Thursday, October 13, 2011

Throne of Ahaz - On Twilight Enthroned (1996)

In the dark autumn of 1996, Throne of Ahaz launched yet another strike upon the mortal realm, bringing a bitter cold fury from the ancient northland and assaulting all in their path. This time, Beretorn and Taurtheim were joined by Vargher, of Ancient Wisdom, in the creation of their sophomore album, On Twilight Enthroned. The music was recorded in September of the previous year, and was written as a collaborative effort that included all of the members. The style found on Nifelheim is still in tact, though with some additional elements. The end result is another slab of Scandinavian Black Metal that, despite its obscurity, is far superior to several of the albums being released by their peers.

The first time I heard this album was not long after discovering the band, through their debut L.P. Of course, being quite blown away by that record, my only desire was to hear more of the same type of stuff. For whatever reason, On Twilight Enthroned seemed to be a disappointment after the first listen. The album then collected dust for quite some time, before I came to my senses and gave it another chance. Strangely, my later impression was that the record delivered exactly what the first one was missing, in the sense that it features more cold riffs and high-speed drumming than Nifelheim.

"Fenris" bursts forth with a furious wrath, with blistering cold tremolo riffs, intense drumming and hellish vocals all erupting at the same time, nearly overwhelming the listener and wasting no time in displaying a lethal sense of songwriting and musicianship. The initial flurry is followed by a nice old school riff and a drum pattern that compliments it, perfectly. There are slower riffs that add a layer of freezing darkness to the proceedings, gradually speeding up again. The final riff sounds reminiscent of early Emperor, thus maintaining a northern vibe throughout.

The relentless pace is carried on by "The Forlorn", featuring another frigid and mournful tremolo melody, carving through the listener's pathetic soul and opening a gateway for the gloomy open-arpeggio chords that follow. Vargher's style betrays a Burzum influence, which fits nicely with the rest of the material, adding yet another dimension. More primitive riffs join the chaos, similar to what was found on the band's first release, but soon displaced as the barrage of hellish riffs and morbid screams returns to lay waste to all that remains of your feeble being. Demonic thrash riffs are injected, late in the song, reminiscent of the title track from Dissection's second offering. The dynamic arrangement helps to create an epic atmosphere, going even farther than on their last outing.

"With Shadow Wings" starts with a sense of building tension, soon exploding into a maelstrom of pure Scandinavian Black Metal. The production for the album is a little more clear than the last one, not sounding as raw, yet certainly not polished. It actually still possesses a sense of rawness and even an abrasive nature not found on Nifelheim, but it just does not come off as primitive. There is also a bit of a difference in the recording of the vocals, perhaps a little extra reverb. More than anything else, the songwriting itself may be responsible, as the riffs are not as primitive and ugly, though that element is still present at times.

The title track features more dismal tremolo riffs, miserable vocals and slower sections that bleed forth a nocturnal feeling that suits the subject matter of the lyrics. The highlight of the song comes near the end, with a mournful guitar solo that adds even more gloom to the atmosphere, before an epic melody takes over. Worth noting is that while Vargher's contributions sound somewhat similar to his other band, it is still separate enough that the two are clearly unique entities and the material is not interchangeable at all.

"Where Veils of Grief are Dancing Slow" utilizes a bit of keyboards, which is one of the things that caused me to dismiss the album in the first place, but it is actually so subtle and minimal that one might even miss it, if not paying attention. The riffs alternate between the old school 80s riffs and the northern riffs that dominate much of the album. Beretorn and Vargher share vocal duties on this track, though their styles are not terribly different and might also go unnoticed. Some epic melodies emerge from the darkness, late in the song, before the tremolo riffs return to carry the song to its conclusion. The Darkthrone influence is still present, in such melodies, but worked into their own style much better than before.

The next song is "Let Blood Paint the Ground", which begins with a fast-paced riff that is bitter cold and displays an epic sense of misery. This is one of the better melodies on the whole album, sure to haunt your nightmares for some time. More old school rhythms are interspersed, with the main riff rising from the foggy graveyard, soon joined by vocals and percussion. More riffs appear, adding variation yet not interrupting the flow of the song.

The final original song is "Blackthorn Crown", which takes a different approach and seems to have some old Bathory influence. This is Beretorn's sole musical contribution to the record, and it is a good thing that it is placed at the end, since it would certainly have represented a disruption in the overall vibe of the album. While the riff is decent enough, the double bass drums are a bit annoying, though it is not as if they are very high in the mix anyway.

The album ends with a Black Metal version of "Black Sabbath", by the band of the same name. While it is interesting to see someone looking so far back in the past, to one of the earliest songs to possess a dark feeling (and in many respects, the beginning of Metal's darkside), this does not come close to matching the atmosphere of the original. Musically, it just is not as gloomy and foreboding and the vocal style does not compliment the material, in any way. It is not a bad song, but it fails to add anything to the album as a whole, and is actually its weakest point.

On Twilight Enthroned is a very solid album and a worthy follow-up to Nifelheim, maintaining a grim and cold northern sound. For what it lacks in rawness, it makes up for in speed and atmosphere. It is unknown as to why Throne of Ahaz is a band that has languished in obscurity while others of lesser quality went on to enjoy such lengthy careers. While many other Scandinavian Black Metal bands were beginning to experiment or to otherwise abandon their roots, Throne of Ahaz kept the black flame burning and it is a shame that they ceased to exist after this release.