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At the Mountains of Northern Storms (1992)
 

Throne of Ahaz was one of the better Black Metal bands to emerge from Sweden, in the early '90s. For one reason or another, they failed to attain the same level of notoriety of their less deserving peers in the scene. Nonetheless, these guys managed to release two very solid full-lengths and a demo. Released in 1992, their first effort was titled At the Mountains of Northern Storms and is definitely worth a listen.

The songwriting here is not what most would expect from a Black Metal recording of this time period. However, it makes perfect sense, as the Norwegian sound was just becoming established and many of their contemporaries had their own thing going, before shifting gears and following the path created by the likes of Darkthrone and Burzum. Of the three proper tracks on this tape, none are the sort of fast-paced, one-dimensional compositions that would soon be spewed forth from every corner of Europe and beyond. Songs such as "The Calling Blaze" showed some influence from early Bathory, while still offering up plenty of Doom riffs that would make Candlemass proud. The band members' background in earlier Death Metal groups is noticeable in the musicianship and even one of the riffs found in the title track. This vibe is present in the final song, "Under a Fullmoon Night", but the raspy vocals and shoddy sound help tie it to the rest of the material.

The production has just enough static, distortion and hissing to add to the old school vibe of the music, while still allowing for everything to come across rather well. The guitars are raw enough, but possess a thick and powerful sound. The guitar tone is not as sharp as on Nifelheim, however. The drumming is in the background, where it belongs, yet loud enough to serve its purpose. The vocals avoid the common demo issue of being either too loud or too quiet, being right at the appropriate level.

At the Mountains of Northern Storms is quite good for a demo. In fact, it beats the hell out of most Black Metal being released these days, especially in Sweden. The songwriting is varied and displays compositional skill that was somewhat rare among their peers at that time. Throne of Ahaz followed up on this with the brilliant Nifelheim record, though delays prevented it from having the impact that it should have had. This short-lived project deserves to be more widely known and any of their material is recommended listening.
 
(11 Apr. 2014)

 
Nifelheim (1995)
 
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The Scandinavian Black Metal band Throne of Ahaz was founded in the cold forests of Sweden in winter 1991, under a different name with a different line-up. However, they have always spread the wrath of the gods in this age of madness. This was evident on their demo At the Mountains of Northern Storms, that blew a deadly wind through the fields of blood and iron. Their influences include Bathory, Kreator, Merciless, Darkthrone and Tiamat. They reached the golden dawn with the release of their full-length.

Nifelheim is the first L.P. from Throne of Ahaz. It was recorded in 1993, but No Fashion Records delayed its release until 1995. One has to wonder what kind of impact this had on the band's standing, as the album may have been more widely regarded had it been released on time.

"Northern Thrones" begins the album with typical Scandinavian Black Metal riffs and blast beats, along with strained, demonic vocals. The atmosphere is dark and cold. This song features a mixture of tremolo-picked melodies and old school thrash riffs, along with several drum beats that wouldn't be out of place on an old Venom or Mercyful Fate record. This really sets the tone for the whole album and this can be considered as Sweden's answer to A Blaze in the Northern Sky as this seems to either be influenced by that classic, or inspired by the same ancient demons. The first track is, in many ways, the highlight of the album.

The next song is "An Arctic Star of Blackness", which begins with more fast tremolo riffs, before transitioning into more old school Black Metal riffs. This is definitely hateful and fast-paced for the most part, though there are hints of darker things, almost down-tempo melodies that take you on a journey through a frozen landscape. This holds true for the entire album. There are several temp changes, showing a lot of variation within the established framework of this subgenre.

"Where Ancient Lords Gather" and "The Dawn of War" feature a lot of slower doom riffs, while also showing a lot of variation. Each song has its own identity, despite the familiar patterns that are present. Beretorn's vocals seem utterly consumed with hatred on this album. Cold tremolo riffs come and go, though the bursts of speed are somewhat ephemeral.

Nifelheim continues with the title track, beginning with the sound of freezing winds blowing across the dismal land. The song begins with a mid-paced thrash riff that crushes your feeble spirit like Mjöllnir, itself. Lyrically, this is not too far from the themes used by Immortal.

"And from the highest mountain
I behold this frozen waste
Under the sunless sky
A kingdom of might and pride"

The song ends with blasting drums, fast riffs and hateful screams, before the cold winds return to claim you for the frozen Northland.

"The Calling Blaze" is the only song from their demo to be found here. This song is mid-paced, for the most part, even featuring a bit of a lead solo. Near the middle of the song, the riffs become even slower and more bleak and gloomy, before speeding up a bit. This is brief, as the doom riffs return to conclude the song. "A Winter Chant" continues with the mid-paced riffs. Perhaps, where this album falls a little short is that there really aren't any songs that maintain a high speed throughout. Variation in the riffs is good, but there may be a few too many mid-paced riffs while the faster parts aren't as well developed. Oddly, this is usually the opposite. But this is a minor complaint.

The album concludes with "The Kings That Were...", delivering the fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums that have been desired over the last couple songs. After a couple minutes, things slow down again, but not for very long. Around the 3:00 mark, there is a brilliant melody that is unleashed, amidst the fury and chaos. The song ends with a bit of keyboard use, adding the the majestic atmosphere as everything fades to darkness.

Unfortunately, Nifelheim seems to be relatively unknown, compared to their peers. It is a shame, as Throne of Ahaz played raw, cold Black Metal, with a lot of old school influence, and would easily be appreciated by fans of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, for example. Overall, it is a bit slower than that classic album. The sound is fairly standard, without breaking any new ground, but it's solid, nonetheless. Seek this out.
 
