I’ve drifted away from black metal over the years. In hindsight, the signs were there; my listening habits shifted away from the genre, I stopped actively seeking out new black metal, I read black metal reviews more for the writing than the record, and – the final straw – while browsing Bandcamp recently, I came across a record and, upon learning it was black metal, muttered “meh” and moved along without pressing play. Then along came Enthroned, with their follow-up to 2014’s great Sovereigns. Despite my ambivalence towards black metal, my interest was piqued; sometimes a bit of nostalgia and familiarity is needed to rekindle a flame, perhaps like recreating a first date or trip away decades into a relationship not properly tended to. Cold Black Suns is starting with an advantage, as I wanted it to succeed before hitting play.
Before that, it’s worth briefly describing what captivated me about Enthroned in the first place. Their brand of black metal, at least here and on Sovereigns, sits comfortably alongside bands like Ascension, Watain, and Blaze of Perdition. This means we’re treated to plenty of death metal influence, songs which change tempo often, and a slight measure of unpredictability in that you can’t be sure if you’re going to be hit with a typical black metal riff or something deathly. Cold Black Suns has also upped the “atmospheric” aspects of Sovereigns significantly here, meaning that Enthroned has more open space in their music than in 2014, leading to more time without percussive riffs or drums.
That’s not to suggest that Enthroned has lost their knack for riffs, of course. After an extended opener in “Ophiusa” that serves to build tension, “Hosanna Satana” provides the inevitable release with riffing inspired by Bathory’s “Massacre” in terms of feral aggression. It’s relentless, and one convincing way to start a black metal record. The finale of “Vapula Omega” is ferocious and energetic, creating the adrenaline rush Funeral Mist’s “In Nomine Domini” blast-off did last year. “Silent Redemption” seems to be the song which best encapsulates Enthroned’s current direction, merging aggression, dark melodies, and atmospheric trappings to make an engaging and impactful song. The drumming is spectacular, managing to be impressive yet inconspicuous at once with great fills bolstering transitions and each beat working to accentuate the riff underneath instead of overpowering it.
Cold Black Suns reminds me, for better and for worse, of Blaze of Perdition’s mighty The Conscious Darkness. Both records try to create atmosphere without cheap audial parlor tricks, and both extend their songs to accommodate this ambition. Where they differ is in daring – Blaze of Perdition succeeded by making their songs ten, fifteen, eight, and nine minutes long, leaving the song’s theme fully explored and expertly using repetition as a compositional tactic. By contrast, Enthroned made what would have been an interesting minute or two in a Blaze of Perdition song into its own standalone four minute piece in “Aghoria.” A simple riff repeats over athletic drums, while vocals chant over top, reminding of Attila Csihar. The intent is clearly a ritualistic atmosphere, but the riff is too active – perhaps too influenced by death metal – to achieve the hypnotic effect that occurs in De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Transylvanian Hunger. Good in concept, but in practice it bloats a record which is already twenty percent longer than it’s well-received predecessor.
Despite the above, Enthroned’s raw talent as riff writers and musicians prevents the new direction from being a wash, or even mediocre. “Son of Man” rides out an overlong atmospheric bit to clear a path for its majestic main riff, which ends up being well worth the wait – the wait just isn’t deftly composed. Atmosphere is successfully created later in the song with great instrumentation and songwriting, making this particular misstep a real head-scratcher. Cold Black Suns isn’t Sovereigns II and it was never intended to be, except perhaps in production, which is clear, not too modern, and leaves all instruments audible. Cold Black Sun is a record that grows, one which will not amaze at first but nonetheless take time away from records that did. For me, the key lies in the fact that I want to keep exploring Enthroned’s latest, that there’s something which keeps pulling me back for more attempts to unlock a hidden greatness within. Perhaps it’s there, perhaps it’s not – that answer lies well beyond my time constraints in writing this. Most important is that it could be.