Based on my review stats thus far into my AMG career, I’ve got a 66 percent chance of snagging a record featuring Spectral Lore guitarist Ayloss whenever I pull an I, Voidhanger release from the promo bin. It’s easy to see why the label is so eager to back his work; he’s one of the few black metal guitarists I can recall who possesses a unique playing style, slapping an unmistakable stamp onto pretty much every product he touches. But before he staked his claim to black metal fame with Spectral Lore, he cut his teeth on Divine Element. Formed in 2002, his epic metal project never gained traction due to line-up changes and international band members; as a result, Thaurachs of Borsu is only the band’s second release. With the roster reduced to just Ayloss and vocalist Antonis (with studio help from none other than Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, ex-Obscura) on drums, Divine Element has developed an admirably focused sound and a damn fine record.
Thaurachs of Borsu is an epic metal album with an original fantasy concept, and no, it sounds nothing like (Luca Turilli’s) Rhapsody (of Fire). Drawing on pagan black metal and melodic death metal influences, it comes across as a careful splicing of Windir’s melodic, elongated guitar lines and the primitive melodeath of early Amon Amarth. It bears a sound that is at once familiar and fresh; I’ve listened to dozens of records in this vein, yet Ayloss’ swirling, calamitous guitar wizardry lends Divine Element an unmistakable identity that most bands of this style sorely lack. What’s more impressive still is that ToB, though clearly a focused vision, is surprisingly broad in scope. The pendulum swings broadly from black metal (“On the Trail of Betrayal”) to death metal (“Traitor’s Last Stand”) without losing momentum or sounding disjointed, and the various instrumentals provide welcome breathing room amongst the chaos. DE consolidates all of this into a refreshingly brief thirty-eight minutes, making for a package that’s as concise as it is dense.
I admire Divine Element for their brevity, but ToB’s short length betrays their minor songwriting inconsistencies. There certainly isn’t a bad number to be found, but as there are only five non-interlude tracks, the weaker ones (particularly the title track) stick out despite only being a short step down in quality. I don’t think that the symphonic interludes should have been done away with completely as they really do lend Thaurachs of Borsu credence as a conceptual work, but the record’s brief nature can occasionally make them feel like filler material, taking up space that full songs could occupy. A sixth full track could have rounded out the record nicely and made it feel like a better value in the process, but ultimately I’d rather that Thaurachs of Borsu run a bit short than risk being overlong.
Though the record as a complete package may be a touch sparse, the individual compositions are fully fleshed out, self-contained epics. “On the Trail of Betrayal” in particular is monumental, featuring complex tremolo lines that extend and evolve in a methodical, upward trajectory before blossoming with grandiose, emotive melody. “Beyond This Sea,” though much slower paced, is similarly impactful; an emotive dirge with an undercurrent of hope, guaranteed to jerk a tear or two from any would-be Vikings. I do wish that the vocals were just as impactful, though; Antonis is a fine growler but lacks any distinct traits to help him stand out from other death metal vocalists. The production doesn’t particularly stand out either, yet I actually quite like its throwback qualities. Sure, it’s loud and the bass is barely detectable, but the tones utilized capture the spirit of mid-to-late 90’s black metal without sounding unnecessarily lo-fi.
Thaurachs of Borsu is a strange addition to I, Voidhanger’s catalogue; the label is typically known for distributing records that push the boundaries of their respective genres, and Divine Element feels relatively pedestrian among its ranks. While it may not find an audience with avant-garde junkies, Thaurachs of Borsu is a very impressive record, packed with huge, explorative compositions and guitar performances brimming with emotion. If you’re yearning for a high-quality pagan foray with a unique conceptual bent, you could hardly do better than this.