What is it about black metal that drives artist to go at it solo? You rarely hear about one man thrash or prog metal bands, yet some of the biggest and most influential black metal artists take their journey solitary, including the likes of Panopticon and early Windir. They usually get by with the assistance of a guest musician or two. And most of these hermits even specialize in the same subcategory of atmospheric black metal. Maybe the inherent misanthropy of black metal specifically has something to do with it, or people copying their examples. Maybe it’s simply an easier genre to solo than others. Whatever the case, Primeval Mass is another example, with main man Orth taking up vocals, guitars and bass, leaving drums to session musician George C. But is it yet another post-something shoegazing atmospheric outing? Well…
No, not at all in fact. Instead, Primeval Mass hearkens back to the era of the first wave of black metal and updates it with a nasty, venomous scream and a triple multiplier to manic energy. Opener “Circle of Skulls” is the perfect example: scorching hooks surfing the scales both ways, a breakneck tempo and Orth spitting bile fast as his larynx will carry him. It’s a track full of addictive ferocity, and the album doesn’t let up much from there, stirring swirls of NWoBHM hooks into the mass of thrashy black metal with reckless abandon. It’s an addictive formula, bolstered by speed and keen melody and carried by a toothy guitar and vibrant bass
The band works best when making the most of this gleefully feral energy, but Orth throws in his own windows from time to time. “Amidst Twin Horizons” is an instrumental, a sort of blackened answer to Iron Maiden’s classic “Transylvania,” but it’s too long by several minutes to sustain momentum. Directly following that, “Burning Sorcery” employs a riff that doesn’t sound like a riff. Instead it sounds like several random notes that try to insist they’re a riff by sheer repetition. It makes for an awkwardly lurching experience, like someone trying to drive using only first gear. Most egregious, however, is the almost 12 minute blackened doom track no one asked for that rounds off the album. It’s not an awful track, but it’s not nearly as good as the opener, and Orth seems like Michael Jordan trying his hand at baseball: it’s amusing for a while, but you’d much rather have him go back to what he does best.
These shortcomings take the album down a notch, but they don’t kill it. The sheer exhilaration is too strong, the letdowns too small, even the unsuccessful doom track. Orth has vision and the skill to pull it off. His rasp has a mean bite and his riffs have an energetically unhinged quality that recalls the better blackened thrash forerunners. His bass hovers between a rumble and a twang, and thanks to a solid production job it does not get buried. The master is pretty dense, but in this case it adds to the momentum, while the mix ensures nothing bleeds together too much. Nine Altars is a busy album, but it’s purposefully busy, every element focused on further stoking the engine of the runaway train that crushes everything in its path.
This is Primeval Mass’ fourth release, and perhaps it’s no wonder that Orth’s brainchild has not yet made it to the status of household name. It’s a twisted, rough and rambunctious affair, with a bunch of little warts that seem inherent to one man bands, possibly a result of not workshopping and peer reviewing their ideas as much as a full band would. But therein lies its charm as well. Nine Altars may not win any prices in the big competition of December, but its demonic barrel of hellish monkeys attitude and drag race on the road to hell pacing make it too much fun not to forgive Orth for its flaws.