I prefer my black metal atmospheric. Consequently, I’d be lying if I claimed I’ve listened to more albums classified as black ‘n’ roll than there are strings on my guitar. Given my lowly n00b status, I don’t have the great privilege of selectively perusing through the promo bin for albums to share with the AMG community that suit my fancy. Instead, I must welcome what is thrown at me to earn the respect of the AMG staff. Thus, when I hunkered down to listen to Downfall, the third full-length from self-proclaimed black ‘n’ roll outfit, Thonian Horde, I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for. Formed in 2016 in the backwoods of Maryland, Thonian Horde is comprised of FeZZy (Bass & Vox), Dirty (Guitars), D-Mize (Lead Guitar), and The Beast (Drums), all of whom were or are also members of a subset of doom/stoner bands Pale Divine, Admiral Browning, and Weed Is Weed. This oddly homogeneous musical upbringing among the members only adds to the peculiarity of Thonian Horde and their new musical focus. But minutes into listening, I began to understand what stoner metal-influenced black ‘n’ roll means, and their description suddenly made sense.
Downfall starts off vigorous and muscular with opening track “The Narcissist,” a compelling mix of blistering black metal and more traditional rock and roll. The continuous assault of scathing vocals by FeZZY is reminiscent of the second wave of black metal (think Immortal or Emperor). The album reveals all its goods quickly with the strongest songs in the first two spots. Second track “Cathedral Spire” again shows off FeZZy’s menacing vocals, easily the standout performance on the album, along with some seriously thick riffage. Tracks “Gremalkin” and “Hymn to Lilith” tone down the black and turn up the roll with sludgier, slower, and more leisurely grooves. But compared to Inconnu, Thonian Horde’s second full-length album released in 2017, the riffs show minimal improvement and are still arguably elementary (“Pan”). The rate at which Thonian Horde pumped out their first three albums is impressive, but they may have been wiser to spend more time honing their craft.
The mere-exposure effect is a term used to describe the psychological phenomenon by which we tend to develop a preference for things simply because we’ve grown accustomed to them. When it comes to music, I’ve repeatedly found this to be true – the more exposure I have to an album, the better it gets. If I’m being brutally honest, the mere-exposure effect has not performed its magic for me when it comes to listening to Downfall, despite the multitude of playthroughs I’ve undergone. The more I listen, the more apparent the lack of both percussive tightness and cohesion is. Instead of earnestly looking forward to the abundance of breakdowns scattered throughout the album (“Chaos Theory Magick”, “Downfall”), I became increasingly disinterested at these points because of how noodly and excessive they sound.
For a band attempting to appeal to fans of Satyricon and Dissection, Thonian Horde has some maturing to do. Downfall exhibits more sloppiness than I would expect from a band’s third release. This isn’t to say that the album doesn’t have its moments, however. The production is professional, “Bring the Pain” is a headbanger’s haven, and the wah pedal that makes an appearance on both “The Narcissist” and closing track “Downfall” is a pleasant surprise. Without a doubt, Thonian Horde has interesting ideas. It’s too bad they aren’t memorable enough to justify repeat listens.
Despite my initial consternation at having to analyze something outside the bounds of my comfort zone, I can certainly say listening to Thonian Horde’s Downfall broadened my musical palate. The band has an interesting approach, blending stoner/doom metal, black metal, and rock ‘n’ roll, but the execution is largely mediocre. If black ‘n’ roll tickled your fancy in the past, Downfall may be worth checking out. But if like me, black ‘n’ roll is a new concept, I suggest you check out Darkthrone as your first foray into the genre. While Thonian Horde claims to have “ris[en] up from the depths of the soiled earth” (chthonic creatures are in fact beings who live under the surface of the earth), I wouldn’t have noticed if they had remained underground.