What a swell dude Rogga Johansson is. Even though he is getting ever closer to having a band for every letter of the alphabet, he still finds time to assist his buddies with their songwriting troubles. One such buddy is Michael “MHA” Andersen, managing director of Danish label Mighty Music and frontman for death metal band Thorium. With previous record “Feral Creation” almost a decade in the past, MHA reunited with a team of old friends to get his passion project back off the ground, with (among others) Rogga pitching in on the songwriting, Volbeat bass player and past band member JB Larsen laying down the bass in an unofficial status, and ex-Deströyer 666 drummer Perra Karlsson on skin duty. With such a patchwork of guests and new members, Blasphemy Awakes seems fated to be a crumbling mishmash…
Thankfully, that’s not the case. Threading the line between American and Swedish death metal, Thorium is most accurately described as a homage to the kind of death metal that gets in your face, knocks your teeth out, and has plundered your kitchen before you hit the floor. Few songs even cross the 4 minute barrier, and though there’s an intro, it’s but a single 6 second sentence. Afterwards it immediately launches into a top speed blastfest called “Penance” with strong Morbid Angel trappings, adding a whiff of At The Gates melodicism in the chorus. Further ahead we find Deicide in the blocky tremolo of “Depravity,” early Entombed in the shambling, deliberate pace of “Slow Deep and Dead” and Dismember in the mix of melodious riffing with merciless blasting of the title track.
If that sounds like a big list of influences, that’s by design. MHA describes the album as a tribute to death metal, his second home. As such, there isn’t much that will come as a surprise here. You’ve got the infernal vocals, often double-tracked rasps and growls combined. The guitars are purely riff-oriented, save for a few squealing solos, and their sonic pallette portrays a modern upgrade of the classic buzzsaw sound. Perra’s abuse of the skins is to the point and effective, creating dynamics through a mix of galloping triplets and head-on blastbeats. True to form, the album does stumble into some of the classic death metal trappings as well, like the awkward edginess of “Maniac,” a lack of focus during the slower tracks and a tendency to repetition weighing down the back half of the album.
But overall, the tribute is a successful one, thanks to the performances and the songwriting. MHA’s voice is diverse and he employs several different styles of growl and scream, which are especially effective in layers. The songs are filled with classic hooks and the balance between melody and brutality is struck well. Because Thorium is meant to reflect classic death metal as a whole, rather than any particular band, the compositions don’t irritate in derivativity, but reflect the status of a passion project, a love letter to the bands it inspired, like a buddy hanging out with you on the couch while you reminisce about a mutual love for the subject. In this light, though, the production comes across as perhaps more modern than ideal, a puzzling find considering the frontman’s dayjob for Mighty Music. Though the bass is more audible than the average death metal, and the mixing is adequate in general, part of me wishes for less loudness and more low-end fuzz to really put me back in that old-school mindset.
Still, I can’t complain about the resulting album. Blasphemy Awakes plays as a solid little tribute to music so many of us love, and does so respectfully and gracefully. It’s always a joy to experience something great with like-minded people, and rather than trying to be that great thing, Thorium is the like-minded people, placing the listener in the shoes of a 90’s death metal fan and smiling doe-eyed with nostalgia. Even though it doesn’t even attempt to push any envelopes, neither did Stranger Things, and everyone and their dogs binged every season of that show. Distilled nostalgia may never be the greatest thing in history, but when executed skillfully, it ain’t half bad either.