When I threw this album on, I was hoping to find another lost classic of early black metal. I can't say I succeeded, but this album is pretty cool anyways, and well worth your attention. Tha-Norr were German and they released this in 1995, before there was much of a scene in their country.
Let's get the negative part out of the way. Tha-Norr just aren't that great a band. This album features some really cool riffs, but also a number of well-executed standards, and some that simply hang out being black metal riffs. Some of the songs are powerfully structured, while others might benefit from rewrites. What's more, Tha-Norr's uneven songwriting isn't exactly offset by a striking aeshetic. This album definitely has its own sound, but it's not innovative by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it particularly refined.
So, if this album isn't a triumph of content or a leap forwards in form, what makes it worth listening to? I believe Fenriz has something good to say about this: "One can analyze a piece of music and deduce that it is black metal. But black metal is a feeling. And that feeling cannot be analyzed." And that's what Tha-Norr do right. They nail the feeling. How do I describe the feeling? Well, I could tell you that it's fearsome, enthralling, and hypnotic. That it suggests more of a medieval or pagan atmosphere than the usual diabolical scenes. But ultimately I'm just throwing labels at it, labels that apply equally to dozens of other good black metal albums. Maybe if I waxed poetic I could do a better job of conveying it, but as Fenriz says, I can't ANALYZE it, I can't really get inside it and break it down for you.
I'm not gonna cop out like that, though. The feeling isn't this mysterious extra "something," it arises from the way the music is written and how it's performed. You could even say that, in black metal, the chief aim of the songwriting is to conjure that feeling. So by telling you more about how Wolfenzeitalter (German for "Wolf Age!") sounds, perhaps I can get at its emotional dimension indirectly.
This is squarely in the early Norse tradition, reminiscent of the period before the style got leveled down into formulaic Darkthrone/Burzum plagiarism. It's based on driving powerchord riffs occasionally embellished with keys and tremolo leads, kind of like the really early Emperor and Enslaved. The guitar sound is cavernous and heavy, occupying a lot of space. Tha-Norr's most distinctive riffs often double back on themselves in unusual ways, and the drummer does a great job of complimenting this with staggering fills and interesting embellishments.
The album's musical soul is the trio of "Bowels of My Beloved Earth," "Wolfenzeitalter," and awesomely titled anthem "The Fortress Will Fall." "Bowels" is a masterpiece of repetitive songwriting, with keys building slowly over a pulsating base of guitars and drums. The break at 3:28 is perfectly placed, and hurls us into a really aggressive punk riff. Coming off that section, the sudden return to the sinister pulse--this time with straight double-pedal bass drums--is even more powerful. By the end of the song the singer is screaming something retarded along the lines of "I AM A VAMPIRE!" and totally pulling it off. "Wolfenzeitalter" is all charging, heroic melodies, with a flute interlude that's haunting instead of fruity. "The Fortress Will Fall" is a bit like the Oi! black metal that has become a German trademark, but Tha-Norr have injected the riffs with their signature convolutions. Evoking the flow of battle, the song moves from grim resolution into all-out aggression.
This is no undiscovered treasure, but it's somber, evocative, and powerful. It's a perfect soundtrack for reading, or just drifting off into a grimmer and more beautiful world. Not for those with a casual interest in black metal. For the people who listen to it because they feel it.
Bonus points for having cool fantasy art on the cover instead of some generic picture of a forest.
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