If you’ve read a few of what I call my “quarterly reviews” here at AMG, you’ll probably know that I have a long history not just with the underground but with the man AMG Himself. He used to write for my webzine, Unchain the Underground, which is so old it was powered by waterwheel. I kid myself not in thinking it’s because I’m a crackshot writer that the powers here allow me to contribute so infrequently while my compatriots like Grymm churn out grade A reviews like a mechanical meat separating machine. It’s because I have tenure1 and, as AMG penned the email subject when he first wrote me after joining staph, “Now the Student Becomes the Master.” Occasionally a promo in the list sparks some crusty old memory of an album I reviewed either during the actual physical run of UtU from 1988-92 or the virtual one from ’95 to the early 2000s. Nargaroth rang no bells on that front though I did marginally enjoy 2001’s Black Metal ist Krieg (A Dedication Monument). For shits and gigs I went back to the trusty old Internet Archive to discover I had favorably reviewed both 2003’s Geliebte des Regens and the following year’s Prosatanica Shooting Angels. Consistently prolific and occasionally controversial, Ash (aka “The Artist Formerly Known As Kanwulf”) is generally considered one of the forefathers of the second wave of black metal and had always been a staunch proponent of tradition and those three albums were no exception.
I haven’t kept up with the crypt full of subsequent releases, so in my due diligence I dug through every full length to trace his path and see if Ash maintained his “Fuck Off Nowadays Black Metal” stance because Era of Threnody is very much not what I expected. 2009’s concept album Jahreszeiten was the first to show some more dynamic elements but nothing nearly on the level of where he is now. 2011’s collaboration with Nychts, the Burzum-esque Spectral Visions of Mental Warfare, likewise branched out into some electronic territories and was much more dynamic, but this beast? For starters, unless an uber-dork Tolkien-inspired act comes along, or someone finally tricks her into doing a snuff film, the opening sound quote on Era of Threnody is likely the first and only time Liv Tyler dialog will ever be used on a black metal album. This one isn’t even LotR related – it is from the 2014 black comedy Space Station 76. An odd first step for an album with many.
The clean guitar that opens “Dawn of Epiphany” sets a funereal atmosphere, then a flamenco-style lead carves a beautiful melody out like a maniac’s knife work at a masterfully gruesome murder scene. Distorted guitars crash in and crack fucking heads like a juicer with ‘roid rage, but still maintain the longing ache. “…As Orphans Drifting In A Desert” begins with a similarly haunting clean guitar passage before the dam cracks open and blasting riffs and beats come pouring forth like waves of a corpse-laden tsunami. Two and a half minutes in, the waters abate and fall back to reveal the glorious carnage with perhaps the prettiest moment I’ve ever heard on a metal release this extreme. Again, moments later the proceedings are infected with rage and fury while maintaining the overall theme. This jarring juxtaposition [5 jux-demerits for House Kikuras. – Steel Druhm] is employed throughout most of the material herein to great effect, as is the regular surprising incorporation of flamenco influences.
As much as it is refreshing to hear such sophistication and the dichotomy between the bestial and beautiful, at over an hour and with most songs well over five, and up to almost 10 minutes, it’s also a daunting listen. When focusing on the music there is always something interesting to the ear, yet the formula is such that if you aren’t giving your full attention, after a few songs, it bleeds together. The seventh song in, “Love Is A Dog From Hell” is the most Neanderthal, with a swaggering black ‘n roll chug. It comes along at just the right time to introduce some much needed pugilism, though also has one of the most surprising elements – what sounds like actual slap bass during the chorus. The shortest song by several threads at just shy of three minutes, it’s a welcome respite from the waters we’ve been toiling in for the previous 40 or so. The anthemic “TXFO” also smacks most closely to the Nagaroth of yore. These two sandwich perhaps the most ambitious outing herein, the sprawling nine minute title track, replete with varied tempos, ambitious bass runs, and clean vocals. The production matches the material in density and atmosphere as well as the bleak “recorded in a garbage can” sound fit the bashing barbarism of Prosatanica Shooting Angels.
Era of Threnody ushers in a new Nargaroth. By far Ash’s most challenging yet accessible listen to the point that my seven year old son, sitting on the floor playing with Legos, said “What music is this? I like this!” until the vocals came in. He then asked, “Can you go back to an instrumental part?” Still not for the layperson, yet easier on the ear than the intentionally harsh, Era of Threnody is still Nargaroth but a new forging that easily outdoes everything under the banner preceding.