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An 'official' version of Snorre Ruch's music - 92%

erebuszine, May 2nd, 2013

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.

UA

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