Sunday, December 9, 2012


Previously known as Stigma Diabolicum

Thorns - Thorns
Moonfog Productions, 2001
Genre: Black Metal

1. Existence
2. World Playground Deceit
3. Shifting Channels.
4. Stellar Master Elite
5-6. Underneath the Universe
7. Interface to God
8. Vortex

Thorns is a band that has been dabbling in the world of Black Metal since 1989. I first came across this band on the Nordic Metal compilation released by Necropolis, with the song "Ærie Descent." Of that compilation this is one of the songs that had the most profound affect on me as a listener. One of the most infuriating parts of this is that I could not track down anymore Thorns tracks, nor could I find any bands that even remotely came close to their genius. So you can easily imagine that when I found out Thorns was releasing new material again I was very excited.

The main musician behind this project, Snorre Ruch, has a rather critical history in the forming of this genre and it's eventually explosion of publicity because of one man's murder. Ruch (a.k.a Blackthorn) and Euronymous knew each other in the early 90's, and eventually Ruch would become the second guitarist in Mayhem. Ruch would also be a creative force in the composition of the now infamous "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas" recording, as is evident by the use of his riffs from the "Grymyrk" demo tape. Euronymous saw something special in his composition and writing ability, which is obvious to all of us now. Ruch had his own problems as well, such as mental problems of his own, and his outlet was clearly art and music. However, knowing Euronymous eventually led to making an acquaintance with Varg Vikernes, the man who would eventually murder Euronymous. Ruch's role was fairly minimal in the actual murder, he merely drove the car. He was later sentenced to prison for eight years because of his accomplice to the murder. There has been some speculation as to whether or not Ruch actually knew Varg was going to murder Euronymous on that night. I figure he drove away because after seeing Varg stab someone and get into the car with a knife, I would probably drive off when ordered as well. I think Ruch may have been a victim of circumstance, rather than a genuine accomplice, and I think that belief is held up by the fact that he is still friends with Hellhammer and Faust.

Thorns' return was announced with the split with Emperor, featuring the music completely composed and recorded by Ruch and vocals by Satyr. While the album is fairly decent, it did not live up to my expectations of the older recordings. I really didn't expect it to, mostly since Ruch would have a lot more technology available to him. That album also featured reworked songs of earlier material and some new stuff. However, now that the self titled has been released it not only met my expectations, but in some ways exceeded them. I wanted that eerie chord structure that was present in the first songs, and Ruch built on that style and enhanced it so much more on this recording. He also added in some ambient and other electronic sounds to give it more of an ominous, yet spatial feel to the album. So it sounds otherworldly and surreal through most of the recording.

Ruch pulled together some other well known figures in the industry to perform some of the elements of his album, probably to achieve a level of perfection he felt he couldn't achieve simply by himself. "Thorns" features Satyr (Satyricon) and Bjørn Denker, a.k.a. Aldrahn, (Dødheimsgard, Zyklon-B) on vocals. I have always enjoyed Satyr's vocals and I think his work on "Stellar Master Elite" gave the song the presence it really deserved. Aldrahn has always seemed like a very versatile vocalist to me, and that was made ever clearer on "666 International" and his opening work on "Existence" gave the song a heavier and more emotionally driven feel than Satyr's dryer vocal style would have given it. However, Satyr's vocals sound all the more vile and angry by comparison so that's where he fits into the picture. I think this is why Ruch used more than one vocalist, because their styles give the songs a different feel altogether. Hellhammer, obviously, played drums on this recording and he has more than outdone himself here. While the drum work is fairly straight forward on most of the album, it is by far a lesson in endurance. There is no fast blast beating that would rival the likes of Frost, but the real feature here is the double bass work. By far some of the fastest endured double bass is played on this album. When you listen to tracks like "Interface to God" and the song shifts in tempo from fast to even faster, any musician will be shocked to hear that shift. I'm not entirely disappointed that the drumming is fairly straight forward because it shifts the listener's focus to the guitar work and gives the album a fairly mechanical feel. And judging by Ruch's use of such elements, it's what he wanted the listener to get out of it as well.

