Thormesis is a band that should have been doomed to eternal mediocrity. As a long-time follower of this blog, I’ve seen similarly underwhelming bands succumb to a vicious cycle: album falls to an unwitting reviewer; reviewer, underwhelmed, doles out a middling score; band releases follow-up record two years later; reviewer, out of obligation, hands out a nearly identical score, irritated by the lack of improvement. When I eyed The Sixth in the promo pit, I was all but certain that I was about to cement Thormesis’ place in this cycle. While enjoyable in spots, their 2017 record Trümmerfarben was dragged down by awful mixing and inconsistent songwriting, and the fact that the band was struggling on their fifth full length left little prospects for improvement. Against great odds—and my pessimistic expectations—Thormesis managed to zero in and fuel their spark of potential. The result is a gorgeous, dynamic, and exciting piece of modern black metal.
While The Sixth at first comes across as a massive departure from Thormesis’ established sound, careful examination reveals a natural evolution. The pagan black metal aesthetic that defined their earlier material has essentially vanished, but the blend of melancholic black metal and hard rock that defined Trümmerfarben is still very much intact. What differentiates The Sixth, then, is its soaring melodic quality. Its melodies effortlessly eclipse those of its immediate predecessor, which were sullen and detached in comparison. The improved hooks are greatly enhanced by a stronger dedication to the co-existence of Thormesis’ chosen genres; the band naturally slides from infectious hard rock grooves to exhilarating blast beats, as if it were the way black metal was always supposed to operate. Combine this unbreakable instrumental bedrock with a new emphasis on gorgeous post-black passages, and you’re left with a sound that is immediately apparent as an outright success.
The inclusion of post-black influence does wonders for the record’s sense of grandeur. Thormesis is a band that writes unpredictable, rhythmically dynamic compositions, and the recurring element of cosmic tremolo riffs helps ground The Sixth in a persistent sense of conflicted melancholy. “Bittersweet” is the perfect phrase for describing this record’s melodic personality. Thormesis constantly teeters on the brink of outright joy, allowing brief swells of blast beat-driven catharsis before retreating down gloomy alleyways laden with crystalline synths. This dynamic is especially strong in “Lichtermeer,” which casts Violet Cold or even Astronoid-esque melodies against The Sixth‘s most relentless tempos, before crashing into a wintry, downbeat outro of monolithic proportions. Cathartic doesn’t even begin to describe it.
The Sixth‘s nuanced compositions make for an addictive listening experience, but its track variety cements it as an utterly evergreen record. Thormesis has found within their toolset the means to craft rock-oriented jams (“Sonnen”) and relatively straightforward bouts of oppressive atmo-black (“Thy Morbid Drunken Ways”), and the band’s rhythmic dynamism never falters. The compositions are, mechanically, nearly flawless, with only the irregular disjointed tempo transition and a singular underwhelming climax (“Zeichen zum Grund”) dampening Thormesis’ spell. The production, though imperfect, is leagues ahead of Trümmerfarben‘s sound. The Sixth is a loud but generally well balanced album, packing a modern sound that delivers pleasingly punchy drums and decent bass presence. The vocals are mixed a bit too high, but considering the primal, commanding shrieks of vocalist Velsir, the decision makes some sense. Drummer O.D. deserves special mention as well, as his smart cymbal work ensures that even the slowest passages never feel passive.
It’s difficult to overstate just how surprised I am by The Sixth, to the point where such a simplistic title feels like a massive disservice to what the album represents for Thormesis. When I last encountered this band, they were a promising act plagued by aesthetic and technical issues, yet The Sixth shows no trace of the rough patch that befell them two years ago. It is a record that doesn’t sound quite like anything else I’ve heard from the modern black metal market, and it bolsters a level of sincerity, adrenaline, and dynamism that firmly plants Thormesis head and shoulders alongside the best of their modern peers. I’ll be damned lucky if I have the chance to review a better black metal offering this year, and at the time of this writing, I can’t envision a version of my year-end list where The Sixth doesn’t at least earn an honorable mention. As I still can’t stop listening to it, consider this a reserved prediction.