Thorr’s Hammer — Dommedagsnatt (1998)

19.09.2001  :: АрхивАрхив рецензий Автор: Andrey Kugaevskiy

I always thought that so-called «viking metal» is nothing more than someone’s silly joke. First, there’s the stupid name («viking techno» sounds much cuter). Secondly, it’s second-hand music that, for reasons unknown, mixes black metal with folk tunes which have been well-worn over the ages. Not to mention the inarticulate choral chants, which sound like a wailing flock of drunks raging under your windows during the May holidays. None of these things have ever appealed to me. And I’m not even considering the fact that in order to seriously appreciate these flatulent hymns dedicated to medieval brigands, robbers, and killers (whom vikings actually were), you have to be a fan of another equally idiotic genre, «Russian chanson» (i.e., guitar drone-folk with noise elements, sacral lyrics and harsh, thoroughly smoked vocals). The only three «viking metal» albums worth listening to, IMO, are three of Bathory’s sagas (namely «Hammerheart», «Twilight Of The Gods» and «Blood On Ice»), which music-wise, are epic heavy/doom with harsher vocals.

So when one kind soul told me to check out a band called Thorr’s Hammer, I took his advice with disbelief. Despite being assured that this band plays very grim sludge/doom (that I surely would like), the name wasn’t inspiring even the slightest bit of confidence in my heart. Furthermore, the title of their only release, «Dommedagsnatt», only added to my distrust. Nonetheless, I decided that allowing myself to be be held captive by cliches would suck (hopefully Seth Putnam won’t make a title for his new song from this phrase), and I memorized the name of the band. Maybe somewhere in the distant and cloudless future, I would stumble upon it and find out whether my apprehensions were true.

However, fate played its dirty tricks on me and a week later (literally), on a murky and rainy Saturday (Sabbath, guys, Sabbath!), this MCD was on my hard disk and I had nothing to do but erase the band’s name from my want-list and start listening.

Before speaking about the music itself, let’s take a brief excursion into the band’s history. American band Thorr’s Hammer had five members — Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O))), Burning Witch, Engine Kid), Greg Anderson (Goatsnake, Engine Kid), Jamie Sykes (Wardrums, Codename F.A.D.G.E.), James Hale (Subharmonics) and Runhild Gammelsaeter, who handled all vocals. This line-up recorded a three-song demo tape during two evenings in 1995, and played two shows, after which Runhild left, and the band was renamed to Burning Witch. The original demo tape with three tracks was issued in 95 by Moribund Records. Later, these three tracks and a previously unreleased live song were remastered by Count Schneeberger (Obsessed, St. Vitus) and re-issued on CD by Southern Lord Recordings. That’s what we’ll be talking about now.

Well, you may find it funny, but after listening to this MCD I only became more convinced that all this Scandinavian viking metal should be flushed down the crapper. After witnessing the sludgegeddon that reigns on the 32-minute long Dommedagsnatt (I’m not sure what this means in Norwegian; probably «the demise of the Universe»), listening to various finntrolls, mithotyns, storms and other vintersorgs is like visiting a rave party after attending a funeral. This MCD is a great example of American doom-death-sludge in the tradition of such maestros as Winter and Grief. Inhumanly harsh and raw, the abrasively-rough guitars drill into the ears of the listener with simple, yet effective riffs that resemble the sleepy-snail pace of Grief more than Black Sabbath. The bass guitar works its ass (strings?) off, creating a pulsating wall of infra-sound. Slow, methodic and simple drum parts are plodding along with the guitars like a marching tank, and as for the vocals… yeah, it’s another fascinating story, guys. I don’t think I’ll be exaggerating things one bit by saying that the vocals of Runhild are simply -BLOODCURDLING-. I remember once pondering the «three degrees of non-clean female vocal effects» — first (surprise), second (eye-popping amazement) and third (when it’s difficult to listen to in such a way that you want to quietly turn your back, hide somewhere in the darkest and farthest corner, and die silently). Well, I lied. There is a fourth degree, that being the one where dazed tears fill your eyes and you’re checking during every moment to see whether or not you’ve crapped your pants. You just kind of forget about your jaw (which just rolled under the table), and your mouth, which alternately opens and closes like a fish on hot asphalt. You can’t even say something comprehensible; just a desultory avalanche of swearing, sobs, and those strange sounds that people produce when their family members are slaughtered before their very eyes. This colossal growl is somewhere between Sinister circa 98, Mortician, and even Suffocation (!). During the second song, Runhild even manages to outgrowl (depth and power-wise) such heavyweights as Nile and Amorphis, practically reaching the level of Demilich (!!). This is only worsened by the beautiful clean singing, which demonstates the abilities of Runhild’s good voice with a very pleasant timbre, somewhat resembling The 3rd And The Mortal. Some might ask themselves, why «worsened» when it looks like the atmosphere should calm down a bit. In any other case, this would be the inevitable conclusion, but not in this case, and especially not on «Norge», the first track of this MCD.

