Remember when music was fun? I’ve found, as I’ve gotten older, that music can be less of a hobby and more of something to be dissected, which is probably why you see the humble n00b here before you. I went to a Fall Out Boy concert recently, and, say what you will about Chicago’s pop-less-punk-now-than-ever export, that concert was just fun. It was refreshing to stop being an insufferable snob and just enjoy some catchy tunes. It’s hard to do that with extreme metal, whether it be the (ahem) sesquipedalian song titles or lyrics (Impetuous Ritual, anyone?), ambitiously dark themes, the “kvlt” snobbery of blackened groups, or the general unlistenability of the genre at large. Valkyrja is a Swedish black/death outfit intending to channel “violence, deprivation, and loathing through means of extraordinarily potent audio emissions.” There are a million different directions black/death can take, and fourth full-length Throne Ablaze revels in a groovy, thrashy style a la Vredehammer or Horizon Ablaze. While it is flawed, there’s a likable simplicity about these Swedes, as it feels that their music makes no pretense about being the most atmospheric, heavy, or “kvlt.”
Throne Ablaze’s greatest strength lies in its fun-loving approach. Opener “Crowned Serpent” is a perfect example of Valkyrja at its best, utilizing unpredictable songwriting to accentuate punchy snare, groovy riffs, chaotic solos, and blackened rasps. The album’s riffs continue to be highlights, such as in “Paradise Lost,” “Transcendental Death,” and “Throne Ablaze,” which also sport hella solid solos, energetic blastbeats, and blackened tremolo. Also notable is relatively calm melody built into tracks “Opposer of Light,” “Halo of Lies,” and “Transcendental Death,” which hearken to acts such as October Falls or Winterfylleth, adding dimension and depth to the Swedes’ somewhat predictable sound. The mix is crisp and clean, allowing the groovy and percussive riffs to maintain a sharp edge that adds to the blackened flavor, emphasized by manic mid-range growls and energetic drumming.
Unfortunately, while Valkyrja’s sound is fantastic at best, it can descend into mediocre territory and even more unfortunately, that happens often. Tracks such as “Tombs into Flesh,” “Halo of Lies,” and the introduction to “Transcendental Death” sport excessively repetitive and limply written riffs that slump into headache territory. Melodic moments in “Opposer of Light” and the title track, while initially powerful, simply drag on for too long to maintain strength. Also, because of the album’s thrashy tone, sinister blackened ambient introduction track “In Ruins I Set My Throne” is completely unnecessary, failing to set the stage for anything relevant. On a similar note, with the exception of the intro track and “Crowned Serpent,” all tracks fall into the five- to nine-minute mark, which is simply too long to hit as hard and fast as they need to. As a result, Throne Ablaze clocks in at a whopping 47 minutes, which is too lengthy to hold interest for this type of black/death.
All this considered, many of the elements feel inauthentic, convoluted, and simply tossed in, and the album’s identity is torn between its contemplative melody, bludgeoning grooves, and blackened flavor. Black/death is a relatively young sub-genre with enormous potential, and as such, there is much room for innovation. This is particularly damning, because it feels as if there are more cohesive acts than Valkyrja, and in many ways their style comes across as a poor man’s Vredehammer, a less sinister Deathspell Omega, or a less punishing Belphegor.
The potential is definitely present in Throne Ablaze, as Valkyrja flexes its muscles with beefy riffs, melodic solos, and intelligent melody, which all culminate in a damn good time. Ultimately, however, what’s offered is nothing lost, nothing gained to a scene overflowing with creativity. Maybe fifth time will be the charm and until then, these Swedes have issues to consider: establishing their identity, condensing song lengths, fleshing out ideas, and smoothing out the edges. However, if you’re like me and you’re missing happiness and joy, turn off your inner metal snob and enjoy the music for once in your goddamn insufferable life.