From Beethoven to Brian Eno, mankind has toiled for centuries to compose the greatest music human minds can fathom. Alas it was not until the mid-90s that music finally attained its supreme form, when two metal genres miraculously fused in the unholy union known as ‘blackened thrash.’ From Deströyer 666 to Desaster, it’s a genre where the leather is tight and the classics are aplenty. Finland’s Urn may not have been the greatest of these bands, but they sure had the gusto. If Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All was the equivalent of a hammer to the skull, then Urn’s 2001 debut 666 Megatons was like being force-fed a hand grenade and then barbecued with a flamethrower. Taking nods from blackened-death metal, the record more than lived up to its explosive title, still making my neck sore today with its choppy thrash breaks that recalled Toxic Holocaust at a time when Evil Never Dies was just a twinkle in Joel Grind’s eye.
Sadly 2006’s Dawn of the Devastation and 2008’s Soul Destroyers were less notable, and the group lapsed into inactivity following Destroyers’ release. Now in the age of comebacks, founding member Sulphur has returned with new recruits from fellow Finnish bands Evil Angel and Sacrilegious Impalement to unleash The Burning upon the unwitting masses. Will the group’s long-awaited fourth LP finally show them usurping the black-thrash throne?
If intro “The Resurrection” is any indication, not really. Over the track’s 90 second runtime, it’s as if the band sought to combine every intro cliché possible – a simple acoustic melody, a crackling fire, building drums, and sexualized female moaning. Fortunately first proper track “Celestial Light” not only redeems this intro, but even goes as far as to outshine most of Urn’s back catalog. “Celestial” doesn’t have a great main riff – it has four or five that are clawing for that title. Breaking in with ravenous drumming and a frantic Nifelheim-esque progression, the song moves into a fiery stomp akin to Deströyer 666, epic chords that recall Viking-era Bathory, and a joyous gliding solo that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Rust in Peace. Topped off with a speed metal riff that will have your inner Judas Priest fan grinning like a bastard, “Celestial” is one of those stellar metal songs that could please fans of everything from Absu to Anvil.
Sadly the strength of “Celestial” does cause it to overshadow the remaining eight tracks, but that doesn’t mean the rest of The Burning is throwaway. Early highlight “Morbid Black Sorrow” and the closing title track continue the newfound Viking flourishes with beating Hammerheart tempos and piercing Týr-esque melodies, with the title track even including backing choirs and subtly layered acoustic guitars. “Hail the King” roars like Motorhead meets Midnight, riding a rollicking beat and climaxing with gang shouts in the chorus. The aptly titled “Wolves of Radiation” literally sounds nuclear with its pulsing leads, while “Falling Paradise” features a jumpy note sequence that will have you tugging on your britches to hide your thrash chub.
Yet The Burning is not without faults. Too many tracks ride on mid-paced tempos, causing some of the album’s middle cuts to bleed together. It doesn’t help that several of these songs are also quite formulaic, with obvious verse/chorus sections and refrains that make ample use of the song titles (see “Hail the King,” “Nocturnal Demons”). Because of this, even on first listen things feel a bit predictable. While there’s plenty of great riffs throughout Burning’s 40 minutes, I also can’t help but feel disappointed that there wasn’t at least one destructive thrash break that hearkened back to the 666 Megatons era.
But for all my bitching, ultimately Urn have given us another example of an enjoyable comeback record that’s brimming with energy and diversity. Imbued with searing solos, Sulphur’s scathing rasps, and a fiery modern production that possesses just the slightest raw edge, in a way The Burning reminds me of latter-day Kreator: this is a metal-to-the-bone record that takes a different angle than the classic material, even if it doesn’t always reach the same heights. Still, as the sinister Desaster-esque melody of “All Will End in Fire” shows, it’s hard to go wrong when we’re talking about blackened thrash metal. Hails to Urn for keeping that fire burning.