Nexorum – Tongue of Thorns Review

Death Unchained should’ve gotten the full Things You Might Have Missed treatment from me back in 2020. Nexorum’s relatively quietly released debut was a massive tour de force of unstoppable riffs, the likes of which complemented perfectly those of Vredehammer’s similarly massive Viperous, released that same year. To add insult to injury, I snubbed both of those awesome records from proper placement on my Top 10. Make no mistake, Death Unchained is an unqualified triumph of blackened death metal with some of the best riffs I’ve heard in the genre ever, and it never relents. Needless to say, I anxiously awaited the follow-up, Tongue of Thorns, to see how it stacked against the Norwegians’ inhuman opening salvo.

While somehow still retaining enough of that deadly Nexorum venom that made their debut such a joy, Tongue of Thorns takes a decidedly more blackened route on their way to vertebral obliteration. Nexorum’s sophomore outing takes the same riff-driven formula of Death Unchained, and shunts it through Emperor’s second-wave filter. Tremolos and oscillating leads inundate the landscape, weaving together blistering riffs and pummeling double-bass, with blasts of every speed whipping up every grain of dust into a frenzy. Core song elements and themes repeat themselves in the same way that characterizes the second-wave classics, with some form of mutation manifesting in (most) songs as they progress—a harmonized lead or riff here, a percussive switcheroo there, and other clever tricks crop up all over the place. In short, the sound may have changed, but the ravenous delivery carries over with as much vitriol as ever.

Album highlights “Solvet Saeclum in Favilia,” “The Pestilential Wind,” the insane “Mother of Ghouls,” and closer “Wrath of Zeal” demonstrate that the almighty riff is still strong with Nexorum. In these tracks, destructive riffs conspire with tremolo leads and melodies to create a chilling effect powerful enough to freeze Hell over, while versatile drumming across the board creates the momentum required to ensure that these hits punch far above their weight class. A focus on melody over rhythm in about half of the remaining tracks allows the band to showcase additional skills heretofore unproven, namely their knack for smooth and satisfying transitions (“Elegy of Hate,” “Mother of Ghouls”), and their ability to convey massive scale without superfluous effects (“Cult of the Monolith” and “Eldritch Abominations”). Album flow, in part due to these additional songwriting skills on display, sees improvement over Death Unchained and consequently makes a tight forty-five minutes fly by in a flash.

It’s a good thing that Tongue of Thorns is so easily digested too, as that quality makes it more challenging to spot and/or care about its flaws—but there are several nonetheless. With the shift towards second-wave black metal as Nexorum’s current reference point, the danger is always that the genre’s penchant for thematic repetition and ABABCAB song structures risks loss of songwriting dynamics if not wielded with finesse and singular style. Nexorum previously delivered highly structured compositions with a distinct character, but on Tongue of Thorns the substantive components which comprise these songs don’t always take full advantage of that well-defined structure or that strong character. “Cult of the Monolith” begs for two or three of those awesome, earth-shattering riffs that only Nexorum crafts, if only to break things up a bit. “Elegy of Hate” is so steeped in the second wave that it lacks its own unique voice to help it stand out. “Sinnets Krig” lacks flavor as well, sticking too close to that ABABCAB formula without building or releasing tension in any meaningful way as it progresses.

Was it a mistake for Nexorum to lean harder into blackened tropes with Tongue of Thorns? Some might say yes, but I think the better answer is that they just need more time to settle in. Nexorum crafted these songs with as much verve and vigor as anything else that came before it, but they less consistently embody the destructive songwriting qualities that set them apart from the crowd. With more time to hone their charred blade, these Norwegians might on future records hold a terrible power over me once more. I’ll be here, waiting with bated breath.

Rating: Good!
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Non Serviam Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 19th, 2023

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