence than the music he's made, but the one album Thorns did manage to put out is fantastic. Once released from jail, material was compiled and freshly recorded with some of the most talented guys in the Norwegian scene. Word to the wise: If you're wanting to record a vicious and technical black metal album in Norway, getting Hellhammer on drums is probably the way to go. What's more, while Ruch tends to the other instruments here, he's joined on vocals by Satyr and the brilliant Aldrahn, the latter of which having recorded some of the genre's best vocals with Dødheimsgard. The optimal time for a black metal classic may have escaped Thorns by the point of 2001, but it can't be said he didn't make up for it in other ways.

Put simply, Thorns is a masterclass in riff-writing and atmosphere. Even if Ruch's ambitions were put on hold, they lost none of their relevance in the new millennium. It could even be said that the wait resulted in a more striking album. The Third Wave's fascination with industrial and electronic interruptions is present throughout the music here. A crisp, mechanical production and the omnipresence of dark electronics create a vastly different experience than the lo-fi crackle of Ruch's demo work. This is ultimately one of the finest examples of industrial black metal I've ever heard. While the riffs would have been enough to carry the music through under any setting, the futuristic industrial hell makes Thorns all the more striking. It's all the more to Thorns' credit that these industrial influences are given the spotlight in parts. "Shifting Channels", "Vortex" and the album's cornerstone "Underneath the Universe" break from the typical brushfire pace for an ominous sci-fi atmosphere. Mechanical factory noise and an absurd level of control are a huge departure from black metal tradition. In Thorns' case, it works.

The biggest attraction to Thorns is being able to hear the traditional Norwegian riff style elevated to its natural peak. Mayhem's DMDS and Immortal's Pure Holocaust are the two albums I can think off the top of my head that may rival Thorns in the scene riff for riff, but the fact I've had to dredge up two classics to compete against a third should show where the album stands. The technical take on Second Wave riffs isn't far removed from Mayhem's Third Wave reinvention on Wolf's Lair Abyss and Grand Declaration of War. But unlike Mayhem, the future-tech sound feels natural here. It doesn't sound like Ruch is trying to push himself forward for the mere sake of staying relevant.

To be honest, I'd probably love the album around as much if Ruch had interpreted it through the lens of the "old" sound. As it is, I think Thorns is the type of album that would still turn heads if it came out today. Considering the lengths taken here to make things ultra-futuristic, it's a sign of depth that the album doesn't sound completely dated 15 years on. Again, a lot of this has to do with the busy quality behind Ruch's riffs. Due credit needs to go to the hired help as well. Hellhammer's technical precision met its match with Thorns. Aldrahn's schizoid vocals were a perfect choice given the atmosphere, and even Satyr (easily the least remarkable musician of the four) handles himself brilliantly with vocals. While it is an unspoken tragedy that Thorns lost its greatest opportunities to circumstance, thanks to this album we don't have to wonder what the potential was. Even as it is, Thorns is enough to immortalize this band forever. They may have missed out on the Second Wave, but they were all too eager to devastate the Third.