Who remembers when black metal was something to be feared and the noise levels so high, they could make the base of your neck expand outwards? Now lost in a mire of atmospheric dynamics and washing machine blast beats, a lot of what passes for the genre today is safe and predictable. Sure, the likes of Deathspell Omega and Black Altar are still creating music that’s hostile and motivated by the stain on the planet called mankind, but few bands remember the original aesthetic of Mayhem. What happened to the rough vocals, the chaotic studio mix, the nasty guitar tone, and the abominable hatred spewing forth in the lyrics?
Fortunately, English duo, Thundering Hooves, understand what it means to be a black metal artist in 2021. They have no interest in giving you a polished product with drum triggers and studio wizardry.
Instead, Vestiges avoids the wanton desecration of the Norwegian pioneers but makes a point of locating black metal within the wider context of extreme music. ‘The Doomway’ is pure doom metal with ringing chords dripping from the higher strings of the guitar in dissonant fury until the drums signal a tempo change and launch into a flurry of murderous snare hits. These sound like a thousand baseball bats coming down on the defenceless frame of a Hamas terrorist stopped in the act by a mob of angry Jews. The famous out-of-body ‘berserker’ experience of the Viking invader receives its resurrection here with noise levels close to popping and a guitar distortion that could bring down the leaning tower of Pisa. Yet underneath it all is a heroic heavy metal melody. Fans of Canadian progressive blackened thrashers, Ysgaroth, will appreciate the carnage on display.
‘Rex Nemorensis’ and ‘Goatswood’ are just as powerful, the latter taking Celtic Frost’s ‘Dethroned Emperor’ as its template and adding extra arpeggiated chords to let the riff ring out with even more malevolence. We should also commend the studio production and mix of the band’s self-produced efforts. The noise levels may be torturous, but the equilibrium between drums and guitar is perfect, and the roots notes of the bass guitar are always belching away underneath the onslaught like jet streams of molten iron. None more so than on the magnificent ‘Pallid Gaze’, which revels on a thumping bass line you can tap your foot to as the guitars pan in each speaker in a haze of uncontrollable distortion.
Thundering Hooves are sensible enough to coat their rhythmic attack in the more imaginative fretwork of death metal rather than the senseless tremolo strumming of the blackened kind. Only on the closing title-track, do we get something approaching atmospheric black metal, but this soon modulates into a sinister death-doom mood like Cauldron Black Ram at their best. You’ll also raise an eyebrow at the adventurous attempt to fuse Immortal’s iconic riffing with Slayer’s darker guitarwork on Seasons in the Abyss in a sixteen-bar passage that somehow works despite its seeming incongruence. Nothing will surprise you by the time they launch into a 70s pentatonic rock solo and roar through the novelty of a black metal gang vocal. This is the real deal.
The one criticism you can lay at the band is the short running time of the album. Six songs spread over 31 minutes would be merciful for a second-rate band with few ideas, but this work pulsates with ambition and respect for the entire corpus of metal’s heritage from Black Sabbath to Behemoth. A couple more songs would be welcome, which is a testament to the quality of the output here.
On this evidence, Thundering Hooves show vestiges of greatness ahead. This debut LP 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.
Release Date: 05/01/2021
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: The Doomway, Goatswood, Pallid Gaze
Suggested Further Listening: Mayhem – Deathcrush EP (1987), Tombs – Under Sullen Skies (2020), Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (1984)