Review Summary: An incredible album by one of Black Metal's most respected bands.
It’s virtually useless to explain why Snorre Ruch, the main man behind Thorns has been more than a key figure to the Norwegian Black Metal scene. Let’s just say that if black metal abandoned the “Celtic frost meets Bathory” style for a more “eerie” approach (reflected perfectly in Burzum’s “Jesu Dod” for example), it’s all because of this man and his two really bad sound quality demos he did in the early 90’s. Such was the admiration for these demos that Emperor, Satyricon and Burzum completely changed their sound, without ever forgetting to acknowledge the role Snorre Ruch had played in this change, and Euronymous (of Mayhem fame) struggled to get Snorre to play for his band.
However, due to legal problems, this band didn’t manage to record something until 1999’s split album with Emperor (“Thorns vs Emperor”) where legendary songs like the magnificent “Aerie Descends” or the terrifying “Melas Khole” were re-recorded by Thorns, the first one being also covered by Emperor. The anticipation for a full album with new material was huge in the black metal scene.
That album came in 2001. It was tagged “Intelligent Black Metal”, a term used to describe bands like “666 International” -era Dodheimsgard or “Grand Declaration of War”-era Mayhem. It featured Thorns’ trademark eerie riffs but also had a clear industrial metal influence, as indicated by the high pitched analog sound of Snorre’s guitar, or the heavy loops used in “Shifting Channels”. Don’t go thinking of Ministry or Godflesh though; think more of the way Voivod or “Grin” -era Coroner absorbed their industrial influences. More than anything, by recruiting Helhammer (who uses no triggers this time!), Satyr’s venomous voice and Aldrahn’s paranoid screams, Snorre left no doubts about his desire to make the most original Black Metal album in years.
“Thorns” is an album dominated by Snorre’s strong personality; His unbelievable riffs would be nothing if they didn’t add up to songs that climax the appropriate way to create sinister atmospheres and a sense of impending doom. Snorre has always bragged about his ability to create graphic songs with strong imagery and one gets that in every single track of the album. “Interface to God” has a spiral riff that gives a sense of ascending, “Vortex” is chaotic, “Shifting Channels” is chocking and “Existence” must be the most intense moment in post-2000 black metal history.
It is perfectly clear that “Thorns” was by no means your run of the mill Black Metal record. It was adventurous in the sense that Snorre would not record similar tracks (to one another) and he obviously despised the urge for monotony most black metal bands had. That is why this album sounds so complete; it leaves no space unexplored and Snorre does anything that is required in order to achieve the desirable mood.
“Thorns” is the pinnacle of Intelligent Black Metal, it was absolutely refreshing to a genre that was desperately searching for a new direction and for new leaders. Unfortunately the band disappeared again (up to now they have released no other album, we are expecting one in 2009) and missed their chance to dominate the scene. If anything, all Black Metal fans should check this album, as it represents a different approach to a genre that is becoming more and more introvert every day