I listen to a lot of music every year. Which is as it should be. I do write about this shit regularly, so some semblance of a finger on the pulse of various scenes is, in my mind, essential to writing meaningfully about music. One thing that I’ve marveled at in my many hundred spins of new records each year is the sheer amount of untamed batshit that enters my brain on the regular. You have bands like Igorrr, Mamaleek, Liturgy, and a host of other acts in the heavy music world bending and twisting genre conventions as if their lives depended on it, making for a veritable smorgasbord of weird ass listening sessions that are if nothing else always memorable. If I had to pick a band in the death metal world that gives me that same feeling of unpredictable wildness, it would have to be Detroit’s Thoren. When viewing the vast plane that represents the modern landscape of the genre, there are no acts that approach this music with as much reckless, utterly unpredictable bombast as the instrumental compositions vomited from the brains of these death metal wizards. And their third full-length record, Gwarth II, may be their finest offering yet.
On first listen, the music of Thoren may sound like nothing more than a riotous hodgepodge of loosely connected riffs. At surface level, this is an understandable reaction. The compositions within Gwarth II and its prequel are not for the faint of heart. Their music winds, punches, dissipates, then rushes in again with all the fury of a mythological beast robbed of its young. It’s ferocious and erratic on an entirely new level, and it’s pretty awesome. But for all its bluster, it’s not as if death metal aficionados won’t be able to pick out some of the band’s influences. Elements of style from bands like Ulcerate, Imperial Triumphant, Ulsect, Pyrrhon, Convulsing, and Mitochondrion, and Chaos Echoes run amok throughout these ten tracks, but one of the key differentiators between Thoren and their peers is the strictly instrumental approach the band employs. With no vocal delivery to provide a leveling force, the music itself is unfettered from that particular constraint, leading these songs into brave new territory. Which helps Gwarth II distinguish itself from a particularly abrasive copy of well-established sounds to an utterly unique mad house of death metal delights.
Sifting through each of these tracks to highlight their unique contributions would be an endeavor requiring many more thousands of words than I currently have time to write. But there are a few stand-outs among the track-list that deserve special mention. Opener “Gwarth” represents just about everything listeners can expect when diving into this maelstrom, and if that track isn’t cutting it for you Thoren may just not be your proverbial cup of tea. Its jagged edges, ragged rhythms, and incessantly evolving riff-building are completely unapologetic in their presentation, representing a form of sonic whiplash that will either ingratiate or alienate listeners. Those in the former camp will press on to find an album that builds on these concepts with limitless variety and an equal amount of skill. Tracks “Thaw Gur” and “Suith” deserve special mention for being two of the album’s longest tracks while also, somehow, landing among the most interesting of the band’s career, and giving these musicians a more elongated template to build their sonic prisons for the hapless uninitiated.
Which leads me to what may be the most remarkable aspect of Gwarth II, which is its musicianship. Anthony Lipari’s guitar work is positively vicious and utterly unpredictable throughout, cutting, dissecting, and diving through manic riffs as if they were the thinnest sort of paper. Joseph Paquette’s vibrant bass work is, thankfully, another large element of the band’s sound, thrumming through the album’s constantly shifting rhythmic structure with grace of a free jazz master. But it’s the drums that represent some of the most interesting and creative work on the record, here split between ex-Pyrrhon stick maestro Alex Cohen and Imperial Triumphant’s manic blast master Kenny Grohowski. Their performances are uniformly superb, adding rich rhythmic textures to the unstoppable string work that pervades the record. It takes incredibly talented individuals to pull something this insane off with style, and this collective meets that challenge with plenty of energy to spare.
If you like your death metal wild, dissonant, progressive, and more than a little batshit insane, look no further than Gwarth II. Start to finish, this is a record that is utterly fearless and uncompromising in its presentation, and I presume most listeners will either love or despise it. Which in a musical world as saturated as death metal is the highest form of compliment. Thoren are making music that is both fiercely unique from and reverent toward its inspirations, creating a balancing act that keeps the album from teetering into total madness. It’s a sonic journey you won’t soon forget. So dim the lights, grab yourself a stiff drink, and dive headlong into the madness that is Gwarth II. You’re in for a wild ride.
Gwarth II drops Feb. 7 via Dryland Records and can be purchased here.