When we sit around our fire-side chat, cold from the coming of the Autumnal evening air, to discuss what is typical of raw black metal, there are a few consistent traits that come to mind; furious blast-beating that rarely lets up, chainsaw sounding super reverberated guitar washes and incoherent shrieks that can, at best, put goose bumps on one’s back side. These traits turn up under seemingly every stone in the genre, and very few artists seem to take them to a relatively new height. Most have tried and failed miserably, while only a very select few really put a lot of visionary creation into their ritualistic audio magic, incontrovertibly ushering their black art towards new dimensions. Take a genre at face value and what comprises the essence of it, and you will be looking at the music as a whole with very parochial thinking. Sometimes, it’s good and refreshing to take a step back and reevaluate what a certain type of music can be, rather than what purists think it should be.
Thaw‘s self-titled 2013 release on Avantgarde Music is something along those configurations. It would be easy to lump the album in with the raw black metal aesthetic, but it wouldn’t be doing the album any justice to give such a conservative label. I’m no fan of labeling things as is, even though it helps give the audience a rough idea what they are getting into sound-wise, but Thaw really are not your typical black metal project, obsessively recording albums upon albums in a small, poorly financed home studio (see: dungeon). It would suffice to say that calling Thaw’s production values as raw as it gets harkens back to the originators of the genre, but a mystique and ethereal atmosphere truly shrouds the core of this journey into a frigid nightmare. This Polish act shows a very experimental side that exists in direct opposition to the contemporary cliche of mimicking, even to the best of one’s abilities, that minimal and incessantly under-achieving Darkthrone style of black metal composition and production.
Every song is arcane and seethes of ritualistic reprieve from the world. Every growl, shriek and chanting (in a nod to the legendary Bathory) encodes a murky despair that is not just heavy, but elegant, weaving a magical trance into the mind that flows almost in near perfection. In terms of these varied vocals, there are a few different types utilized in this self-titled debut, comprising a mix of the aforementioned traditional raspy shrieks with grunted growls and chants that are similar to, in addition to Quorthon, Morrigan‘s Beliar. They work very well to spread this atmospheric anguish along with the droning nature of the surrounding music. Audio manipulations, droning chords and ethereal texturing help to develop a much deeper emotional connection than if it lacked them entirely. Sections of songs also seem to implement pulsing modulated dark synth patches that work in unison with the heavy riffing.
Though there is a shortage of “old-school” material found here, many of the more traditional riffs have a very Mayhem-esque quality to them, at times reminding me of a few moments from Mutiilation‘s Vampires of Black Imperial Blood; those moments are short and the motifs was located, though had to be dissected from the whole. The rest of the album is encased in a concrete tomb of sludgy doom riffs and anguished semi-jazzy progressions. For those that just got fearful over such a thing, this is by no means progressive in the traditional sense of the word, but there is indeed heavy progressive and avant-garde overtones throughout. Much like one of Avantgarde Music’s other promising newcomers in Nahar (Review: The Strange Inconvenience), the riffs at times are very reminiscent to something from the likes of Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord. It’s beautifully constructed, and each section has very fluid transitions from the paused drones to the heavy sludge or black metal assaults.
The only criticism I have, which Nahar also shared, is that the album is just far too short. Of the seven songs etched onto this monolithic slab of obsidian, one clocks in at a little over three minutes, while the others are in between the five to eight minute mark. I rarely find many atmospheric acts whom are talented enough in their craft to put me in an awe-inducing trance, the type that makes you forget that the outside world actually still exists. Thaw really is one of the rare acts that has done that for me. As I became more sedated by this dark opus, I abruptly realized that the album had ended. Rather disappointing, because there is so much to like here, and yet there is also something missing. Perhaps a longer duration, perhaps just one more song to truly finalize the piece; I’m unable to effectively point it out. However, there is indeed something this album lacks that could have easily made it my black metal album of the year. Despite its short duration, listening to music is becoming harder and harder for me as life gets the better of us all, so smaller portions are in some way ideal in order to experience the whole rather than being unable to truly appreciate it. Since I have to listen to an ethereal album start to finish, it’s hard to get the full ritualistic nature of the ambience from starting where one left off last.
Thaw’s self-titled debut shows that this band has what it takes to be fresh with creativity while playing a form of music that is, by now, grossly overpopulated. The atmosphere is bleak yet uniquely surreal. Thaw have also shared the stage with prominent bands like Neurosis and Behemoth, so this must show that they are a band whom have already turned their fair share of heads. Despite that though, the album is just too short, and by the time you realize you’re bobbing your head into its trance-inducing ritual, you will find that the album is already coming to an unfortunate close. This is not your ordinary black metal album though, nor should it be. Experimental music is anything but “ordinary”, and this is what makes this album so enjoyable.
01) The Gate
03) Divine Light
05) On the World’s Grave
06) Hunted Prey
07) Under the Slag Heap