In spite of being the birthplace of the genre as we know it today (so-called “1st wave” bands notwithstanding), Norway’s icy grip on black metal has loosened considerably over the course of the last several decades. Many of the scene’s godfathers either called it a day (Emperor) or shifted their musical stylings away from black metal to varying degrees (see: Ulver’s fruit-bot trip hop, Darkthrone’s journey down the ol’ Manilla Road, Enslaved’s psychedelic Viking-prog, etc), leaving Norwegian black metal fragmented. With the next generation of Norse BM practitioners either not yet ready or perhaps not willing to step up and take their places at the dark lord’s left hand, the focus of black metal has centered on other countries such as France and the US in recent years.
One band that’s making a thoroughly impressive attempt to re-hoist the black flag for Norway is Throne of Katarsis, who have been playing raw and scathing yet compositionally complex black metal since 2002. Although the band has yet to ascend to the heights of recognition attained by their forebears, Ved Graven just might prove to the be the album that finally brings the corpsepainted quartet the attention they so obviously deserve.
You see, Throne of Katarsis is just the sort of band Norwegian black metal needs at this juncture. They are preservationists who understand their chosen genre implicitly, yet aren’t content to simply repeat what has come before. Whereas early norse BM largely relied on repetition and a primitive musical skill set, Throne of Katarsis bring dynamic songwriting and instrumental prowess to the established framework. The music on Ved Graven adheres to tradition, yet never becomes monotonous in spite of the lengthy compositions; the tracks are dark and cavernous with myriad twists and turns, creating a sonic labyrinth for the listener to navigate through. It isn’t exactly progressive per se, but it does strike an interesting balance between black metal’s inherently barbaric nature and a musician’s desire to master their instrument.
And what about atmosphere? Ved Graven has it in spades; the music here is as chilling and morbid as the open grave image adorning the album’s cover. The guitar tone is a jagged and frostbitten buzz, like ice cold winds sweeping through a snow-covered graveyard. The production scheme is mostly devoid of low end (inaudible bass is a hallmark of Norwegian black metal, after all) without succumbing to dental drill-style treble overload, and is of course reverbed all to hell, as if echoing out of the abyss. Throne of Katarsis maintain black metal’s grim, lo-fi aura without sacrificing clarity, as each riff and transition is easily discernible in spite of the harsh soundscapes being created.
Ultimately, Ved Graven is a statement of intent, embracing the fundamentals of Norwegian black metal while at the same time refining them. With the genre being such an integral part of Norway’s identity within the metal scene even as its influence and infamy have continued to wane over the years, it’s refreshing to see Throne of Katarsis make such a thoroughly convincing case for the country’s continued relevance.