(22 Jan. 2008)

 
 

In the dark autumn of 1996, Throne of Ahaz launched yet another strike upon the mortal realm, bringing a bitter cold fury from the ancient northland and assaulting all in their path. This time, Beretorn and Taurtheim were joined by Vargher, of Ancient Wisdom, in the creation of their sophomore album, On Twilight Enthroned. The music was recorded in September of the previous year, and was written as a collaborative effort that included all of the members. The style found on Nifelheim is still in tact, though with some additional elements. The end result is another slab of Scandinavian Black Metal that, despite its obscurity, is far superior to several of the albums being released by their peers.

The first time I heard this album was not long after discovering the band, through their debut L.P. Of course, being quite blown away by that record, my only desire was to hear more of the same type of stuff. For whatever reason, On Twilight Enthroned seemed to be a disappointment after the first listen. The album then collected dust for quite some time, before I came to my senses and gave it another chance. Strangely, my later impression was that the record delivered exactly what the first one was missing, in the sense that it features more cold riffs and high-speed drumming than Nifelheim.

"Fenris" bursts forth with a furious wrath, with blistering cold tremolo riffs, intense drumming and hellish vocals all erupting at the same time, nearly overwhelming the listener and wasting no time in displaying a lethal sense of songwriting and musicianship. The initial flurry is followed by a nice old school riff and a drum pattern that compliments it, perfectly. There are slower riffs that add a layer of freezing darkness to the proceedings, gradually speeding up again. The final riff sounds reminiscent of early Emperor, thus maintaining a northern vibe throughout.

The relentless pace is carried on by "The Forlorn", featuring another frigid and mournful tremolo melody, carving through the listener's pathetic soul and opening a gateway for the gloomy open-arpeggio chords that follow. Vargher's style betrays a Burzum influence, which fits nicely with the rest of the material, adding yet another dimension. More primitive riffs join the chaos, similar to what was found on the band's first release, but soon displaced as the barrage of hellish riffs and morbid screams returns to lay waste to all that remains of your feeble being. Demonic thrash riffs are injected, late in the song, reminiscent of the title track from Dissection's second offering. The dynamic arrangement helps to create an epic atmosphere, going even farther than on their last outing.

"With Shadow Wings" starts with a sense of building tension, soon exploding into a maelstrom of pure Scandinavian Black Metal. The production for the album is a little more clear than the last one, not sounding as raw, yet certainly not polished. It actually still possesses a sense of rawness and even an abrasive nature not found on Nifelheim, but it just does not come off as primitive. There is also a bit of a difference in the recording of the vocals, perhaps a little extra reverb. More than anything else, the songwriting itself may be responsible, as the riffs are not as primitive and ugly, though that element is still present at times.

The title track features more dismal tremolo riffs, miserable vocals and slower sections that bleed forth a nocturnal feeling that suits the subject matter of the lyrics. The highlight of the song comes near the end, with a mournful guitar solo that adds even more gloom to the atmosphere, before an epic melody takes over. Worth noting is that while Vargher's contributions sound somewhat similar to his other band, it is still separate enough that the two are clearly unique entities and the material is not interchangeable at all.

"Where Veils of Grief are Dancing Slow" utilizes a bit of keyboards, which is one of the things that caused me to dismiss the album in the first place, but it is actually so subtle and minimal that one might even miss it, if not paying attention. The riffs alternate between the old school 80s riffs and the northern riffs that dominate much of the album. Beretorn and Vargher share vocal duties on this track, though their styles are not terribly different and might also go unnoticed. Some epic melodies emerge from the darkness, late in the song, before the tremolo riffs return to carry the song to its conclusion. The Darkthrone influence is still present, in such melodies, but worked into their own style much better than before.

The next song is "Let Blood Paint the Ground", which begins with a fast-paced riff that is bitter cold and displays an epic sense of misery. This is one of the better melodies on the whole album, sure to haunt your nightmares for some time. More old school rhythms are interspersed, with the main riff rising from the foggy graveyard, soon joined by vocals and percussion. More riffs appear, adding variation yet not interrupting the flow of the song.

The final original song is "Blackthorn Crown", which takes a different approach and seems to have some old Bathory influence. This is Beretorn's sole musical contribution to the record, and it is a good thing that it is placed at the end, since it would certainly have represented a disruption in the overall vibe of the album. While the riff is decent enough, the double bass drums are a bit annoying, though it is not as if they are very high in the mix anyway.

The album ends with a Black Metal version of "Black Sabbath", by the band of the same name. While it is interesting to see someone looking so far back in the past, to one of the earliest songs to possess a dark feeling (and in many respects, the beginning of Metal's darkside), this does not come close to matching the atmosphere of the original. Musically, it just is not as gloomy and foreboding and the vocal style does not compliment the material, in any way. It is not a bad song, but it fails to add anything to the album as a whole, and is actually its weakest point.

On Twilight Enthroned is a very solid album and a worthy follow-up to Nifelheim, maintaining a grim and cold northern sound. For what it lacks in rawness, it makes up for in speed and atmosphere. It is unknown as to why Throne of Ahaz is a band that has languished in obscurity while others of lesser quality went on to enjoy such lengthy careers. While many other Scandinavian Black Metal bands were beginning to experiment or to otherwise abandon their roots, Throne of Ahaz kept the black flame burning and it is a shame that they ceased to exist after this release.
 
(13 Oct. 2011)

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