Enthroned – Sovereigns (Agonia Records, 2014)

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Since 1993, Brussels, Belgium’s Enthroned have been motoring along like clockwork; releasing an album every 2 – 3 years, going on tour, appearing in the big metal mags and generally doing all the things typical of a mid-level band without ever seeming to reach that oh-so-difficult to quantify “next level.”  The band has always been plenty competent and occasionally even superb, yet have always seemed content with their place in the black metal rank and file, reliable and quality-consistent, but at the same time never really doing anything to distinguish themselves from their peers.  All that changed with 2012’s Obsidium, an album that felt as though Enthroned were on the verge of stepping up their game, and I’m happy to say that next step has been taken with their latest album Sovereigns.

I’m not claiming to have heard all ten Enthroned albums, but those I have heard were always enjoyable enough if a bit tedious; it felt as if the band was capable of much more but chose to play it safe, perfectly happy to blast and blaspheme in a most monochromatic manner for all eternity.  This is not the case with Sovereigns.  It’s an album characterized by a proficient command of dynamics and melody, as well as a newfound willingness to try on different shades of black within the established paradigm.  Each song has its own identity and feels as if the Belgians made a conscious effort to travel outside their established confort zone.

There is real depth to be found here; for the first time I get the feeling that Enthroned are reaching out with both hands and trying to pull me into their world, rather than just letting me watch them unleash their blitzkrieg from afar.  I hear nuances that recall bands ranging from Deathspell Omega to more recent Behemoth, but Enthroned take these influences and incorporate them into the fabric of the annihilating blackened assault they’ve been building towards all these years, rather than trying to exactly imitate what came before.  It’s still Enthroned, but a more powerful, thoughtful Enthroned, and this is a good thing.

The production is exceptional; dark and richly textured with an emphasis on low-end burl that’s similar to Obsidium but even more fully realized.  Each individual element of Enthroned’s cacophony can be made out even when they’re in full-on blasting mode, and thanks to the aforementioned songwriting dynamics and clarity of sound, those blasts are even more concussive when they come to the fore.  Indeed, the album’s dense, tightly-wound sonics are an important component of what makes Sovereigns such a wickedly effective example of modern black metal.

If you’ve ignored Enthroned in the past or think you know exactly what to expect whenever they release an album based on previous experiences, now might just be the time to check in and see what they’re up to.  It’s pretty darn impressive to see a band suddenly becoming so hungry and ambitious ten albums deep, and the Belgians are making a strong case for your attention with what might be the best album of their career. Granted, Enthroned still have their work cut out for them if they wish to pull themselves up into the higher echelons of black metal, but make no mistake, Sovereigns is a striking statement of intent.

http://www.enthroned.be/

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