The Wretched End - Ominous
Blackened Thrash
12 songs (45 minutes)
Release year: 2010
Reviewed by Jake

The Wretched End has both the advantage and the disadvantage of being the newest project by a man whose reputation precedes him. Though Samoth has been involved in a large handful of major bands, he will always be remembered as one of the co-founders of legendary Inner Circle black metal band Emperor, in no small part because of his conviction in the burning of historic Norwegian churches during black metal's violent youth. Between the notoriety of his actions and the innovative, trendsetting musical contributions of Emperor itself, Samoth (and band leader Ihsahn) spent the 1990s building up a a hell of a lot of baggage for people to bring to later projects. If you view The Wretched End through that “the guy from Emperor” lens, though, you'll be doing yourself a disservice.

This is not a continuation of Emperor's discography—it's closer to Zyklon, Samoth's death metal band from more recent years, but in truth it's something quite new. A collaboration with Cosmocrator (Samoth's bandmate from deathpunk outfit Scum), the band's debut album Ominous is forceful, rhythmic and blunt; the band lead us through a collection of 11 winding thrash tunes that have the unmistakable flavor of brutal death metal but stay within the thrash arena. The album is not devoid of black metal atmosphere, but those feelings of cold and darkness emerge in certain moments from the riffs—which are the album's real focus—rather than hanging dominant over them.

Though there's plenty of technical ability on display, Samoth and Cosmocrator seem to prefer to stick to simple riffs arranged into structures so labyrinthine they'll take a few listens to internalize. There's nothing resembling a verse-chorus structure to be found on the album. Instead, songs alternate between machine-gun thrash riffs, melodic lines and cold grooves in patterns so unpredictable and changing that it's nearly impossible to intuit where one song ends and the next begins. Drummer Nils Fjellstrom acquits himself well from start to finish; though the album would have had more than enough notes of death and black metal to justify a reliance on blastbeats, Fjellstrom makes the winning choice to restrict himself to two or three blasts on the whole thing, relying instead on traditional thrash patterns deployed tastefully and broken up by creative, low-key fills.

The whole album is informed by a misanthropic anger that shouldn't be strange to fans of black metal, though the anti-religious angle doesn't play as big of a role here as it did in the work of openly Satanic lyricists like Ihsahn. The centerpiece of the album, thematically, is The Human Corporation, which decries the influence of capitalism on Western culture, and the way that man is removed fro his connection to nature by materialist existence. Samoth's not likely to burn down your local Starbucks, but it's not hard to see how power-hungry corporations could occupy a similarly oppressive role in society to that of churches and Christianity from the antagonistic, individualistic, Pagan-influenced point of view of adherents to the black metal ideology.

Cosmocrator's vocals are the weak point of The Wretched End. There's nothing wrong with the harsh, barking shout approach he takes, but he doesn't really modulate his voice across the album, which gets monotonous over the thing's 45-minute runtime. Still, they're not quite what you'd expect, either from a thrash metal or a black metal album, which speaks to the quality that makes the album so appealing: it's never quite what you expect. There's nothing on this album that hasn't been done before, but it's all combined in new ways; a steady build in demonic atmosphere that sounds like it's about to culminate in a synth-laden breakdown will instead explode into a thrash assault, or a pounding mid-tempo riff will keep its pace but shift into an atmospheric groove. From the unconventional structures to the schizophrenic mood, the fun of The Wretched End is in the twists and turns.

Think of Ominous as a new Emperor project and you'll find it lacking—its evil muted, its playing too laid-back. Think of it as the debut by a new band, though, and you'll see it for what it is: an exciting and unique contribution to the thrash revival from an unlikely source.

Killing Songs :
The Human Corporation, Residing in Limbo, Zoo Human Syndrome
Jake quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by The Wretched End that we have reviewed:
The Wretched End - Inroads reviewed by Goat and quoted 81 / 100
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