With the departure of bassist/vocalist Lord Sabathan in 2006, Enthroned entered that rather ignominious pantheon of bands operating without a single founding member present. However, with all due respect to the good Lord, this proved to be a blessing in disguise for the remaining members as their output since then has been of a significantly higher standard than one would expect from a second wave black metal act that has never made the headlines, music related or otherwise. This run of good form looks set to be bolstered with the Belgian act’s tenth full-length “Sovereigns”, a murky, soot-covered gem that should hopefully gain Enthroned the respect they deserve.
After a brief, ominous intro of braying horns and muted tribal percussion we are pitched headfirst into the churning dirge that is ‘Sine Qua Non’ which employs a well-worn barrage of searing riffs and battering percussion to make its point known. So far, so safe you might think, but it’s the charcoal-black atmosphere that coats every note in shade which makes the record take on a new and terrifying countenance. The blasting menace of ‘Of Feathers and Flames’ veers between lurching Deathspell Omega fret-bends, raucous solos and soaring, desolate melodies that are simple in execution yet manage to convey intense feelings of loss and even madness. However the band members still know a good riff when they hear one, as demonstrated by the scowling stomp of ‘Lamp of Invisible Lights’ which offers a lesson in groove that the members of Satyricon could do with paying attention to.
Now operating as a five piece, “Sovereigns” is the first Enthroned album to feature three guitar players, and while it may be admittedly hard to distinguish who is doing what, this triple-pronged attack is no mere gimmick. The songs are busy yet cohesive, with melody used sparingly. These guys aren’t Watain, nor do they have any intention to be. The same applies to pace, which remains rapid throughout with frequent drops into mid-pace territory, but the benchmark for blind speed has already been passed and Enthroned have no interest in challenging it, although the beginning of ‘The Edge of Agony’ could easily give the likes of Marduk a run for their money. But when you can offer expertly written black metal numbers such as ‘Of Shrines and Sovereigns’ with its pummelling tremolo picking, clinical drumming, mournful keys and Gaahl-esque vocals that drip with menace and individuality, why bother to ape the competition?
Once regarded as belonging in the lower leagues, “Sovereigns” is the record that deserves to elevate Enthroned to the upper echelons of black metal and finally see them live up to their name. Quite frankly, this knocks the socks off the recent output of Satyricon, Marduk, Dark Funeral and their corpsepainted ilk. Don’t believe me? Give the utterly masterful ‘Divine Coagulation’ a listen and tell me I’m wrong. Then go and purchase a copy of “Sovereigns” and reward a hard-working band that is at the absolute top of their game.