The terms “Norwegian” and “death metal” are as incongruent as writing the words “sane government” and “North Korea” in the same sentence. But Blood Red Throne are a unique death metal band and even break the Norwegian taboo of citing Deicide as an influence in a country that invented black metal. Formed in Kristiansand in 1998 by ex-Emperor bassist, Tchort, and former Satyricon guitarist, Død, they’re now on their tenth album and their debut for Nuclear Blast after previous stints on Earache and Hammerheart Records.
A scan through the end-of-year lists and best album accolades over the last twenty years tells you everything you need to know about Blood Red Throne – they’re underrated and seldom celebrated. But that should change with Imperial Congregation because this is an ambitious attempt to write a Heartwork for the 2020s.
When was the last time a death metal band took the crunchy production of Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes, the riffs of Decapitated, the guitar heroics of Carcass, and the malevolence of Deicide, and mixed them together like a eugenic experiment with superhuman results? Opening title track, ‘Imperial Congregation’, thrives on a sauntering death metal tremolo pattern and alternates between down-tuned thrash and mechanistic double-kick rhythms in the blanket of a perfect audio mix. Only the debut Spiritbox album can rival the transparency of the instrument separation here. You can even hear Stian Gundersen’s bass noodling as if Steve DiGiorgio were providing the dynamics.
The chunky distortion emanating from the guitar strings of Død and Ivan Gujić is powerful enough to frack through the earth in search of oil. Listen to ‘Itika’ and ‘Conquered Malevolence’ for a masterclass in supreme riffing and expert phrasing. Only Carcass pay more attention to the quality of their melodic guitar solos. Likewise, the drum work of founding member, Freddy Bolsø, benefits from a stunning sound engineering job that can rival Fear Factory for its crisp brutality. ‘Hero-Antics’ will even remind you of the precise industrial-metal rhythms of Dino Cazares’ crew but with the cunning perfidy of Cannibal Corpse. You might liken ‘Transparent Existence’ to an expert dose of drugs that are powerful enough to give the ultimate high and accurate enough to avoid an overdose. This is mid-tempo death metal at its best.
Only one thing stops Imperial Congregation from achieving a perfect score – the vocals. Yngve “Bolt” Christiansen finds refuge in the limited baritone rasp of a death metal voice that needs to open up to give the guitar and rhythm sections the finishing touches they deserve. One can only lament how much better ‘Inferior Elegance’ would sound with a wider range of screaming and wailing. His enunciation is intelligible enough to make out the words, but his dry throat lacks the oomph needed, much like the Bolt Thrower paradox.
But the standard of metallic crunch on this record is too powerful to ignore. You should question whether you’ve got Covid-19 symptoms if you’re not wide-eyed and slack-jawed after hearing the tempo change to a sixteenth-note groove in the mid-section of ‘We All Bleed’. We said that Blood Red Throne are a unique death metal band, and they’re not afraid to toss in the occasional breakdown riff of Killswitch Engage (see ‘Conquered Malevolence’) or Chimaira (see ‘Consumed Illusion’), either. The guitar work is just sublime on this record. At times the palm-muting is as frenetic and as violent as man who traps his hand in an industrial machine for a few seconds of unbearable agony. A glance at the lyrics to ‘6: 7’ explains why these songs pulsate with so much might – the band’s message of finding strength through atheism reads like a self-awakening rather than a cheap shot at the foibles of organised religion.
Blood Red Throne were veterans of death metal before they made this album. Now they’re a force to be reckoned with and elite players in the game. Imperial Congregation promises to be an enduring record in the genre and one that should renew your faith in the future of death metal.
Release Date: 08/10/2021
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Standout tracks: Itika, Conquered Malevolence, We All Bleed
Suggested Further Listening: Carcass – Heartwork (1993), Decapitated – Blood Mantra (2014), Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined (2021)