Thorns 2001 : The End ?

I like to make fun of Black Metal. I like mocking its tropes and aesthetics, probably more than my actual field experience should allow me. I enjoy it because I sincerely believe that making fun of what we love is a healthy process. A way of questioning it, taking a step back on what it is, where it came from and where it goes. Thankfully there are a lot of artists questioning it far better than I can ever do, and take action to carry this heritage onwards, not giving in to a stale conservatism.

For keeping it moving, breaking dogma is the most important feature of the genre ; far more important than the black & white, Satan-worshipping decorum which does bear a lot of significance, but is so easily and ungratefully ridiculed. This vanguard spirit laid grounds for what became the Second Wave, and its instigator was no other than Snorre Ruch.

Without sounding too arrogant, I think it’s great if I can inspire other Black Metal musicians to widen their horizons and widen their ways of thinking and their ways of writing music because I think that Black Metal is too narrow. And I think that was not the idea at the beginning with Black Metal. I think that Black Metal was revolutionary and it was radical but now it is conservative and very narrow. I think that all the conservative Black Metal people don’t know what Black Metal really was about back in the early 90’s, late 80’s.

Snorre, interviewed for Voices of the Darkside

On the brink of the new millenium, a second artistic boom would shake the foundations of Black Metal and widen its horizon. The main musical canvas had been established just to be blown apart by a quatuor of revolutionary albums between 1999 and 2001 : Dodheimsgard’s 666 International, Satyricon’s Rebel Extravaganza, A Grand Declaration of War by Mayhem, and the well-awaited, first official Thorns album.

By the time the album came out in 2001, Snorre had already proven time and again that he was able to lay down seminal works, allowing a whole genre to organically develop itself. He had done that twice already : first with Thorns, and then as a part of Mayhem. To be able to make such breakthroughs takes more than outrageous musical skill ; if not a fully conscious artistic vision, it requires at least enough aesthetic and intellectual curiosity to wander off and away from one’s habits and direct influences.

I try not to be so inspired by music, I try to make music from ideas, from thoughts, from feelings, from… it’s difficult, from mathematics, from physics, from stuff that happen in nature, natural events. I try to find inspiration in everything, not just music because I think if you just listen to other music it would be too narrow when you want to create something new, I try to find the inspiration somewhere else. Most of the times, I am just trying to materialize a feeling into music.

This time though, claiming Snorre is solely responsible for this new Norwegian revolution would be a gross overreach. While everyone in this artistic community owes debt to Thorns demos, they all carry their own ideas and style. Rebel Extravaganza does bear the mark of Snorre’s work with Frost and Satyr, as he was directly involved in its composition and recording process, but A Grand Declaration of War undeniably is the result of Blasphemer’s will to take riffs to a convoluted and grandiloquent place where no man had gone before, and 666 International is Vicotnik’s troop’s Electro-Indus infused Neutron bomb, unapologetically dropped on the Black Metal continent without prior notice.

Among this “Big Four of third wave Black Metal”, Thorns holds simultaneously the most confidential and the highest cult status. Made cult by Snorre’s sheer reputation, but also because the album retains the essential core of this stylistic shift : sharp as a needle, dense, with a cold and industrial atmosphere. Existence starts right away with one of those landmark Snorre riffs.


Slight whisper.

And the riff bomb blasts off again, sparked by the roaring vocal anguish offered by no other than Aldrahn, singer and co-founder of Dødheimsgard. This suffocating atmosphere in razorblade, ear-chiseling riffs will go on twisting the listener’s guts for the rest of the album. There is a sense of panic in the riff-heavy tracks like World Playground Deceit (probably my favourite riff of all time), Vortex or Underneath the Universe Pt. II.

Snorre is the guitar master as always, while the singing is alternatively delivered by Aldrahn… or Satyr, the new “boss”. As per the drumming, there is only one guy around able to render such a cold, surgical, millimetric material while clearly putting flesh and bone into it : Mayhem’s Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg. Needless to say Snorre had the most prestigious line-up imaginable around him while he handled all the rest: composition, guitar, bass, keyboards. Industrial vibes are an undeniable part of the sonic identity of the album, especially in the most “ambient” tracks like Underneath the Universe pt. I or the downright terrifying Shifting Channels.

While Declaration of War gets all over the place, while Rebel Extravaganza claims a more “banger collection” status, and while 666 Intl breaks everything with no hope for redemption, Thorns is the one that holds the most focus. It is, in one word, essential. It may be the latest among these four releases but a good part had been already written and composed for some time. And as the intertwined line-ups between the bands show, it may not be as seminal as the demos were but it is nonetheless the result of a common pool of influences, a community of artists at a point in space and time inspiring each other, all of them holding a sort of debt to Snorre. Both a product of its time, and one of the pillars of a new era.

So… If that Thorns album is such an essential milestone, why is it so confidential ? Why has it not prevailed in the Black Metal pantheon among Mayhem, Satyricon or Emperor ?

I can only give my personal interpretation here, and it is tied to what I could figure out of Snorre’s personality, and the status he was granted in the “scene” during the early to mid-90s. Snorre is an especially discreet character, rarely appearing in any form of public lens whatsoever. In all likelihood, he is a curious and sensitive soul, an intellectual and an introvert.

Or, in one word : “weak”. As the narrow ideals of individualism and “strength” of Black Metal went this is probably the qualification that would have been implicitly assigned to him. And by these virilistic standards, the vilest of sins. A “weakling”, easily enrolled in the Inner Circle by its guru. His creativity channeled for Euronymous’ magnum opus, his gullibility exploited for his murder. Imagine being under the influence of such manipulators and then have to cope alone with the consequences, and the trauma, for years. Snorre himself admitted that had Wongraven not come for him, he probably would have stopped composing music at all.

Here it is then. Here lies the Great Big Truth about Black Metal. The Ultimate Secret. Its fundamental keys and tropes, its constitutive elements, its lifeblood of artistic radicality and refusal for statu quo, all personified in this one intellectual, introvert human being. This nerd, influenced by sciences and metaphysics, victim to the excesses and crimes of his bullies.

I like to make fun of Black Metal because in many cases, the grand shows of Trve Kvltness and edgy claims are but completely ignorant of this fundamental truth. And I take Black Metal more seriously than any other genre precisely because of it. One can easily lose sight of what bonds them to an object of passion, but this album reminds me every time why I got spellbound by this artistic movement, similar to none other. Why I fell in love with Black Metal despite all its errances and flaws.

This 2001 album is the last known Thorns release but the band never ceased activity per se. Snorre made some rare live guest appearances, a second album was teased in 2008 due for an undisclosed date. By some accounts, Snorre and Aldrahn kept a close kinship all these years, and around the 2010s a couple of musicians were anounced as official new members of Thorns. There might therefore be a glimpse of light for the future of the Thorns entity… Let us hope and dream for a brief moment.