One of the most criminally overlooked albums from last year was Deathhammer’s Evil Power. You can describe it using words like “wild” and “unhinged,” but there’s really only one thing you need to know: that album completely and utterly does not give a fuck. What ostensibly began as the recording process for a thrash metal album somehow resulted in what’s best described as a lunatic orgy of maniacal shrieks, barely on time riffs, and whiplash drumming that sounds like the Norwegian duo consumed enough speed to kill an African elephant. Things like tight musicianship and meticulous songwriting were thrown right out the window in the name of utter mayhem, and the results were fanfuckingtastic. That said, I’m not here to convince you to listen to Deathhammer (though you definitely should), but to introduce another band with a similar lack of fucks to give: Sweden’s own Vornth.
Formed in 2000, this quartet mulled about in obscurity for years, releasing only a demo and an EP before their self-titled debut in 2013. Sophomore LP Black Pyres shows these thrashers continuing to cook up Destruction riffs filtered through the blackened savagery of fellow Swedes Nifelheim. Early tracks like “Black Pyres” and “Evil Woven in Spirit” do a great job throwing listeners into the fire, spurred by dive-bombing fretwork and the ‘strep throat’ shrieking of guitarist Erik Hartman. “Pyres” even features a taste of the weirdness to come with snarled spoken-word vocals and twisted-iron harmonies creeping up in its second half. Follow-up “Victims in Marsch” keeps the pedal on the gas with frantic chords and wonked-out solos that will have your inner Desaster fan donning gauntlets and stuffing your roommate’s Jesus pictures in the garbage disposal.
But for all the thrashy aplomb, Pyres’ real strengths are its diverse songs and Hartman’s vocal performance. There’s no better example of both than eight-minute centerpiece “Grave of the Living,” which abandons black/thrash altogether to produce what’s essentially a classic doom song. Trudging riffs and cemetery leads support Hartman’s grizzled attempt at singing before he climaxes with what’s best described as a melodic howl. It’s both chilling and outright awesome, and the remainder of the song maintains this ‘wow’ factor with plump-ass basslines and riffing reminiscent of early Black Sabbath. Despite the odd shift in genres, “Grave” works perfectly in the context of the record, and Hartman’s tuneless singing only adds to the sloppy charm.
Later tracks show a return to the madness. “The Wolf, The Night” and “Stormtrooper” tear through terrific mid-tempo breaks akin to Toxic Holocaust, while penultimate track “Serpent Flames” continues with melodic tinkering overlaid by more deep spoken word. Sadly, it’s here where Pyres’ biggest weakness becomes apparent: in some ways, Vornth’s lack of fucks actually works to their detriment. The sloppy, thrown-in-the blender nature of the record is certainly endearing, but at times it feels like a bit more care could have been taken in crafting the riffs and songs. Some of the faster moments later in the runtime have an all-to-similar feel to earlier tracks, and even the more adventurous moments in “Serpent Flames” feel a little stock. But though similar riffs have been played by other bands before, if Vornth are aware of this they certainly don’t seem to care. And honestly, maybe you shouldn’t either.
My only other gripe is that a few fist-pumping choruses would have helped make things catchier and more memorable, but that’s almost counterbalanced by the sheer insanity of Hartman’s vocals. Spewing lyrics of hellfire and the occult, the man screeches, snarls, and barks his way through these 39 minutes like he’s spent the last month sacrificing goats and doing bath salts in the woods behind his house. It’s all packaged perfectly alongside the fat bass and classic thrash guitar tone of the deliciously old-school production. Just like Deathhammer, in the end, it’s obvious Vornth don’t care about trends, genres, or the integrity of their vocal chords. They’re just here to deliver black-thrashing havoc, throw in some proto-metal experimentation, and do everything they can to completely rip your asshole apart. For those not hardy enough, consider yourselves warned.