The Barren Throne sees us heading back to Reykjavík, Iceland for a re-boot of brutal tech-death band Beneath. You should remember from my last review, or not, that Beneath is built up from the dregs of some of Iceland’s top metal bands (Sororicide, Changer, Diabolus and Atrum) and a mere two years after the release of Enslaved by Fear and the loss of frontman Gísli Sigmundsson, they’re about to make an aggressive comeback. In truth I had some heavy reservations about even picking up this album and spinning it, especially after ending up so unashamedly fan-girl over Gísli’s vocal combination on the earlier release. After a brief, self-administered pep talk and much gritting of teeth, I took the plunge and assumed The Barren Throne!
Benedikt Natanael Bjarnason (Azoic and Offerings) delivers vox on this 52-minute beast and his roars depart to a degree from Gísli’s blend of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Pekka Kokko. But they don’t end up feeling like a Wrong Turn 5 two-star train-wreck, or detour from what one expects of Beneath. To the bands advantage, they hold enough similarities in mean belligerence that I doubt they’ll send fans of Enslaved by Fear lumbering off in a big old huff. His throaty, whispering growls hit a high point around “The Barren Throne” and then again in “Unearthed.” A pleasant surprise though is the dual vocal approach he brings to this blood-fest. Around the point of “Unearthed,” “Sovereign Carnal Passion” and “Veil Of Mercy” he belts out some hefty hoarse, growling screams that I’d love to hear more of!
The Barren Throne is pretty consistent with what Beneath delivered in Enslaved by Fear. “Depleted Kingdom” and its delicate little intro kicks things off. Sadly as charming as it is, It runs on maybe a minute and a half too long and I’m almost afraid to say it, but it reminds me of an old acoustic Seether track. Once the annihilation kicks in, much of the album consists of a barrage of hammering blast beats, heavy riffing, constant shifts and changes. Their sound grabs from the blasting death brutality of Deicide‘s Stench of Redemption, draws Hour of Penance-style blazing riffs, takes a stab at Dying Fetus technicality and at one point in the aptly titled “Iron Jaw” even brought to mind the obstinacy of blackened death masters Behemoth. This pattern continues through the majority of the album’s front end and each track includes a selection of nicely placed guitar soloing, ranging from bright and complex to sad, simple, and isolating.
Around the mid point (so “Sovereign Carnal Passion” and “Sky Burial”) things get a little more interesting for me. Beneath hit the breaks and the mood changes to a more doom-death approach recalling some of Cerekloth‘s delivery prior to their disbandment in 2013. With the lag persistently fighting the invading blast beats, there’s an added level of pessimism that creeps in and along with it, more of the cold, hard aggression I crave from my metal. The back-end of the album holds much of what was delivered earlier, except that by now it’s become less sticky, the dynamic range inches in the wrong direction and I’m sad to say my attention span dwindled relative to the speed of the blast beat attack.
Despite spending extra time with The Barren Throne it hasn’t hit me with quite the same blunt force trauma of the band’s earlier release. The Barren Throne is the culmination of all Beneath‘s same anti-religion, hate, death, blood and gore of Enslaved by Fear only this time it’s dragged out across a lengthy 11 grueling abominations. Save to say, Beneath are back, but this time it feels as though they’re dragging a hulking, bloated corpse in tow!