The oak tree was celebrated for centuries within various shared cultural mythos of advent as a vital vessel for the medieval etiology of the known universe of man. Be it hewn into a weapon for a legendary demigod or warrior, bent into infallible throne, or hailed as hallowed vessel of all wisdom and creation the oak would outlast countless generations by word of mouth and sacred worship. Were it not for the blight and pestilence mankind brings to her branches there would still be worthwhile spirituality left for doomed mankind. Storehouse of wisdom, symbol of ever-burning vitality and provider of food, medicine, and refuge for the weak the oldest and most gnarled among us begin to dry and crack today. Fungal blight spawned by distempered clime act as the bur in the armored plates of men and beast marching into this war they could never win. The sun himself the army that’d light leaf, twig, and branch aflame delighting as each oaken fiery end curses the air men breathe fills with the carbonized wisdom of the past. Doom is no wild, harried scurry away from the dark but a slow march across scorched-black lands, the charcoal’d fingers of our past a fleeting hint of a much greater time. Doom is upon us at present and the yet community of all men raise meaningless banner without leader, stupefied by their shallow-breathing lazed existence. Goblin, orc, dragon or malice from the pits of fabled Hell have no consequence or meaning when all that would survive are the most ruthless and decisive murderers among us. Yet we march and persist, egging on destruction with denial as if ignorance were a silent warriors creed shared among the last three or four generations of idiot. Doom is upon us at present by our own collective hand and thankfully the community of all doom metal is in full force, meditating upon the present to celebrate the end and therein lies the groan of apocalyptic epic doom/sludge metal trio Thronehammer, a ceaseless clubbing of the minds of modern men with a creed that’d melt iron over flesh and scramble brains into bursting mush. ‘Usurper of the Oaken Throne’ is more than slow-burning violence though, as this union between British and German tribes of doom achieve cinematic climb, dauntingly emotional rift, and maddening intoxication in their march toward man’s ruin.
No amount of trepidation or bewildering anxiety aimed at the extended fingers of ‘Usurper of the Oaken Throne’ are worth pining over and if you’d spend even one more minute staring at its 80 minute length across six compositions you’d have wasted vital immersion and truly mystic connection that awaits. Thronehammer are enormous, imposing, and yet the flow of their infectious doom sub-genre meld provides an instantaneously gratifying and long-extended orgasm of chest-crushing heavy metal meditation. Formed by German musician Stuart West (Torsten Trautwein) after his prior group Obelyskkh released their definitive ‘Hymn to Pan’, Thronehammer would soon include members of Wall and The Walruz before recording their ‘Black Mountain Dominion’ (2012) demo with a pretty well formed sonic concept. Their sound was clearly inspired by the Slomatics and Conan style of sludge/doom metal excess but with an esoteric extreme doom metal feeling akin to Thorr’s Hammer and a touch of classic epic doom metal informing the vocal patterns. The concept of the band and the style of West‘s guitar work hasn’t changed wildly in the seven years since but replacing two thirds of the trio has absolutely elevated the stature and the range of West‘s core concept. The addition of Tim Schmidt (Seamount, Naked Star) on bass/drums alongside Kat Shevil (Uncoffined, Winds of Genocide, Blessed Realm) on vocals didn’t necessarily make Thronehammer a ‘supergroup’ so much as a solid trio of well-proven doom and extreme metal professionals. None should hesitate to trust their sensibilities and ability to carry tunes that average between 10-20 minutes.
The pace and sound that Thronehammer achieve is easy enough to communicate through a small number of specific comparisons but the vibe, the emotional perspective of it isn’t as singular as any group. It is a two headed hydra: The doom metal head lands upon the shoulders of post-‘In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend’ European doom metal that is as dramatically ‘epic’ as Cross Vault, as musically expressive as Fall of the Idols‘ ‘Solemn Verses’, and ambitiously roughened as the venerable Cardinal’s Folly. The sludge metal head has the growling death-like chunk of Unearthly Trance and the stoned dramatics of whatever generation of ‘Dopethrone’-worshiping sludge/stoner bands we’re in the midst of today. The collective brain wrangling these influences isn’t lost in space or stuffed into a hole of depression, though, and ‘Usurper of the Oaken Throne’ is very much an epic heavy/doom metal album in pace and feeling going as far as the wailing dramatics of Scald and then pulling back towards a Reagers-era Saint Vitus growl. I’d been tempted to describe Thronehammer‘s debut as a sort of meeting of worlds, a best of both worlds that didn’t leave anything important out but there is more to its appeal and moment-to-moment gratification than genre tropes and stylized movements; There is an oozing, over the top ‘classic’ personality in display here that creates value far beyond the expectations of a debut from a fairly unknown band.
No doubt the average modern doom metal listener is well equipped with patience enough to not even blink at a fifteen or twenty minute song but it might take the will of a funeral doom metal listener to sit for a full 80 minutes. What separates Thronehammer‘s extended epics from reaching the extreme doom metal tag is most obviously their mix of traditional epic doom metal and modern stoner sludge/doom but they’ve not relied on filler to reach that hour plus point. Each track is a world of its own and this is especially true on the first ‘half’ of the album where the fanfare is enormous and the stride nigh ritualistic as “Behind the Wall of Frost” rides a wave of tension towards the stomping Cardinal’s Folly-esque “Conquered and Erased”. At that 28+ minute mark it really does feel like you’ve had an album’s worth of twists, turns, atmospheric, and ‘know’ what the band is capable of. “Warhorn” flips those expectations a bit by conjuring a 19+ minute epic seemingly yanked from Solstice‘s ‘Lamentations’ and cranked up to the speaker-blistering heaviness of a Black Bow Records style band. That’d be the point where I was sold on the band but the album does drag a bit within the last three tracks. After several full spins I felt like “Svarte Skyer” and “Thronehammer” were great songs that might’ve fared better as a separate companion EP, either that or the title track could have been left off and the tracklist might’ve been shuffled from that point. The record feels no less complete for cutting any one of those three final tracks as the band have shown their hand and their skill to the point where it becomes too eager a first impression upon the listener. That said, label and tour mates Lord Vicar released a similarly extended record at the same time and it might just be some level of exhaustion on my part by way of analysis of both enormities.
At this point I’ve named a good share of my favorite doom and sludge metal bands in reference to Thronehammer and that is probably the biggest compliment I could give after spending some extensive time with ‘Usurper of the Oaken Throne’. They’re a fine addition to both pantheon and have impressed by appearing from the womb fully grown, wearing some serious armor and already adept enough for battle. As far as my recommendation I’d say the listening experience is right on the verge of an unforgettable album though its length does admittedly blur some of the debut’s overall impact. High recommendation, well above average and way over the top doom metal. For preview I’d suggest that you’re going to need some patience in previewing this album as the tracks you -should- be starting with are the longest ones at roughly eighteen minutes each (“Warhorn”, “Behind the Wall of Frost”), so I’d start with “Conquered and Erased” and steel yourself for the coming warrior’s death.
To the ultimate death. 4.25/5.0
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