Thundering Hooves – Radiance


*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #9 of the SBR Album of the Week.

The 2021 debut album from Thundering Hooves was one of the finest black metal albums of last year and prompted SBR to enthuse that it ‘will make you sit up and take notice, like a church warden on call to guard his Lutheran chapel from the torches of Bergen’s most committed Satanists.’ Now, the duo of Dan B (drums) and Michael B (guitar, bass, vocals) return with the “difficult” second album, and make it look easier than the exoneration of a defendant in a Crown Court rape trial. Like their debut Vestiges LP, album number two reaches far and wide through the annals of heavy metal for inspiration but still sounds like it could swipe your head off with a mace.

You can smell the grapeshot, wince at the smoke of war in your eyes, and detect the apprehensive sound of horses’ hooves and clattering swords in the intro to opener ‘Embers’. Experts advise you never to stand and wait once you’ve delivered your first blow – Thundering Hooves understand this mantra and floor you with a succession of relentless jabs. The blackened thrash arrives at the one-minute mark with deep bass guitar incursions and violent drums. Listen how Michael B shreds his throat with a raspy distortion that craves the scent of blood. Darkthrone’s output over the last decade is a clear influence on the speed metal elements of the black metal carnage they serve up here, but the harmonised guitars are more Angel Witch than Death Angel.

‘A Howl from the Cloister’ is Motörhead in the malleable hands of Mayhem. The band insert a traditional heavy metal bombardment of mid-range power chords in between the technical death metal patterns and raw black metal tremolo rhythms. Hark how the dissonant chords twitch with a sharp gasp of agony. It sounds sacrilegious to say it, but you can hear a cleaner version of Bathory with guitars that are lucid enough to register a succinct pitch yet raw enough to flay your skin. The fretwork on Radiance is more colourful than its predecessor LP. How clever that the title-track thrives on a neo-prog riff that would light up the latest Venom Inc. record. Yet it also offers an anthemic roar that deserves the ear of Abbath. This time Michael B’s vocals growl like Jeff Walker (Carcass) and throb like Fenriz (Darkthrone). And let’s not forget that black metal bands can also unleash a crushing breakdown. You’ll feel your neck and shoulders swaying in a circular motion as if by instinct.

It’s easy to assume that Thundering Hooves wear long trench coats and sport waist-length hair and lengthy beards judging by the motion of the opening riff to ‘The True Death’. This is the reason why metal bands need long hair, so they can spin their heads in a ritual of instruction to tease out the violent streak of their audience. Of course, Thundering Hooves don’t subscribe to rules – both members have short hair. Instead, this is the extreme metal of the early Peaceville Records years but with a more competent mix and better equipment. They even throw in the showmanship of stadium metal calisthenics with the occasional one-note bass kicks designed to get your hands clapping over your head. Gloucestershire black metallers, Shadowflag, share the same impulse.

We lamented that the debut album was only thirty-one minutes in length, and this one is only four minutes longer in total. But this LP feels just right. Thundering Hooves are confident enough to plan their career in incremental stages at the behest of the long game. This means they can save the epic one-hour marathon for another couple of years when they have more records in their discography and bigger expectations from their audience. Perhaps ‘Danse Macabre’ is an indication where they might venture next. You can waltz to this one as if gracing a masked ball for the filthy rich and depraved. The chalky bass guitar strings rumble underneath the distortion like the trusted components of a fracking drill. Closing track, ‘The Key’, burns bright with the devilish flame of early speed metal but without the tongue-in-cheek clichés of its modern progenitors. Tempo changes fly about like the loose shrapnel of a nail bomb, yet the epic melodies shine like the sabre of a triumphant marcher lord leading his troops to victory. Picture a black metal version of Blind Guardian with the swagger of Venom. This is how you end an album.

These are exciting times for Thundering Hooves and for UK black metal. There’s a little bit of everything here with a strong core of traditional heavy metal and extreme metal hacking away at your taste buds. Radiance has the making of an instant cult classic.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 06/10/2022

Record Label: Mercenary Press

Standout tracks: A Howl from the Cloister, Radiance, The Key

Suggested Further Listening: Sacred Son – The Foul Deth of Engoland (2022), Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane (1995), Darkthrone – Old Star (2019)