Some things just go really well together. Ham and cheese. Cookies and milk. Frodo and Samwise. Alcohol and an unusually horrible following morning. The metal world, intent on constantly reinventing and expanding itself, tends to mix differing sounds into new amalgamations of metal mayhem in hopes of finding similarly delightful pairings. Some of these ventures are more successful (Full of Hell and Merzbow) than others (here’s looking at you, Metallica and Lou Reed). But few things pair as well in the metal world as black and death metal. All the key ingredients for hate-filled success are there: unparalleled intensity, blast beats, tremolo insanity, thematic cohesion, and harsh, unrelenting vocal deliveries. With all of these commonalities between the two metal subgenres, you’d think that their fusion would be relatively easy to pull off. Based on a lot of recent death metal releases that incorporate black metal into their sound, however, it would seem that this isn’t always the case or even the norm. Outside of the success of bands such as Behemoth, there are surprisingly few examples of blackened death metal seeping deeply into metal culture. Excommunion is here to change that with their fierce new record, Thronosis.
Formed in 1998 under the name Goatdaemon in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Excommunion’s output seems relatively scant in comparison to their years in existence. Until this year, the band had only released one other full length record, 2002’s Superion. Since then, the band has been relatively quiet, releasing a split with Dethroned in 2006 with no other official output to speak of. Enter 2017, and we have a new Excommunion record in our hands. So, what to make of it? What level of rust can we expect from a band that hasn’t hit the studio for an official release in a decade? The answer, thankfully, is none. Thronosis is a devastating record that highlights everything that can go right in blackened death metal, and is essential 2017 listening.
Part of the reason that Thronosis succeeds so grandly in spite of the band’s extended absence rests in the extracurricular activities of bassist Christbutcher and vocalist/guitarist Kyle Spanswick. “Extracurricular” is a bit of a joke here, because Dethroned, Nightbringer, Akhlys, and Bestia Arcana can barely be considered side projects at all, each having at least one release in the gap between Excommunion’s two full length records. This pedigree is notable because Excommunion’s latest album feels nothing at all like the second offering from a long-dormant metal band. Instead, it feels like the culmination of years of talented musicians sharpening and honing their craft into something special and lethal, and Thronosis delivers on this promising scenario in spades.
The razor-sharp effectiveness of each band member is evident from the opening riffs of Thronosis, as “Twilight of Eschaton” opens the album on about as epic and savage a note as one could hope from a blackened death metal record. The track’s opening salvo is absolutely ferocious, with blast beats and a raging torrent of tremolo-picked madness descending on the listener from the opening second with no warning and no atmospheric build up. Excommunion don’t have time for such pleasantries. Just pure, unadulterated aggression. As the track progresses, the more blackened elements of the band’s sound begin to intermingle with some gnarly death metal riffs, which brings to the forefront some well thought out songwriting decisions on behalf of Excommunion that make their music stand out from the majority of their peers. Rather than alternating back and forth between the hyper-speed of black metal and the sometimes more deliberate pacing of death metal, Excommunion combines both styles through a slower overall speed in certain passages throughout the record. This allows their black metal elements (tremolo-picking, atonal chord progression) to mesh seamlessly with slower, churning death metal drumming and bass work reminiscent of mid-career Death records, creating a mix of sounds that flow smoothly and rhythmically, rather than feeling like a sequence of chopped-up pieces battling within each track. It’s a fantastic decision that makes these songs feel measured, ferocious, and memorable.
The remainder of the album is no less scathing. Album lead single “Nemesis” kicks off its savage seven minutes of mayhem with an almost doom-like dirge, emphasizing some plodding, heavy riffs with spaced-out drumming that eventually hits full throttle into a nuclear blast of energy and rhythm. The track subsequently ebbs and flows through several perfectly executed tempo changes and riff variations that serve as a consistent reminder that this album will continue to be far from boring. Hats off to the production team on this record as well, who give the album a murky, Portal-like vibe without drowning the instruments in constant atmosphere. Though I wish the bass was more immediately present in the mix (a complaint I have regarding many a metal record), this is a solid sounding album from start to finish. Subsequent track “World Crucifier” brings out some nasty blackened passages that feel like a lethal mix of Marduk and Impetuous Ritual, while world-destroying album finale “Blessed is the Epoch of Darkness” brings the album to a riotous close with unrelenting violence. Four songs and twenty-eight-minutes of non-stop blackened death brutality, and what a rush it is.
Excommunion are one of the few blackened death metal bands that I feel can be accurately placed in this category. Their music melds some of the best elements of each subgenre and combines them in a way that feels faithful to the traditions of each without becoming boring or bland. Overall, Thronosis is an outstanding record by a group of talented musicians who have used their many talents to craft a blistering blackened death metal record. If you are a fan of either of these subgenres, give this one a listen. You won’t regret it.
Thronosis is available now and can be purchased via the Bandcamp link above.