Thoren – Gwarth II Review

Thoren - Gwarth II 01There’s a menagerie of experimental groups about the borders of the black and death metal scenes, tracing out their own paths without much regard for popular approval or commercial success. On occasion, these groups will sweep into the mainstream, but for the most part, their influence is more subtle, appearing in an adulterated form in the riskier songs of established artists. If your poison is black metal you can choose between the flavors of Krallice (ever bolstered by their lineup’s star power), Jute Gyte, Genevieve, and many others. If your neck is a bit larger in diameter, you might want to choke down Baring Teeth, Coma Cluster Void, or this week’s subject, Thoren.

Gwarth II is not Thoren’s second album, but it is their second album named Gwarth. Like the first offering in this two-part album, it’s a wholly instrumental offering centered around intricate atonal guitar work grounded by excellent drumming from Alex Cohen (ex-Pyrrhon, ex-Imperial Triumphant) and Kenny Grohowski (Imperial Triumphant). Thoren’s true members are the Detroit-based duo of Joseph Paquette (bass) and Anthony Lipari (guitars), whose short and dense compositions give Cohen and Grohowski plenty to work with. Lipari’s guitars regularly steal the show, drawing convoluted riffs out of obscure chords and unorthodox progressions. Under his lead, Gwarth II’s songs never feel stagnant or onanistic. Rather, they’re downright propulsive compositions that recall influences as diverse as Dodecahedron and Gojira. “Vex” is a perfect example of that line of composition, spinning jolting grooves up into impossible tone clusters.

The brevity of Gwarth’s songs is perhaps their greatest asset and the thing that sets them furthest apart from other metal bands experimenting with atonality and serialism. Instead of executing subtle, repetitive musical mosaics, Thoren’s songs reflect fractured serialism where intricate patterns are broken up and rearranged for a new purpose. The mortar between these tiles is spry and aggressive death metal riffing. “Raun Raeg” takes its time building to the chunky Gojira-isms by pivoting through several atonal, mechanical riffs, intensifying the impact of that big drop. Paquette’s bass shines in these groovy, straightforward riffs, but often gets little space in the album’s knottier sections. If I have one major complaint with these songs, it’s that they’re clearly written with guitar as the focus. I want to see Thoren progress from an auteuristic bedroom project to a band where each member has a chance to shape the songs.

Thoren - Gwarth II 02

Thoren’s decision to split Gwarth into two parts was a wise one. Gwarth II closes after 26 minutes, having wasted none of it. Just like its predecessor album, it presents Lipari & Paquette’s compositions in the best light possible but isn’t a record you’d listen to every day. The songs’ lack of traditional structures and tonality don’t do many favors for individual memorability, and though “Raun Raeg” and “Suith” especially have some great moments I have completely failed to connect with the album on an emotional level. The band do not conjure the torturous energy of Dodecahedron or the pensive and charged atmosphere of Baring Teeth, but come off as exactly what they are – a compositional and technical exercise, a la Behold the Arctopus. Successful as Gwarth II is in that paradigm, it’s difficult for many listeners to love an album that seems incapable of reciprocal, or even comprehensible, emotion.

Just like Behold the Arctopus, Thoren’s music is stunningly composed and performed, but emotionally inert. Impressed as I am by the Gwarth and Gwarth II, I want Thoren to reach for something more meaningful with their music, not just because I want to hear what that would sound like, but because I think they could produce something fantastic like Dodecahedron and Pyrrhon have. Until they strike towards that, Thoren will remain on the periphery, coiled and waiting.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Dryland Records
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Releases Worldwide: February 7th, 2020

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