April 20th, 2017 (USA); Self-released
LP (57 min.)
Atmospheric Black Metal, Post-Black Metal, Folk Metal
Because Black Metal originated in Europe and is commonly seen as a “European” genre of Metal, many seem to forget (or ignore) how many great Black Metal bands there are on the other side of the big sea. Among those who do not ignore that fact, the US-American Black Metal scene is primarily known and loved for their atmospheric, folk and nature influenced style of Black Metal¹. The American scene gave birth to some of the greatest bands and artists in that particular subgenre. Bands like Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and Panopticon are loved by Black Metal fans internationally. Those are only some of the rather “popular” bands in the scene, but there are many, many more great bands in the underground.
Arkheron Thodol is one of those bands. Hailing from Bozeman, Montana, Arkheron Thodol is an unsigned/independent band that was founded in 2012 and currently consists of four members. In 2015 the band released their 18 min debut EP “Oneironaut” (which I haven’t listened to yet). “Thaw” is the band’s first full-length record.
I was really happy when I received an email from the band asking me to review this album, because Atmospheric Black Metal is one of my favorite subgenres of Metal and I honestly can’t get enough of it. While I really enjoy other subgenres of Black Metal, as well, none of them really touches me on an emotional level the way many Atmospheric Black Metal bands do. Only if they’re good, of course. And this album is good. It’s actually much more than just “good”. It might be one of the best albums of 2017 I’ve heard so far.
The music on “Thaw” is a combination of many different styles of music, like Funeral Doom Metal, Folk and Ambient, all masterly melted together on the foundation of Atmospheric and Melodic Black Metal.
The first track of the album begins with a folky acoustic passage that is followed by melodic doomy guitar riffs and earshattering vocals. After a short acoustic passage the song’s tempo is then increased and the guitars and vocals become more aggressive and Blackened. The song than ends with an acoustic Folk passage. This structure and the contrast between beautifully melodic and atmospheric parts and raw passages is representative for the whole album. It is one of the reasons why “Thaw” is so entertaining and interesting. The band manages to create atmosphere without being too repetitive and one-dimensional – unlike many other bands in the genre. Their best characteristic is variety and versatility. And while the elements of their music generally aren’t anything completely new in the genre, Arkheron Thodol‘s music is still quite unique in the way those elements are put together.
Besides acoustic passages in most of the tracks on “Thaw”, there are also a few completely acoustic tracks on this album, which is again pretty common for the genre, but they are very well played and placed on the album, which makes them stand out from many other songs of that kind I’ve heard.
Another pretty cool element of the music on “Thaw” are the ambient and spoken word parts. Fun fact: This is the second album I’ve heard this year that features a spoken word passage from the Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man” (the other one being “The Storm Before The Calm” by Death Therapy).
Generally, “Thaw” is well structured and produced, every song on the album is very well written, the musicians know what they are doing and the vocals are fantastic, as well. “Thaw” has beautiful melodies, great riffs and an absolutely captivating atmosphere. It really brings the best out of Folk, Doom and Black Metal together. I actually don’t have anything negative to say about the music, except for it maybe being a bit to “generic” in the sense that the music is not exactly anything “innovative”. But to be honest, if the music is good and manages to intrigue and entertain me, that doesn’t bother me at all, especially not in the genre of Black Metal.
But not only the music on “Thaw” is great, the lyrical concept of the album is pretty awesome, as well. It is quite complex, so I let Mycah Tippit, guitarist of the band, explain it to you instead of trying to summarize it myself:
Thematically, the album Thaw tells the story of someone awakening to a new depth of consciousness, and a more fully embraced sovereignty. However, before this path can be truly realized, one must clearly see the extent of the artificially created social programming that colors their experiences. Then they must make a focused effort to dismantle these behaviors. It is this conditioning or programming that forms the ice that must be thawed to release the true self. Thaw is the melting away of the force field that blocks one from experiencing the truth of our shared experiences. Thaw is the story of our species and its quest to fully connect and unify itself. The album touches on social issues regarding personal sovereignty and a harmonious symbiosis with the natural world.
To sum it up, if you like your Black Metal atmospheric and melodic or if you generally are a fan of atmospheric, yet extreme music, this album is for you and you should definitely check it out. As for myself, I’d say this album is a strong contender for my Top 10 of 2017 already, but we’ll see what the rest of the year will bring. Either way, go ahead and listen to the two tracks that are available for streaming on bandcamp and preorder the album if you like what you hear.
“Thaw” will be released April 20th, 2017 and can be preordered on bandcamp.
The band on facebook: Arkheron Thodol
¹) Some of those bands are often summarized under the genre tag “Cascadian Black Metal”, which is, much like “Norwegian Black Metal” or “Swedish Black Metal” often used to describe the specific sound of certain bands, even if they are not Norwegian, Swedish or Cascadian. I do not use these terms as genre descriptions because I often find them to be rather confusing and misleading.