Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Throne of Ahaz - Nifelheim (1995)


The Scandinavian Black Metal band Throne of Ahaz was founded in the cold forests of Sweden in winter 1991, under a different name with a different line-up. However, they have always spread the wrath of the gods in this age of madness. This was evident on their demo At the Mountains of Northern Storms, that blew a deadly wind through the fields of blood and iron. Their influences include Bathory, Kreator, Merciless, Darkthrone and Tiamat. They reached the golden dawn with the release of their full-length.

Nifelheim is the first L.P. from Throne of Ahaz. It was recorded in 1993, but No Fashion Records delayed its release until 1995. One has to wonder what kind of impact this had on the band's standing, as the album may have been more widely regarded had it been released on time.

"Northern Thrones" begins the album with typical Scandinavian Black Metal riffs and blast beats, along with strained, demonic vocals. The atmosphere is dark and cold. This song features a mixture of tremolo-picked melodies and old school thrash riffs, along with several drum beats that wouldn't be out of place on an old Venom or Mercyful Fate record. This really sets the tone for the whole album and this can be considered as Sweden's answer to A Blaze in the Northern Sky as this seems to either be influenced by that classic, or inspired by the same ancient demons. The first track is, in many ways, the highlight of the album.

The next song is "An Arctic Star of Blackness", which begins with more fast tremolo riffs, before transitioning into more old school Black Metal riffs. This is definitely hateful and fast-paced for the most part, though there are hints of darker things, almost down-tempo melodies that take you on a journey through a frozen landscape. This holds true for the entire album. There are several temp changes, showing a lot of variation within the established framework of this subgenre.

"Where Ancient Lords Gather" and "The Dawn of War" feature a lot of slower doom riffs, while also showing a lot of variation. Each song has its own identity, despite the familiar patterns that are present. Beretorn's vocals seem utterly consumed with hatred on this album. Cold tremolo riffs come and go, though the bursts of speed are somewhat ephemeral.

Nifelheim continues with the title track, beginning with the sound of freezing winds blowing across the dismal land. The song begins with a mid-paced thrash riff that crushes your feeble spirit like Mjöllnir, itself. Lyrically, this is not too far from the themes used by Immortal.

"And from the highest mountain
I behold this frozen waste
Under the sunless sky
A kingdom of might and pride"

The song ends with blasting drums, fast riffs and hateful screams, before the cold winds return to claim you for the frozen Northland.

"The Calling Blaze" is the only song from their demo to be found here. This song is mid-paced, for the most part, even featuring a bit of a lead solo. Near the middle of the song, the riffs become even slower and more bleak and gloomy, before speeding up a bit. This is brief, as the doom riffs return to conclude the song. "A Winter Chant" continues with the mid-paced riffs. Perhaps, where this album falls a little short is that there really aren't any songs that maintain a high speed throughout. Variation in the riffs is good, but there may be a few too many mid-paced riffs while the faster parts aren't as well developed. Oddly, this is usually the opposite. But this is a minor complaint.

The album concludes with "The Kings That Were...", delivering the fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums that have been desired over the last couple songs. After a couple minutes, things slow down again, but not for very long. Around the 3:00 mark, there is a brilliant melody that is unleashed, amidst the fury and chaos. The song ends with a bit of keyboard use, adding the the majestic atmosphere as everything fades to darkness.

Unfortunately, Nifelheim seems to be relatively unknown, compared to their peers. It is a shame, as Throne of Ahaz played raw, cold Black Metal, with a lot of old school influence, and would easily be appreciated by fans of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, for example. Overall, it is a bit slower than that classic album. The sound is fairly standard, without breaking any new ground, but it's solid, nonetheless. Seek this out.