Listening to Trümmerfarben, the fifth album of Germany’s pagan black metal vets Thormesis, is like going to dinner with a promising blind date seated across from an incredibly obnoxious couple. Your date is attractive on a surface level and, after a few minutes of conversation, you discover that they possess a unique personality and an emotional depth that’s not overbearing. Yet, just as you’re starting to form a connection, that damned couple across from you begins an argument, raising their voices to a deafening roar that drowns out your dialogue. This makes it difficult to focus on your budding connection, but your date doesn’t seem to mind. Thus, you make the decision to carry on with the night, and while ultimately the date left you with a mostly positive impression, you can’t shake the feeling that something truly special could have blossomed if it weren’t for the mindless noise inhibiting your experience.
In the typically stagnant pagan black metal scene, Thormesis carve an interesting niche. They take a somewhat introspective approach to the genre that’s like a more immediate take on Drudkh’s A Handful of Stars. Like that record, Trümmerfarben is plenty blasty without being afraid to pump the breaks, yet the album still sets itself apart by incorporating epic folk elements and rock ‘n’ roll riffs a la Kvelertak. Thormesis’ refusal to conform to any one tempo lends the songs a good sense of ebb and flow; what you find yourself listening to one minute may sound completely different from what you hear in the next, yet the structuring still feels deliberate and grounded. Regardless of the band’s velocity at any given moment, their melodic strengths rarely fall to the wayside. Trümmerfarben’s melodies carry a sense of bittersweet nostalgia that permeates the entire album and lends it a strong, consistent atmosphere.
Thormesis’ penchant for crafting dynamic tracks is impressive, yet they don’t always succeed in making them compelling. Some numbers seem to build towards a massive finish yet conclude with a fizzle (“Trümmerfarben,” for instance), while one cut sounds melodically flat despite maintaining an interesting structure (“Die Klagen der Einöde”). The songs could stand to benefit from more riff diversity as well; the tremolo runs and chord progressions are well composed, yet aside from a few decent solos you won’t find much in the way of variety or technicality. Regardless of the inconsistencies in quality, “Waheelas Fährte” still manages to be one of my favorite tracks of the year so far. It employs the same tactics as the rest of the record in terms of riff and song structuring, but the way Thormesis builds towards exhilarating blastbeat runs on this track is breathtaking, and the melodies are among Trümmerfarben‘s best.
There are moments on Trümmerfarben that I won’t hesitate in calling great. I imagine that being able to hear the lead guitar over the neandearthal-ish howls of Thormesis’ vocalist would also be great, but the band is a bit stingy in this respect. Indeed, the mix is the indisputable Achilles’ Heel of the album. The guitar melodies are where Thormesis shines brightest, yet they’re overpowered by the drum mixing, which in turn is dominated by the incredibly loud vocal placement (though the intense vocal delivery is an appropriate fit for the genre). This is a ludicrous production choice; there are moments on Trümmerfarben where the vocal layering makes it nearly impossible to discern the guitars in the mix and to make matters worse it’s not uncommon for the rhythm guitar lines to receive priority over the leads. Oh, and the low bitrate of the promo we received doesn’t do the album any favors, as it noticeably distorts the drum sound.
Though the music is undoubtedly solid, the numerous production sins committed on Trümmerfarben are so distracting that it took me a few full listens to determine the album’s flaws outside of the mix. Thankfully those flaws are few, so if you can turn a blind eye to the mix you’ll find that there’s actually a lot to admire about Thormesis’ melodic and somber take on pagan metal. If you’re like me, though, Trümmerfarben will prove to be a dishearteningly frustrating experience that could have been an easy recommendation if as much care had been devoted to the sound as the compositions.