When you’ve been listening to metal for a significant period of time, it becomes harder and harder to be genuinely surprised. Sure, debut records drop from out-of-nowhere every once in a while to blow our collective minds, but the moments where the music we love genuinely blindsides our sensibilities become fewer and farther between as time progresses. Belgium’s Enthroned, however, presented yours truly with a case of pure befuddlement and shock. Not only was I immensely surprised and delighted by the quality of their latest record, Cold Black Suns, I was also somewhat ashamed. I’d never heard of them as a band. Not once. Apparently, the entities known as Enthroned have been playing death-tinged black metal for 15 years. I have a lot of catching up to do, but while I deep dive into this band’s long discography, it seems fitting to gush about the album that started it all (for me, 15 years late).

Cold Black Suns sits comfortably in the black metal space currently occupied by riff heavy types like Watain and Sargeist, but also envelopes itself in a shroud of expansive atmosphere akin to Zhrine or Misþyrming from the Icelandic scene. It’s a magnificent combo that here serves to elevate some excellent riff writing onto more stratospheric emotional peaks. The bludgeoning performances of tracks like “Hosanna Satana” are leavened by darkly ethereal selections like “Aghoria”, which hit just as hard but reach for different corners of the mind. The way these traditionally icy and deeply atmospheric styles are blended is the real power behind Cold Black Suns, lending each new track an air of unpredictability without ever feeling random or scattered. The production on this record helps with that aspect as well, tying these compositions together under an umbrella of atmospheric dread. The magnificent “Smoking Mirror” is probably the best example of the differing aspects of this record being pulled together seamlessly. It’s expansive, harsh, riff-filled, and emotionally resonant all at once, culminating in one of the most mesmerizing pieces of black metal darkness I’ve heard this year. There isn’t a bad track on this record, and its constant avoidance of predictability begs for repeat listens.

In all, 2019 has been an excellent year for black metal, and in a period in time already overstuffed with quality releases, Enthroned sits atop the pack as one of the most complete listening experiences I’ve had this year. While I may be discovering this long-standing act a decade later than I should have, lack of familiarity with the band’s back catalog in no way diminishes the shock-and-awe that Cold Black Suns engenders. So give it a listen if black metal interests you at all. I assure you it will be time well spent. If you need me, I’ll be neck deep in Enthroned’s discography. If the rest of their material is as captivating as this record, may I drown in a see of old, scratched Enthroned discs and die a happy man.