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The Barren Throne

Unique Leader (2014)
Rating: 7/10

Armed with a new vocalist in Benedikt Natanael Bjarnason, Icelandic death metallers Beneath have returned with their sophomore outing The Barren Throne.

The album follows on from the 2012 Enslaved By Fear debut, and opens with the acoustic strains of ‘Depleted Kingdom’ before the quintet explodes ravenously into a bludgeoning formula of melodic death metal. Extremely contemporary by design from its artwork through to its crisp percussion and ravaging yet crystal clear riffage, The Barren Throne marks a significant progressive step for the band in that while remaining heavy and scathing, the overall framework which surrounds this beast is one of complexity yet nothing overtly bewildering.

Beneath rarely settle on their laurels, combining rapid-fire drums (courtesy of Ragnar Sverrisson) with a jarring intensity. ‘Depleted Kingdom’ harbours frantic solos, a crushing bass backbone and above all the frenetic percussion that pretty much sums up modern day death metal. Thankfully, Bjarnason is more than capable of filling the shoes of Gísli Sigmundsson, who had been with the band since their 2007 inception. Even so, there is nothing drastically different about Bjarnason’s style; both are extremely guttural and very much no frills in their bellowing delivery, but it works all the same alongside those weighty riffs and rampant drums.

It’s nice to hear elements of progression within the death metal fold nowadays – especially with the sudden transformation of pace – but the influences are always there to hear ranging from, say, Hate Eternal to some extent, maybe a dose of Decapitated Christ, and a hint of later Immolation. The album is immensely powerful for its duration and that will please fans of any decade of death metal – the riffs are huge, especially on the thunderous ‘Chalice’ with its belligerent drum style, and there’s rarely a break for breath except for the unexpected chorus which has a sprig of black metal about it.

There are 11 strong tracks on offer here, my favourites being the menacing trudge of ‘Iron Jaw’ with its lethal bass and lurch into annihilating speed. There’s a shade of Hideous Divinity about some of the complex extremity and the brain-juddering fury of the title track alone should be enough to keep you happy, especially with its simmering intro and devastating assault via the hostile guitar sound and those choppy vocals. However, as with so many modern technical death metal acts, there is always a downside. Firstly, there is nothing on this album that stands out as being truly brilliant, despite the punishment dished out by the quintet. No, the songs don’t just melt into one long ramble like some bands, but Beneath have yet to really find their feet within a genre that is spawning so many similar sounding bands.

These guys are trying to do something slightly different and as pounding modern-day death metal acts go, The Barren Throne is a worthy addition to any collection. With its all too typical computerised artwork and the rather predictable nature of its intricacy – if that’s at all possible – however, I expect more next time round from Beneath because the current crop of death metal bands just don’t have it in them to write classic material, so it would seem.

Neil Arnold

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