If you’ve been following the blog (and, specifically, my reviews) you are now ready to assemble the narrative of the last and next month or so, as far as my listening habits go. This narrative can be given the title “The Rise and Rise of Melodic Black Metal” as that specific sub-genre has been what defines it. Most of all, this story involves three bands and their releases: first, we have Belore and their dungeon-synth tinged Journey Through the Mountains and Valleys. Then, we have the operatic, majestic, and bright Skyforest with A New Dawn. And now, at long last, it is time to review perhaps my favorite of this trio of albums (“perhaps”, because they are all excellent), Dzö-nga‘s Thunder in the Mountains. It is a powerful and evocative album that works on much of the same themes as the other two albums but runs them through a decidedly darker and more powerful lens, creating a sprawling epic based on an absolute literary classic, H. W. Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha.
Like the other two albums, Thunder in the Mountains relies on the inherently grandiose package of black metal tropes to sketch out at its canvas. The title track which opens the album exemplifies this very well; blackened vocals, screeching across the center of the mix, coupled with loud, fast, and muffled drums make up the “meat” of the sound, allowing the guitars to tear across the background of the work. But, just like with Belore and Skyforest, there is a lot more happening here. First off, there’s the somewhat traditional and expected quieter opening, no less powerful for its traditional role. The agile guitars, the deep vocals, and the groovy drums all work exceptionally well on this intro. However, the presence of the “folk” or “classic” elements elsewhere on the track is what makes it and, indeed, the rest of the album so good. The strings and synth effects are the first manifestation of these elements, creating the same kind of epic vibes as on A New Dawn, painting a picture in vivid colors and tones.
But perhaps even more evocative are the excellent classical piano pieces which accompany these segments; whether the more somber passage at the middle of the track or the more playful (and downright infectious) piano line which appears throughout the track, these pieces are expertly composed to work with the rest of the instruments on the album. By the time the decidedly flamboyant guitar solo appears (with the synths in the background reminding us of Belore’s “dungeon” qualities), our hearts are well and truly absorbed in the work. And that’s just the first track. The album has many more strong points where all of these influences, sounds, and styles meet in expert, elegant ways. For example, the epic “Flames in the Sky” is the track which first drew me to this album. Its insanely aggressive drums, coupled with the majestic violins which open the track, instantly caught my attention. Later on, the fast main riff of the track, the excellently frost-bitten vocals, and their brilliant balance with the clean singing along the chorus, sealed the deal for me, and I knew that I was hooked.
There’s really nothing bad to say about this album; it’s one of the finer black metal releases I’ve heard in a while, even when taking in the already excellent year 2020 has been for black metal and this specific kind of black metal to boot. Even when Dzö-nga decide to go heavier and faster, like on “A Soul to Burn”, fittingly the most “blistering” track on the album, they do with the skill that they bring to any other part of this release. Thunder in the Mountains is simply a masterclass in what happens when more melodic and orchestral elements are added to the already extravagant elements of black metal. Together with Belore and Skyforest, Dzö-nga has breathed vitality, expression, and variety into the tried and true black metal formula, the trio joining to carve an exciting, moving path forward for the genre as we head into the new decade.
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Thunder in the Mountains releases today on the excellent Avantgarde Music. Make sure you head on over to the Bandcamp link above to grab it.