Artist: On Thorns I Lay
Album Title: Threnos
Label: Lifeforce Records
Date of Release: 21 February 2020
Thunderous, churning riffs, haunting lead guitars, guttural growled vocals? Oh yes, now this is good stuff. Then the bass kicks in and the riffs continue to writhe with a slow-paced authority, the like of which you’d hear on an early Swallow The Sun or Daylight Dies record perhaps. Then a powerful double-pedal drum section joins the fray, along with a swift lead break and I’m getting heavily into this…
…and then, without warning, all the heaviness departs, leaving behind just a piano, which delivers an achingly beautiful melody. It is soon joined by a mournful lead guitar and the melody grows steadily, until the growls return alongside the crushing guitars. But this time, there’s a sense of fragility and vulnerability in the delivery, as if the melody has exposed a softer more brittle side of the band. Oh heavens, ‘The Song Of Sirens’ is a great song.
At this point I am so glad that I checked out ‘Threnos’, the latest album by Greek stalwarts, On Thorns I Lay, and I’m left wondering why I have never before got fully into this band before. Based on the evidence of the first track of their ninth album, and benefitting from a monster mix and master by Dan Swanö, I cannot understand how the sextet has eluded my finely-honed metal radar since their inception in the early 90s.
And then it hits me. Or at least, the rest of the album does. Just when I think I have discovered a new gem to get really excited about, I’m dealt the better part of a further forty minutes of death/doom metal that just doesn’t ever reach the standard of the first track. There are hints within songs like ‘Ouranio Deos’ or ‘Erynies’ of something special but unfortunately, they are just that – hints. The introduction of a mournful lone violin within a few of the seven songs is a nice touch, as is the introduction of some retro 70s keyboard sounds within the aforementioned ‘Erynies’ but even this cannot prevent me from largely just feeling a touch bored and disappointed overall.
The preceding paragraph was a fair reflection of exactly how I felt after the first few spins and, at the time, it was accurate. But this review just serves to highlight the importance of not reviewing albums immediately, because my thoughts on ‘Threnos’ have significantly changed since I penned the preceding words, possibly in haste. I’m not one to hide when I am wrong, so I have left that paragraph in, to underline the importance of what I am saying: take your time and never review an album without giving it a fair chance.
I do, however, stand by my thoughts above about the opening track, ‘The Song Of Sirens’ – it is simply beautiful; crushingly heavy, miserable and mournful, but so tremendously beautiful.
It is with the remaining six songs that my feelings have largely changed, starting with ‘Ouranio Deos’. It is significantly different in construction to the opener but, with the benefit of time, it is equally as stunning. The track is slightly brisker in pace, but not appreciably. There’s a really lovely mid-section where the crushing heaviness is replaced by a female spoken-word section in the musical Greek language, underpinned by gorgeous keys, mournful guitars and an air of minimalism, at least initially before the song rebuilds towards the conclusion. But it is the all-too-brief returning synth-heavy melody that pops up from time to time that I have eventually fallen in love with. That and the lament of the lone violin in the latter stages, which calls to mind ‘Like Gods Of The Sun’ era My Dying Bride, sat atop a slow, lumbering riff.
By contrast, ‘Cosmic Silence’ sounds almost light and upbeat as it starts off in a melodic manner and has the feel of a song that is shorter and more to-the-point, which indeed it is. Again, the pace is brisker still than its predecessors and the simple yet effective lead melody starts to really dig its claws in.
‘Erynies’ is another high point on the album and reminds me a little again of Swallow The Sun in the way in which it delivers sublime melody after sublime melody whilst remaining crushingly heavy at the same time. The word I would use to describe this song is ‘elegant’, possibly even ‘majestic’; both fit the composition perfectly as it delights throughout, even experimenting with a few retro synth sounds buried just below the surface.
The title track features some of the most potent riffs on the record and, whilst it isn’t as overtly melodic as others, I am a sucker for a good riff. Plus, the blastbeats and lead guitar lines around the midway point, as well as a more pronounced black metal vibe, are all very nice touches.
At nearly ten minutes, ‘Threnos’ ends with the epic and aptly-titled ‘Odysseia’, which immediately lets loose with a whimsical and sombre melody that I dismissed when listening earlier in the month. But now, I wonder how that was possible as it is charming and rather sumptuous. It means that the harsh, crushing and downright brutal riff that takes over is given greater potency against the more sensitive preceding melody. The same can be said for the quiet acoustic segment later in the piece – this track is masterful in its use of light and shade, aggression and beauty. I ask again, how could I have not heard this first time around? I can be such an idiot at times!
The only conclusion I can give, is to say that I was wrong. Very wrong. Where I once thought a very average album existed, there is instead a beautifully crafted and highly enjoyable record. On Thorns I Lay have delivered ‘Threnos’, a body of work that should rightfully stand at the pinnacle of melodic doom/death metal, alongside the very best that the genre has to offer. I love it. Not just for the music itself, but for the lesson it has reinforced for me. I always try to take my time when writing these reviews and On Thorns I Lay have given me the perfect reminder of why this is. If you’re a fan of this kind of music, you need to hear this album because ‘Threnos’ has set the bar for all others to follow at the beginning of the decade.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: