Thursday, May 25, 2017

Schattenthron - Der alte Thron, sichend im Schatten (2014)

The members of Germany's Schattenthron ('Shadow Throne') exist at a nexus of various other bands including Seelenfrost, Dystertid,  Ulfsdalir, Dauþuz, and Idhafels; most of which are fairly good, unsung acts amidst a massive underground which I don't think gets enough credit, likely because the Teutonic black metal just never had a distinct cultural 'sound' developing like its European counterparts in Greece, France or the various Scandinavian territories. I've spent countless hours mining the German obscurities and more often than not come away impressed, not by the level of nuance or innovation so much as the scene's ability to produce so many genuine, atmospheric works that leave me wrung out emotionally or longing from the wake of the 90s when this second wave style was still in its larval stage.

On its surface, Der alte Thron, sichend im Schatten ('The old throne, in the shadows'?) doesn't seem particularly unique, being a more highly ambiance-focused work rather than one dependent on the strength of riffing patterns, but it benefits from sounding just like it looks, a grim woodland voyage against a sky whose moonlit shades vary between black and gray hues. The mix is very distant and windswept, with simplistic chord pattern and keyboard-enhanced motifs meant to be heard as if they were coming at you from the bleak hillside or rebounding off cold stone castle walls. The album consists of only three tracks, two of which are twice or more the length of the other, but thankfully this hugely atmospheric niche lends itself well to the swollen compositions, and it doesn't feel so barren or pretentious as it does a means to let its fell, glorious mood set in on the listener and thus manifest a more resonant effect. The drums are faint and weak in the mix, despite how the riffs will storm and surge, and bass guitar is practically a nonentity, I could only barely make the instrument out at all beneath the streaming tremolo picked riffs or the choir-like keys that carry the music.

The snarls are heavily sustained so that they feel like clouds grafted to the landscape rather than busier poetic pronouncements, and the entire album seems to feel like it's been channeled through a speaker or pipe so that it creates a faux-monotony. And that's really the charm here, the ability to craft material so simple that somehow leaves me with that majestic pit in my stomach that groups like Summoning have traditionally thrived at. Even where Schattenthron drops out the metal content at the end of the playtime, and just lets a few keyboard notes ring out as a mighty, melancholic mantra, I found myself transported to its universe, almost like a paean to the Dark Ages penned by exiles living in rustic retreats. An enjoyable time, despite the 33 minute length, and whilst I have no idea if this is just some one-off concoction in the brewery of bands/ideas that the band members are involved in, I hope for a little more in the future, though I can also heartily recommend the Idhafels debut.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

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