By far one of the most impressive features on this album are the lyrics. Ruch has proven to be a very impressive and meaningful writer, while nothing that would rival great poets of the past, he does write songs that I can identify with. Such as "Existence", which he stated in an interview is how he best views humanity. The fact that humanity is presented as a parasite makes sense to me. When a human is born they are, by all rights, a parasite growing within the mother. They change the mother's body and chemical structure to fit their own needs so that they can feed off of her. Tracks like "Stellar Master Elite" and "Interface to God" stay in line with Black Metal ideology that religion is a conspiracy of the ones in power on this world and that God is far from a "real" God. Lyrically the album gives off the ever present feel of a general evil in the universe without stating specifically that Satan is behind it all. Something I felt was a fresh move. Far too many bands venerate Satan whether they follow the being or not, and many just spout the name to anger the Christians. While angering Christians is great fun, it does become a tiring lyrical concept after a time. Thorns lyrics delve deeper than that, and I think this is a good influence into the growing Black Metal genre. Many other lyrics deal with the concepts of dream versus reality, which is a concept I think was obviously influenced by the Matrix, which made everyone question such concepts.

Obviously this will be getting album of the year from me. I think this album is an elevation to the ideology of Black Metal and Ruch has proved again that he can develop very new sounding music even when a genre is getting fairly generic as a whole. While I do enjoy some bands that stagnate, I do enjoy some bands that can push the envelope correctly. Thorns is doing just that, but I doubt there will be anyone out there who can truly pull off a sound that is similar and presented as perfectly as this album, other than possibly Ruch himself.

Thorns vs. Emperor
Moonfog Productions, 1999
Genre: Black Metal

1. Exördium (Performed by Emperor)
2. Ærie Descent (Performed by Thorns)
3. I Am (Performed by Emperor)
4. Ærie Descent (Thorns Cover) (Performed by Emperor)
5. Thus March the Nightspirit (Performed Emperor)
6. Melas Khole (Performed by Thorns)
7. The Discipline of Earth (Performed by Thorns)
8. Cosmic Keys (Emperor Cover) (Performed by Thorns)

Side Emperor: ...coming eventually...
Side Thorns:

Here it is... long awaited official material from Thorns. A jail sentence will certainly disrupt that and I think in the interim Thorns has faded in to relative obscurity by this point in time. I remember prior to this I had only one track from Thorns on the "Tribute to Euronymous" compilation and in retrospect I'm kind of sad that it didn't include the two song Trøndertun Tape demo in full!

If you were expecting some of that cold and chilling rhythmic style Thorns performed in the early days you're in for a very different shift in perspective. This makes sense given how long Ruch has been out of the scene and it seems unlikely he ever paid much attention to the bands over the years. In an interview I've read with him, it seems the only reason we hold this in our hands is because Satyr has prompted him to return to music. So, on that note I'm quite thankful for the release, even though it is quite different from what we heard in the 90's. I sort of thought that he might return to that old material and flesh it out, but he probably considers that a thing of the past, which makes sense for a musician. Ready to move onto the next thing with new ideas! With Satyr's prompting he also is featured on vocals for this release, which works very well with Thorns' sound. The new incarnation of Thorns has a sort of martial feel to the music, almost machine-like in its precision. The programmed drums certainly help in this regard. Satyr's clipped, almost spoken rasp, really enhances that feeling. On a strange note there are a lot of keyboards on this material, a lot of it feels similar to keyboard structuring we would hear from Emperor. If you know anything about Emperor, they are pretty much the giants of Black Metal at this time. They've only ever done two splits in their entire career and this is the only split where they have ever covered another bands song in studio. Just to give people some perspective on how legendary Thorns is in the scene, many may have forgotten them now, but I'm sure Emperor remembers how influential Thorns is to Black Metal.

Ruch's guitar hasn't changed much over the years, rather it has become even more well thought out. He's tweaked some of the songs and we can hear "Funeral Marches to the Grave" redone in the guise of "Melas Khole". Personally, I prefer the original, but this re-edition is very good and sits very well in the atmosphere of this release, whereas the original edition probably would not. The ever present classic "Ærie Descent", which also appeared on the Euronymous compilation, is tweaked here with additional keyboard work and some slight arrangement changes. Again the aspect of Thorns that is so intriguing and wonderful is the chord structuring which creates this really vibrant and different texture to his music. It's unlike just about anything else found in the Black Metal scene, and while I feel many have tried to emulate this style, it just can't be done in the same way. Another interesting aspect of this release is that it includes a cover track, but it's not just a cover, both bands have re-worked the original in their own way and Thorns has re-worked the classic "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times". It's certainly an interesting revisioning of the song... but I'm not sure it really grasped me like the other tracks.

In the end this is a very interesting return to music for Ruch. I'm glad to see him pick up a guitar again and I look forward to anything else he does. I hope that this is not the last we hear from Thorns, because in the past it always felt like we just got teasers from the project, but now we have something of real substance here. I'm definitely looking forward to the future!

