Recall, if you can, your first exposure to black metal. If you’re a grizzled follower of the genre, its sinister novelties have become an aspect of your daily listenings that ceased to faze you long ago. I imagine, however, that you reacted to your first encounter with the style much in the same way your parents would; a knee-jerk response of “what the fuck am I listening to?” that shocked you in a way music never had before. Such was the case as my father and I hurtled down the highway through the snowy dark while A Blaze in the Northern Sky pumped through my earbuds, as recommended to me by some arbitrary “Top 10 Best Black Metal Albums of All Time” list.1 To my unseasoned ears, it was disgusting, hellish, and borderline unlistenable, and yet I was instantly enamored. Though not nearly as severe, my initial listen of Italian duo Lorn’s Arrayed Claws instantly recalled my reaction to the loss of my black metal virginity. I’ve encountered several black metal records that aim to discomfort the listener, yet few have as much bite to back up their bark as this one.
Upon hearing the relatively traditional introductory riff of opener “Disharmonic Feticism,” you might be led to believe that Lorn has a spare fuck or two to give. You would be wrong. They craft atypical and harsh melodies that seem designed to pierce your eardrums and your soul; think the dense atmosphere of The Work Which Transforms God-era Blut Aus Nord, yet with surprisingly technical guitar work that gives off whiffs of Deathspell Omega. Thick power chords are interspersed amongst ethereal harmonics and jarring arpeggios, which are both random and diabolical enough to sound as though they were recorded straight from Belzebub’s personal windchimes. The guitar work on display is utterly unconventional, yet somehow totally memorable, and the sufficiently dynamic drum performances provide an engaging backbone. In terms of caustic edge and sheer strangeness, Arrayed Claws will be hard to touch this year.
Though the avant garde guitar performances are immediately impressive, what makes Lorn a truly special act lies in their song and album construction. Arrayed Claws opens with its two longest and most complex arrangements, which together stretch for around twenty minutes, before it dials back the track length in favor of shorter, slightly more traditional cuts. By placing its greatest ambitions at the forefront, the album feels something like Rush’s 2112 in structure, and feels completely unique in the realm of black metal. Regardless of song length, Lorn is always building towards big, drawn-out finishes that pile on layers of guitars and ambient synths measure by measure. My favorite of these by far is the post-black conclusion to “Abstract Trap,” which could have handily snuck its way onto this year’s impressive The Great Old Ones album.
My only minor sticking point with Arrayed Claws is in line with my main frustration with Anaal Nathrakh’s records. This is an incredibly loud album once Lorn gets going, an issue that they exacerbate by nearly eliminating the low end of the mix to create an undeniably ear-ringing experience. Despite my reservations, I’m somewhat inclined to give Lorn a pass; this is a record designed to unsettle the listener, and the shrillness of the mix absolutely works in Lorn‘s favor in this respect. Additionally, the band’s liberal implementation of ambient synths helps to alleviate the ear fatigue, but it also succeeds in a purely artistic respect to create some gorgeous moments of downtime. The fantastic conclusion of “Disharmonic Feticism” and the downbeat, almost acoustic final cut “Aus Nebel Turm” highlight this aspect of Lorn’s sound best, and add a dash of stark beauty to the otherwise cacophonous proceedings.
At thirty-nine minutes, I’m not certain whether Arrayed Claws is an EP; I’ve seen a few non-label sources describe it as such, yet Lorn’s vision is so fully realized with this release that I’m satisfied with simply calling it “complete.” It sure as hell won’t resonate with everyone, yet the way its unconventional melodies and ambiance intertwine in such a uniquely structured record result in a brutally nihilistic product that draws me in like a moth to flame. It satisfies nearly everything I look for in an avant garde black metal record, and takes me back to a time where black metal was shocking, evil, and something to be feared. Let the ugliness wash over you, and you may find yourself transported as well.