Frankly speaking, this CD is worth buying because of this track alone. It’s common knowledge that Scandinavian mythology ends on a quite bleak note for all its inhabitants — they’re all going to die in the last battle with evil and the world will never see them again. However, «viking metal» bands rarely touch this subject, opting for the various sailings, plundering campaigns, and other viking parties. On the other hand, «Norge» can be viewed as a song that captures the spirit of this Scandinavian apocalypse. Toss your rotten tomatoes and rusty axes at me, but I consider this song to be -the- best example of (post-)apocalyptic music; -the- unrivalled apogee of heaviness. Listening to this song is like standing on the grounds of Atlas and holding the sky arch on one’s shoulders.

The song starts with the melancholic and sad singing of Runhild. Then some instrumental noise approaches, sounding like the smoke of smouldering souls. Near the thirty second mark, the listener starts to sense an impending horror. It is here that all the instruments start to play simultaneousy, leaning on the chest of the victim like the empyrean-heavyiness of Thor’s -actual- hammer. Squashed by this mountain of sound, the listener is simply smeared all over the floor, desperately inhaling the air with their crushed thorax, and coughing up blood. But it’s not over yet…

At this point, Runhild’s gut-ripping vocals begin leaning on the aforementioned hammer with full force (not even giving the listener a chance to realize what’s happening), and doubling the pressure. The weight is so intense that you can’t move a finger. You just wait for the end in speechless despair. But as you know, a man dies only after the weight is -lifted- —and that’s why at least seven minutes of agony are guaranteed. The only remaining question is «can the victim remain conscious after receiving an algetic shock»?

Indeed (s)he can, as the guitars start playing slow acoustic passages after a short break in the music, and follow the melodic lines of the melancholic vocals, which seem almost indifferent to victim’s fate. The vox are accompanied by somewhat silenced drums, causing the listener to sink into oblivion for a short period of time, recalling all his life in the span of a moment. But soon the guitars start to deepen, and the victim’s subconscious sends impulses to his hopelessly crushed hands to cover his equally mangled face. By now, the listener can only close his eyes in anticipation of the imminent, that being the point where the entire band cuts loose with unbelievable force, smashing the victim, breaking all facial bones, and grinding broken ribs right into his innards.

No one can bear such pain for too long, and after a minute or so, you can take comfort in being able to sink into oblivion once again. But then an even more powerful strike ends it all, pulverizing the skull into dust and squeezing the eyes out of their sockets while the listener’s body turns into a bloody pulp. [For proof, consider this: when I was listening to this moment for the very first time on the high volume, I instinctively covered my face with hands. —AK]. At this point, whatever is left of you drops into a two-minute delirium, followed by weird guitar parts. Keep in mind that the weight is still on the listener, but it is somehow far away at the same time. During these excruciating moments, the victim realizes that he has reached his pain theshold, and the guitars slowly and solemnly descend to the song’s main theme, which is accompanied by both growls and clean vocals. The -end- is finally approaching. Oblivion has blended with reality, and life has blended with death… and it is this understanding which allows for total propitiation, which goes right into victim’s extinguishing soul. What an unbelievably strong catharsis!

I don’t know what else can be said about Thorr’s Hammer — it has to be heard to be believed. I won’t be describe the other songs, as one careful listen to «Norge» on headphones at high volume will make you feel like a crushed lemon. The only thing you want is to forget the entire experience and fall asleep.

You won’t hear me say anything about the «beautiful» aspects of Thorr’s Hammer, because while the music is agonizing and disharmonic, it holds so many emotions, so much power, that words cannot convey this adequately. I’d rather not say anything more at all, as this music will speak for itself. But if I were ever in a position to choose the soundtrack for the end of the world, I have a good first contender.

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