A subterranean brook burbles queerly in the half-light. You allow the sound to lure you away from the mouth of the cave, away from the forest, toward what appear to be green and red shapes waltzing across a far cavern wall. But there are no shapes, no wall, only light-starved hallucinations undulating behind your eyelids. You are in complete darkness now. The water, your only guide, has forsaken you. Is this the antechamber to the Underworld? Are you in a dream about your own death? No, you are inside Haunter‘s debut album, Thrinodía—and good luck finding your way out.
Let us begin with the title: Thrinodía. Presumably the word is some root or derivation of “threnody” which I cannot be bothered to research. A threnody is a song, poem or hymn of lament. Aside from some solemn clean guitar passages drenched in delay, Thrinodía is not exactly exuding sadness. But let us not forget that sadness is only one aspect of lament, or grief. Grief can, as often as not, be savage and unbearable, shot-through with rage. And Thrinodía packs rage in abundance, from the disgustingly harsh vocals to the inhumanly warped guitar to the thoroughly unhinged percussion. This is not the bald rage of, say, hardcore or thrash, but instead the rage which, in grief, becomes essentially indistinguishable from sorrow; the rage of passion in apogee.
So what, then, does Thrinodía lament? A deceased loved-one? A fallen nation? A doomed planet? As you listen, you will begin to feel that the answer is none of these; that Thrinodía instead presents the listener with a lament for oneself. With bitter reflection, caustic regret and the hateful panic which results from realizing all at once that it is all over. What is all over? Your life. It has ended abruptly, in medias res, and you have awoken in Hell. Not the biblical fire and brimstone version, but something more personal, more cruel. You are still yourself, you can still remember yourself, but you have been excommunicated from everything you recognize, everything which contributed to the formation of that self, from all the people, places and objects which constituted so many mirrors. There is nothing to look into here to gain a sense that all is well; in every direction you look you see only inconsolable shadows, dispassionate smears of gray, phantom automatons writhing in living darkness. All you can hear are your own directionless footsteps and—of course—those distant screams which seem to have no source. Those screams which would portend your ultimate fate if only you could find your way out of the murk. You do not know if you will one day be allowed to scream. The only thing you know is that your family is not here—and you will never see them again.
None of which really says a thing about this album, so allow me to switch gears. On Thrinodía, Haunter dip their toes into pretty much every major subgenre of black metal I can think of, not to mention paying homage to death metal and hardcore as well. What holds it all together is a furious energy, an openness to evolution and a refusal to be bored (or boring). The album is dense and intricately layered throughout; it harnesses a textural fluidity which many bands—especially bands this young—break themselves striving to achieve. Agonized screams echo from far away, fading in and out, while deep throaty vocals menace their way to the front of the mix. The bass is both audible and busy enough to compete with the gnarled guitars for your attention; basslines race and wind and double back upon themselves, always alongside the guitars, never underneath. The guitars are sometimes an inarticulate wash of misery, while at others they peel off spine-tingling melodies or unlikely harmonies which owe as much to dissonant black metal as to hardcore. The percussion phases in and out of blastbeats, d-beat, stately rock phrasings and the occasional doomic crawl, never sitting still for long, always sprinting toward the next unexpected curve in the road. Thrinodía is always many things at once: morose, infuriated, ponderous, grand. In a word, it is ambitious. But never too ambitious for its own good. There is no pomp or bloat to be found here. Haunter is able to negotiate organically with their ambition instead of letting it run amok; their chaotic melange of textures and feels is always reined in by a healthy respect for refinement, as well as an understanding of exactly what the core of their sound is: hard-hitting USBM.
The production is quite raw, which is odd, because the demo which preceded this album was wonderfully clear and balanced, with a healthy bottom end to lend everything a headbangable oomph. Nothing much is headbangable anymore. The low frequencies are still present, even audible, but they grovel in subservience to the shrill higher frequencies: namely that damned hi-hat. The satanic sizzle of the hi-hat corrupts everything. The other cymbals, too, are massive and overbearing, especially the ride. As seems to be the trend with rawly produced black metal these days, the drums are not buried in the mix but foregrounded, pushed into the red and beyond, utterly blown out; these crisp and bright frequencies tend to mingle with the shrieked vocals and ultimately drown them out, to the point where it can become difficult to differentiate between the cry of a forsaken soul and the cry of a brutally molested hi-hat. Frankly, Thrinodía sounds like that demo after it was dipped briefly in a jar of acid. We bottom-feeding metalheads like to joke that we prefer demos to “official” recordings; here, Haunter have dispensed with the humor and taken the sentiment to heart. Perhaps this regression owes something to the fact that the band is not signed to a label. I cannot imagine why not. If it happens to be the case that the band is hostile to label support, that is a shame, because music as intricate as this could use a better mix-job.
In a 2015 interview with Noisey, Jeff Whitehead of Leviathan stated: “I don’t think I’m really making black metal anymore . . . I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.” I’d disagree. I’d say he is making black metal better—pushing the genre to be everything it can be, as opposed to everything it has already been. I mention this now because I hear a lot of Scar Sighted in Thrinodía. Although this is Haunter’s first proper album, they already seem to be barking up a similar tree. Not that this album picks up where Scar Sighted left off or even sounds a whole lot like it on the surface, but it was the first reference point to pop into my head, so now you’re stuck with it. I don’t subscribe to the dogma of genre. Nor do I believe that any genre is ever truly dead. I think the sane among us can agree that black metal is as alive as ever, and that this is because the music never fails to attract newcomers, and happily so many of those newcomers never fail to bring some new perspective to the old scenery. As with everything in human history, from art to culture to life itself, music is in a constant state of flux. New ideas gestate inside young listeners, bound up in potential energy until the day when they explode: illuminating, kinetic and alive. New ideas don’t destroy genres; they save them.
Does Haunter have any new ideas? Yeah, I think they’ve got a few.
Four Out ov Five Flaming Toilets ov Hell
(Band image via)