Near the end of Disney’s Ratatouille there’s a climactic scene during which the harsh, scrupulous restaurant critic Anton Ego (personality modelled, clearly, after AMG’s staff) savours the best ratatouille he’s ever had. Overwhelmed by the tastes and flavors that transport him back to his childhood, he’s left altogether dumbfounded with his usual negativity utterly dismantled. In a way, that’s the effect Amestigon’s Thier had on me. But before I begin explaining why exactly this record is as good as it is, two questions linger: who are these guys and where have they come from? While the band members are shrouded by a veil of trve metal mystery, what we do know is that Amestigon is a long-lived, low-key Austrian outfit born out of the minds of legends of the black metal scene (Tharen and Thurisaz from Abigor), and at certain pointsincluded other distinguished musicians such as Silenius from Summoning. More of a project than a full-time band and having published only one album in 20 years (the good but unremarkable Sun of All Suns from 2010), I wouldn’t have bet on them to produce something that could very well end up being one of the best releases of the year.
But here we are. Thier is a near-perfectly crafted record combining all the finest stuff found in melodic black metal through the ages, both old school and modern. Think Dissection’s Somberlain and Naglfar’s Vittra but with a decidedly modern approach. While these throwbacks are obvious, they come natural to the band and don’t feel derivative. The subtly introduced traces of doom, post-metal, Agallochian progressiveness, and experimentalism (title track’s middle section) alongside magnificent riffs and grooves prove to be crucial tools the band uses in their exemplary songwriting, evoking some of Enslaved’s most accomplished works.
While malevolent in its message and approach, Thier unfurls like a beautiful album since Amestigon don’t resort to cynicism, abrasiveness, nor coarseness. Like a pool of the blackest water, threatening and frightening, a dive into it’s depths can feel strangely comforting all the same. This might be due to their sound which is full, warm, and welcoming; easy to absorb and be absorbed into right from the first listen. There’s none of the snobbery or intentional hermeticism associated with contemporary metal acts, even if the relative lengthiness might indicate so. A potential downfall – an hour of music distributed among four tracks spanning from 10 to 20 minutes – that the band turns in their favour by weaving well-thought out and interesting structures with transitions from “aggressive” to “subdued” and back, executed masterfully and with a wonderful sense of flow. All of that and exactly zero seconds of boredom or repetitiveness.
The opening “Demiurg” is the best track here and one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. The combination of ever-changing, melodic tremolos that lay bare an atmospheric, synth-underlined mood with growls and choral chanting is deeply touching; majestic, chilling, and empowering in a strange way. Whilst a midtempo song in general, there are bursts of speed and great solos rounding out everything. Possibly the only downside to this album emerges from the fact that the following three tracks, “358,” “Thier,” and “Hochpolung,” don’t quite reach the heights of “Demiurg.” Nonetheless, they’re exceptional on their own and rely on the same formula without actually sounding formulaic.
How Amestigon accomplish that task and how they manage to conceive so many memorable and catchy riffs, alternating between them while leading to perfectly timed buildups and spectacular releases, without ever weighting down on the listener remains a mystery. The guitarist(s) are clearly the stars here, but the vocals, drumming, and bass-playing are all of the highest calibre and are often accentuated by the compressed yet somehow very appropriate production. It’s especially the bass that feels crucial to the encompassing warmth, whether providing nuances and textures or having it’s own, meatier flesh. Finally, if it was not clear by now, there’s a severe lack of serious flaws here – and it’s not because I didn’t look for them.
The experience of discovering albums like this make the effort of sifting through piles and piles of mediocre releases feel worthwhile. Amestigon deserve exposure and heaps of praise. They even make me want to stop people on the street and yell about Thier to their faces. I hope the guys are aware what a great record they’ve created and I truly hope that there’s more from them to come.