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Coming from the past, ready for the future - 97%

Lord_Jotun, December 8th, 2003

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.