Though I’d not encountered them previously, In Thousand Lakes are a surprisingly tenured band in the melodic extreme metal scene: their debut demo goes back to 1996 and full-length back to 1998. While they underwent a protracted hiatus, they’ve resurfaced in recent times to record a new EP, compile older works and now release a long overdue sequel album called Age of Decay. Their older stuff isn’t half bad with its Dissection-inspired melodeath and meloblack hybrid, and certainly offers a blacker, rougher outlook than those of the Gothenburg ilk at a similar time. Yet In Thousand Lakes hail instead from the significantly less kvlt Spain1. It is at least one of the rainier parts2. But all this research and I’d not even yet listened to the album! I pulled on my Somberlain boots and prepared to get stuck into the Light’s Bane…
…which is why I was shocked when Age of Decay didn’t sound like Dissection but Amon Amarth. I suppose it’s logical: Dissection are no longer so they needed a new band to follow. There is no questioning that Age of Decay significantly exploits this influence. It seems a backward step in In Thousand Lakes‘s career development as they’re paradoxically more derivative now than they were before. The record is accordingly characterized by a riff-centric approach to melodeath with comprehensible growled vocals and plenty of guitar harmonies. All instrumentation is executed professionally and there’s a gratifying immediacy to proceedings which rarely exceed 4 minutes per track. The best songs include “Fall into the Void” which has a cool noodly intro, rollicking drumming and a tremolo-picked outro and “Hunter of Souls” which has a memorably crunchy leading riff.
However, there’s also an aggravating predilection towards shuffling out the best riffs almost as soon as they begin while prolonging those that are mediocre. The best on the album is as great as it is transient: at about the 3:15 mark on the title track a simple chromatic progression begins and I actually grinned. That grin lasted 15 seconds. Similarly, the aforementioned lead on “Hunter of Souls” rears itself in the introduction and conclusion but is bewilderingly omitted through the core of the song. All this while lackluster filler occupies the meantime. It demonstrates a thorough obliviousness to what actually works as riffs are tossed about in the hope that something sticks. This is a particular problem for In Thousand Lakes since their music revolves around this key element.
Worse is that Age of Decay is a significantly improved listening experience when frequently interrupted. This can’t be a break where you listen to other, better, music but one where no musical comparison can be drawn at all. The melodies are consequently much more engaging. The other side of this approach is that attempting to listen beyond several minutes descends into drudgery and despondency. There’s an overarching boredom which inevitably embeds after such a period. And can I really recommend an album for which regular breaks are a prerequisite for enjoyment?
Certainly compounding this issue are the shitty dynamics. Beyond a couple of fade-from-black and fade-to-black intros and outros – specifically when the music is at its maximum volume — the bass is completely lost and the guitars are blended and blunted to have very little impact. The only point at which I noticed the bass was in the quiet beginning of “I Rise” although it’s subsequently obliterated. This irritatingly modern mastering and harsh, inorganic tone is immeasurably worse than the lo-fi, buzzing sound of their earliest work and contributes to the lack of impact.
There is no world in which Age of Decay is required listening as Amon Amarth already exists and perfected this style. Even if they hadn’t the song-writing is patchy at best and utterly dreary at worst, compounded by production which even falls below the depressing standard currently prevalent. While it can be interesting to hear how a band bridges their past at a sub-genre’s genesis with the scene at present, In Thousand Lakes instead abandoned the former and aimed for the middle of the road. It is, unfortunately, a well-traveled road.