Music dorks (hi, hello, how are you) love to dissect, analyze, and compartmentalize. We like classifications and rankings and comparisons and counterfactuals, all of it pursued with the bloodless extravagance of a calmly corpsepainted Carolus Linnaeus. But the sneakier, less widely advertised part of the equation is that we also love magic. We love tracing history and genealogy because we like to be able to see where things are coming from, but the thrill of an album that lovingly sustains the fertile ground from which it draws influence is nothing compared to the hair-raising spell cast by an album which shows you where it came from while simultaneously pulling the rug out from under you.
There are likely enough neuroses crammed in the preceding sentences to sustain an entire cottage industry of music-critic psychologists, but for the moment that’s beside the point. The reason any of this is germane is that Thaurachs of Borsu, the second album from Divine Element, is a success in large part because of how neatly it ties together two rather niche subgenres: classic Greek black metal in the vein of Rotting Christ, Varathron, Nergal, Necromantia, et al., and unabashedly melodic but still stern death metal of the sort that follows a line from Edge of Sanity through Amon Amarth and, latterly, Helcaraxe. But instead of faithfully recombining those hoary tropes and leaving it at that, there’s a low-burning fire throughout Thaurachs of Borsu that is irreducible to its familiarity.
An even easier way to sell you on this might be to note that the album is a glorification of the tragically vanishing art of the majestic-as-dog-balls guitar lead.
Divine Element is another project of Spectral Lore’s Ayloss, who is joined here by Antonis on vocals and wunderkind journeyman Hannes Grossmann on drums. Thaurachs of Borsu apparently tells a story set in a universe imagined by Ayloss, and he has reported that a novel telling the fully story will soon be published. Musically, it’s easy to see how the shifting moods and styles of the the album have a narrative intent. The only way in which this detracts from the listening experience is in the slight overuse of voiceover, which is particularly noticeable on “Call of the Blade.” Nevertheless, although the details of the story are not immediately apparent without a close study of the lyrics, the mood throughout is something of a mix of wistful aggression and triumphant restraint, as though a great army stands perched on the precipice of either glory of destruction, and its commander feels both the extraordinary weight of that responsibility and the exhilaration of its possibilities on her shoulders.
Antonis’s deep, bellowing rasp has a bit of a Hegg/Akerfeldt sound, in part because the lyrics are so clearly articulated, which lends further credence to the presentation of the album as winding tale. The title track is a punchy, tightly written song that hews most closely to the melodic death metal side of the band’s equation, but the majority of the songs set off on walking paths through diverse terrain. The interlocked guitar tremolo lines that form the principal motif of “On the Trail of Betrayal” are one of the closest points to Spectral Lore, but about halfway through the song, it resets into a breakdown and taut rhythm guitar feature. Throughout, the lead guitar tone often sounds a bit like a violin, which lends the song a somewhat rustic air, like an Irish reel echoing across an active battlefield.
There are also enough nods to epically minded heavy metal that the album occasionally plays like Rotting Christ paying tribute to Manilla Road, while “Beyond this Sea” slows things way down, to a seasick lament that really serves as a showcase for some beautifully simply guitar leads. Along with the thrilling debut of Locust Leaves earlier this year, I, Voidhanger seems to be tapping into a new vein of innovative Greek metal that has learned its heritage so deeply that it can rewrite, recast, and remake old sounds into new forms that still bear the stamp of their genesis. Divine Element has a story to tell, and it’s hard not to be stirred to wonder.
And if nothing else, those guitar leads really ARE majestic as dog balls.