Review Summary: For those who are interested in melodeath or Septicflesh-esque symphonic death metal, this is a solid album you might have missed from 2021. Expect to hear additional blackened and progressive influences thrown into the pot on this one.
Before listening to Toward the Throne, I had not known that the genre labeled “atmospheric death metal” was a thing. When looking it up on LastFM.com the first bands I find are Septicflesh, Hypocrisy, and Nocturnus. Even though I can easily see the resemblances to Toward the Throne, I’m not too sure how much this label has picked up in death metal discussions, so I think it would be more telling to describe this band as a mixture of various shades of melodeath with a pinch of prog metal and atmospheric black metal. This band is atmospheric, but not in the way that one might immediately think of when talking about atmospheric extreme metal. It is atmospheric in the kind of way that Swallow the Sun might be with their long, melancholic riffs, or Septicflesh with their ominously cinematic symphonies.
Maybe it is just me personally, but when picking up albums to review from the underground scene, it’s a good sign to see a small back catalog. The more time a band releases albums and stays unheard-of, it raises unconscious questions as to why the band never picked up speed, why nobody has ever been talking about them. Of course, you’ll find cases where a band’s quality of work will pick up around their third or fourth release. But it often seems like the bands that we hold to be genre essentials were amazing right out of the gate with their debut album. Conversely, there are countless bands in the underground of Metal-Archives that are on their Xth album and still release material that sounds like it could be their debut, god forbid their demo. So, when choosing underground bands to follow, it is good to either see a small but quality back catalog, or one that shows a good trajectory of improvement. And I will say: Toward the Throne has both.
Quite a bit improved since Toward the Throne’s debut EP in 2017. Their songwriting showcases stronger and more numerous hooks, they got better at building up to a climax, and their overall instrumental layering and synergy improved a good bit. And their debut was pretty decent already. Their mix and mastering sound very good, and one can tell that it is professionally done. They got Victor Bullok (Dark Fortress, Trypticon, Noneuclid) to do the overall master which brings up the sound quality to something that could approximately be a mainstream death/black metal release.
Easily my favorite track on the album is "Still, Denial" which has pretty much everything I want from a band like Toward the Throne. It starts with an ominous acoustic opening riff, then breaks into double bass drums, soon followed by low, textured growls, and epic symphonic elements. Then we get one of my favorite riffs from this album, really sad and melodic, accompanied by lamenting gutturals and relentless drums. The last minute of this song is an orgasmic build-up of a resoundingly powerful symphony and a chugging rhythm section. It finishes off with one long final growl which transitions into a soft piano reprisal of the main riff.
Most of the other songs have a consistently decent level of songwriting, but I do not think they topped "Still, Denial" anywhere else. I'd like to see more of these epic build-ups with more progressive elements and reprisals. I loved that piano transition at the end. Generally speaking, the album becomes gradually more dissonant and atmospheric especially as it comes closer to the finally, with increasingly abrasive blastbeats, tremolo picking, and double bass drums. In my humble opinion, Toward the Throne are their best selves when they balance strong melodies with their crushing instrumental performances but some of that is lost in tracks 9 and 10.
A final criticism that I've had with Vowed to Decline is that while it has a lot of well-thought-out ideas, and has a consistently good level of both songwriting and audio mastering, a lot of this can sound a bit generic to me (more so tracks 1-3 and 8-10). It is weird, they have so many influences one can name from At the Gates, Enslaved, Der Weg Einer Freiheit, and even Rivers of Nihil, [see “Opposed (In Every Way)”], that it all melts into a blur of melodic extreme metal. It often feels like they took bits and pieces from a dozen different bands but rarely write material that sounds wholly different from what listeners might have heard before.
Overall, this is a pretty good album. Despite me not being sure if they have found their unique place in the scene, I keep coming back to this album and enjoy it the more I listen to it. This is good listening material for fans especially of melodic death metal and symphonic death metal.