To pilfer a phrase from the revered postmodern philosopher Christopher B. Bridges, “there’s something wrong if you can’t stand still.” If his words are to be taken at face value, Germany’s Thornesbreed must have sensed a problem in their sound. Consisting of competent but unexciting death metal, their 2003 debut The Splendour of the Repellent was followed up eight years later in 2011 by the 273.15 Degrees Below Freezing EP, which can, for the sake of expediency, be described as “Profanatica but not as good.” 2015 sees the band releasing their second full-length in the form of the enigmatically titled GTRD, marking another step in the band’s perpetual musical wanderings.
Thornesbreed is billed as “brutal black metal” this time around, which is admittedly a more useful descriptor than calling GTRD blackened death metal. There’s some Incantation influence at play here (more so than on 273.15 degrees), and while it’s quite blackened, it avoids being a lesser Profanatica, although the latter’s influence still exists. The band seems to have plumbed the depths of Mayhem and Thorns as well, with nods to Ordo ad Chao, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, and Thorns aplenty. Thornesbreed’s successful implementation of these various sounds into a seething toxic brew manages to come across as exciting instead of derivative, and places them somewhere between Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, albeit with more “traditional” riffs than the late-career output of both.
The ominous chimes that begin GTRD on introductory piece “Death, Lucid Death” are eventually interrupted by a pained breath, as if to signify that this is a very human approach to twisted black metal as opposed to Deathspell Omega’s more alien leanings, and “Not A Second From Oceans to Frozen Wastelands” furthers this notion. Beginning on some mid-paced Thorns-y disharmony but without a trace of electronics, it builds anticipation and cashes it in successfully with a vigorous throwback riff akin to De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The middle of “Perpetual Stigmata” slows the proceedings down to a slow Incantation-like bludgeon with Faust’s lead guitars playing jangly broken chords characteristic of Blasphemer, while Sermon’s vocals alternate between Attila styled croak-singing (“it’s night again”) and a massive growl that approaches Dave Rotten (Avulsed) levels of ultra-low but not gurgling brutality.
As for faults, there are eight tracks here but only five proper full songs; with one intro, one interlude, and one outro, there is less here than what initially appears. That said, we’re in the business of reviewing albums, not song collections, and these short pieces serve to bolster the experience for the most part. Outro “Towards the Liquid Paltry Grounds” sounds like a softer counterpart to the ending of Mayhem’s “Symbols of Bloodswords” and comes across a wee bit unnecessary (but hardly detrimental), as the preceding monstrosity of “Dividua Anima Pt. 1” ends strongly with feedback and growls. If the worst thing I can say about Thornesbreed’s music here is that they have a minutely superfluous minute-and-a-quarter piece that borrows from one of Blasphemer’s coolest riffs, I’d say they’ve done a damn fine job.
Speaking of fine jobs, Thornesbreed chose the right sound to frame their music. It’s oppressive and filthy but not impenetrable, and Ngaur’s aggressive and engaging bass is surprisingly present for a DR7 mastering job. If I had to nitpick, Sermon’s excellent vocals are a tad loud and Conta Mination’s kick drum can occasionally get buried in the more chaotic parts. As above, there really isn’t much to complain about save minor and nearly inconsequential flaws.
Having not thought much of Thornesbreed before hearing this, I can safely say that GTRD met and greatly exceeded my expectations. GTRD is a complete album that possesses a sense of purpose and direction whilst being meticulously crafted but not at all clinical. After over a decade of musical toil, Thornesbreed seem to have found a sound and identity that belongs to them. Given their evolving nature, I’m at once excited and nervous to see what muses they follow for the next record. Regardless of where their journey takes them next, GTRD will stand as a testament to Thornesbreed’s prowess as musicians and songwriters and one of 2015’s strongest offerings.