BLOOD RED THRONE – Imperial Congregation

BLOOD RED THRONE – Imperial Congregation

I have a weird (admittedly) habit of listening in succession to the entire back discography of a band I know well and respect before reviewing their latest album and the Norwegian death metallers, Blood Red Throne (BRT), are no exception. Their previous installment, "Fit To Kill"²⁰¹⁹, was a very good record showing even progressive tendencies and an increasing knack for catchy melodies but when you have in your ranks one of the best guitarists in death metal, Daniel "Død" Olaisen, you can expect that. On his subject, I owe the man, whom I somewhat know personally, a huge apology for misjudging the predecessor of "Fit To Kill", "Union Of Flesh And Machine"²⁰¹⁶, which I once gave a stupid, thoughtless and hasty 3.5/6. Upon a careful relistening of that album I discovered plenty to enjoy whereby I now would give it a 4.5/6 and, no, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the production on it, either, and, yes, I recommend it. Moreover, the ideas on that album, such as the groovy Chimairan riffing or melodic transitions inspired this here, "Imperial Congregation", which came out on October 8th. As expected, it is a very good work with a few significant changes, or better yet, progression from both aforementioned predecessors, progression which brings BRT closer and closer to the likes of latter Death while still confidently and genuinely straddling old school death metal, for the best album of their career.

When you first hear the opening title track you might be in for quite a shock, one not unlike you may have experienced upon hearing the opening riff of Death’s "Individual Thought Patterns"¹⁹⁹³. There’s an unprecedented onslaught of melody, no doubt inspired by Død’s extra-BRT escapades, be it the AOR of Big City, the groove/thrash of Zerozonic or Olaisen’s solo record. What’s also unprecedented is how much he let Zerozonic influence BRT to the point of the two now sounding alike. This is by no means a bad thing because I clearly like where this is going, especially, since the brutal part of BRT sound is still intact. It’s just more Chimaira than Suffocation or Hypocrisy which contributes to better memorability and enjoyment of the material. At the same time, there’s nothing here quite as progressively cerebral as "Do It Or Die" or "Requiem Mass" or even the total madness of "Revocation Of Mankind" but the material still slays courtesy to the debut of producer Ronnie Björnström (Solution45, Officium Triste, Ribspreader) known for his ability to make brutality sound incredibly clear. Indeed, the "dirt" of "Fit To Kill" is gone replaced by a slightly clinical approach which only contributes to the weight of the riffs (and on the subject of "gone", gone are the banshee screams of Yngve "Bolt" Christiansen). This is, overall, a welcome and long overdue change for BRT, which has been at it since 1998 (following Død’s exit from Satyricon) and through, now, 10 full lengths.

As for the opening monumentally heavy number (check out that cascading riff at the conclusion of the chorus), it also has that early Machine Head melodiscism to it which is somewhat balanced by the following first video single, "Itika", a more traditional BRT howbeit not without the melodic here and there. Already I can here the influence of "Skyggemannen", "End" and "Homicidal Ecstasy" in the riffing whereby I’m beginning to suspect the album is very groovy in a Panteric sense, I mean Darrell Lance "Dimebag" Abbott would have tears of joy listening to this stuff, provided, of course, that he also liked Norwegian old school death in between. In that vein, the excellent, "Conquered Malevolence" is the best of both worlds, merging Hypocrisyic melodiscism with Pissing Razors-like riffing. The very good "We All Bleed" revisits "Souls Of Damnation"²⁰⁰⁹ (until now my second favorite BRT) and its Morbid Angelic stylings, but the best is yet to come on the second half of the disc.

One of the best things about BRT which helps them both maintain the high quality and naturally progress is that they’ve had the same lineup since 2018, that is, Olaisen, Christiansen (vocals), Ivan "Meathook" Gujic (guitar), Stian "Gunner" Gundersen (bass) and Freddy Bolsø (drums). They had time to get tighter than the skin on lamb’s testicles in the Greenland’s winter, especially the 90s Death-like section and it is especially heard on the album’s last three tracks, "Consumed Illusion", "Hero-Antics" and the magnifiscent and my favorite, "Zarathustra". All three combine melodeathly stylings with old school death seamlessly almost as if they wanted to create another genre in between. And the whole time I can’t help but go "Død"! (prouncing: dude) for the things the man does with his instrument he knows better than some men know their wives, but I have to be mindful of Gujic who likely switches parts with Olaisen like Megadeth’s David Scott Mustaine and Martin Adam Friedman used to in the early 90s, instead of what we tend to think, being merely consigned to the rhythm guitar. Or perhaps they play BOTH the rhythm and trade leads? In any case, this stuff is delicious and I wouldn’t mind if these three tracks marked the direction for the future, which brings me to "Zarathustra", a fantastic composition that made me think, again, I was listening to a new Death album (as if that were possible), the kind of stuff Charles Michael Schuldiner used to drop our jaws on the floor with on "Symbolic"¹⁹⁹⁵ and such, and all the while one wonders: is Olaisen more of a riff or a melody machine?

As I rate "Imperial Congregation" slightly above its predecessor (5.1/6) in every aspect, in my view, this being their best work, I also have a little concern for the way some of the Chimairan groove can dominate in tracks such as the technical "6:7" which tends to detract a little from the brutality and melody but, in fact, it, "Transparent Existence" and "Inferior Elegance" are actually very old school, here Pestilence there Suffocation (Transparent Existence) and even a "Chaos A.D."¹⁹⁹³ Sepulturic squeal with an Unearthly breakdown (Inferior Elegance) in the interest of variety, but those all have plenty of melody and hooks even if they can get a little monotonous, or was that intended?

I probably need one or two more applications for better comprehension but I can already call "Imperial Congregation" a sound success and, once again, easily the best album Olaisen has ever been part of. Now, wouldn’t be cool if he put together a Nevermore/latter Death side project with a semi-clean vocalist? That’s a thought that runs through my mind evertime I listen to this album, especially "Zarathustra", a track for which Blood Red Throne deserves something the corrupt corporate world will never hand them: a Grammy Award. Meanwhile, "Imperial Congregation" is highly recommended to both old and new fans as neither are likely to be disappointed.