There’s something rather nasty about this latest offering from Stockholm based blackened sludge metallers This Gift Is A Curse, it’s ominous, filled with dread at every turn, but it’s all the better for it. A Throne of Ash, their third album, has ‘evil’ written all over it; from the disturbing occult artwork to the malicious sounds these five men with serious anger issues make. It has a subdued start; creepy instrumental opener ‘Haema’ features erratic drums and distressing sounds, gradually bringing to the boil until it sounds like somebody treads on a set of blasphemous bagpipes… then all hell breaks loose.
‘Blood is my Harvest’ is relentless; reminiscent of the listener being repeatedly punched in the face until there’s nothing left but a bloody pulp. The lyrics are dark and largely indecipherable (even when reading the lyric sheet), themed around summoning demonic figures from the depths of hell. The sounds conjured up here are dense; the vocals vomited forth by Jonas A. Holmberg jostle in the mix alongside frantic thunderous guitar riffs, rumbling bass and powerful drumming. No instruments are allowed to take precedence or given time to breath; the noise produced is the sum of its parts, creating an almighty wall of noise. It continues in this vein for much of the album, heavy, fast and aggressive.
The pace eases off slightly at the midpoint, just giving the listener the chance to regroup and try to catch breath before they crank things up again with ‘Wolvking’; a ferocious, snarling beast that gnaws away at your skull. ‘I am Katharsis’ is a dark, menacing slab of hard-core punk metal, bringing to mind Martyrdöd and a darker twisted version of Trap Them (if possible). For all the speed and ferocity the bulk of the songs on offer here are played at, it’s the slow grind of epic closer ‘Wormwood Star’ that steals the show. Tribal-esque drum rolls and mischievous guitar riffs give way to shouted vocals (courtesy of J.Persson from Cult of Luna) and the unexpected introduction of some gorgeous synths. The preceding eight hate fuelled tracks may have sped past in a blur of bleakness, but this provides a somewhat subtle, melodic finish. So melodic in fact you’ll be humming it without even realising you’re doing it, maybe not in the shower, but maybe while daubing an inverted pentagram on your floor or putting the finishing touches to your new sacrificial altar.
A Throne of Ash is a cracking album; yes it can be exhausting and unpleasant, but it’s also a rewarding listen. It certainly won’t be to everybody’s taste, the unremitting grimness can be overpowering at times and you will need to be in the right (or wrong) frame of mind. If you enjoyed their previous album ‘All Hail the Swinelord’, like Black Metal with a hard core twist, or enjoy upsetting your neighbours, then you will devour this. For all its sheer unrelenting aggression it does feature the occasional melodic earworm hook that once discovered will latch on and burrow under your charred skin. This melding of black metal with other extreme genres and a smattering of melody proves there’s more to TGIAC than meets the (evil) eye. Anger is their gift and A Throne of Ash is the gift that keeps on giving; this curse is a blessing.
(8/10 James Jackson)