Thorns - Trøndertun
Self-Released, 1992
Genre: Black Metal

1. Ærie Descent
2. Funeral Marches to the Grave

Here is the legendary "Trøndertun" release, which has influenced so much Black Metal... I first heard this material on the "Tribute to Euronymous" compilation, which I bought in 1995. I was immediately taken with this and even though I only heard one song, I knew this is what I truly wanted to hear in Black Metal. Sadly, very few bands can even come close to this. Not even I could really figure out how to emulate or write in this direction with any level of competence with which these two songs are written. This is both one of the greatest and one of the worst demo tapes in the genre. It's the greatest, because you can hear how outside the box Thorns is approaching the genre. It's one of the worst, because they only recorded two songs! And to add insult to injury it was never meant for release, so there's no cover and distribution was only between friends. What makes the story even more sad is that after this Ruch put the project on hiatus and joined Mayhem for a few months. Some of the riffs from "Grymrk" resurfaced in Mayhem's repertoire, so I guess we can't complain about that too much. Ruch also gave lyrics to "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas", so even though his involvement was short, it seemed to be pretty immense in the end.

So, here we have two songs from Thorns, recorded in a studio at an arts college in Norway. The demo opens with "Ærie Descent" which is a much more fleshed out version of song "Home" from the "Grymyrk" demo. This final version works much better and feels far more complete than what is on "Grymyrk". This is probably why it takes so long to produce anything in Thorns. Things seem to be constantly changing and being improved upon... perhaps Ruch is reaching for a level of perfection that is unreasonable sometimes... then again the wait sometimes yields the best results. Listen to how amazing these songs sound. "Funeral Marches to the Grave" is probably one of my all time favorite Black Metal songs, never mind Thorns song. It's shockingly haunting and it's just something I can listen to over and over again without ever getting tired of it.

One of the more interesting aspects of Thorns is that while many of the other Black Metal bands in the genre are playing as fast as possible, it seems, Thorns is keeping things at a very slow pace. This is generating that more dark and haunting atmosphere, but in a more slow and measured way rather than the intense methods used by Mayhem. The atmospheric style are still rooted in the same idea, the method of creation is just very different.

This material is absolutely legend today, sadly after recording this demo and joining Mayhem, Ruch was sentenced to eight years in prison as an accomplice to Euronymous' murder by Varg. This really put a damaging sentence to the Thorns project and we could only hope after this that Ruch wouldn't want to leave the music scene indefinitely.

Thorns - Grymyrk
Self-Released, 1991
Genre: Black Metal

1. Lovely Children
2. Fairytales
3. Fall
4. Thule
5. Home
6. You that Mingle May

This is the first material under the name of Thorns. Stigma Diabolicum ended up changing its name because Latin names were getting popular in the scene, so in an effort to be a little different Thorns was born. The project really isn't different and we can see that much of the material written under the Stigma Diabolicum project is fleshed out in even greater detail here. "Grymyrk" was never intended to be released official, thus there is no cover, it was meant as a demo so the entire band could practice the songs in their own time, since the members lived quite far from each other. This is made painfully obvious with the fact that it is just a guitar and bass recording, but the writing is so intoxicating that it simply can't be ignored in the context of the genre. I think this is really where we get to hear how, utterly, ground breaking the Stigma Diabolicum material was. That incredibly dense and haunting atmosphere that many bands strive for today seems to be effortlessly created here.

The demo opens with "Lovely Children", which many may recognize the opening riff as being used by Mayhem later. This song is a more fleshed out version of "Into the Promised Land" from Stigma Diabolicums demo. All the songs here are extremely well written and if this demo had been fully realized with drums and vocals, this would have been a real monster in the early scene. It's truly unlike anything else out there. Many bands have interpreted the Black Metal genre more along the Mayhem lines, but the dense and brooding atmosphere that many seek is felt here in its original form. The darkness the music exudes is nearly tangible. Ruch with bassist Eilertsen have truly created something special. The guitar lines alone would have stood up quite well, but you add in those bass lines and it's truly incredible to hear. The song "Home" was eventually restructured into the wildly popular "Ærie Descent". The closing song "You that Mingle May" was eventually entirely re-recorded in the year 2000 featuring Fenriz on drums and Satyr on vocals. That re-recording really gives us a taste of what this demo could have sounded like in 1991 had it been fully realized.

So here you have it, the most well recorded Thorns material up to this point. This was wildly influential in the underground, which is incredible for just a guitar and bass demo. You can easily hear the power behind the compositions. That chilling and disturbing atmosphere is massive. I'm sure it is quite a shock, historically, for the musicians involved to understand how much they have wielded influence on the scene.

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