Sound — 8
With a career that has spanned over 20 years, Enthroned spent the majority of that time behind the more "name-brand" black metal bands like Behemoth, Satyricon, and Marduk - though that never stopped them from producing a giant discography of nine studio albums and several EPs (and if you're making music for the fame, black metal is not the genre to do it in). Their persistence paid off, and now the name Enthroned is getting much more credit for their black metal production than before. With their ninth studio album, "Obsidium," earning praise from the majority of extreme metal enthusiasts, die-hard black metal fans savaged the album for deviating away from the classic elements - and to them, the *only* elements - that make up black metal. Regardless of the ridicule from those that seem to only enjoy the '90s-era black metal, Enthroned has released their landmark tenth studio album, "Sovereigns."
Whether or not Enthroned actually heeded the cries of disdain from the black metal die-hards or not, "Sovereigns" moves back closer to the by-the-book method of black metal. Where "Obsidium" contained less tremolo guitar riffs and instead used more heavy, groove-centric guitar riffs, the guitars in "Sovereigns" are almost exclusively playing nothing but the highly-distorted, cacophonous haze of tremolo riffs throughout the album. While those guitar lines make for about 80% of the album, "Sovereigns" still contains groove-heavy guitar riffs in the breaks of most songs in order to take a breather from the furious picking speed of the tremolo lines; you'll also find guitar solos in "Sine Qua Noa," "Of Feathers and Flames" and "Divine Coagulation." Though the major elements in the album are indeed the crying anguish of tremolo guitar lines and jackhammer-paced blast-beat drums, "Soveriegns" still contains experimental sound elements- such as the thunderous horns in "Sine Qua Noa," or the occult chanting in "Of Shrines and Sovereigns" - that the die-hards may deem "impure" to black metal. The post-verse in "The Edge of Agony" - where the instruments cool down from the demonic fury of tremolo guitars and blast-beat drumming, and you can actually hear a bass-line that isn't playing downtuned notes of monstrous grumbling - may not be welcomed by the more intense black metal fans, and the clean, plucky guitar line in the interlude of "Lamp of Invisible Lights" may even piss off those fans. If you are one of those people that gets aggravated at one of those moments, don't fret, because the last few songs, "Divine Coagulation," "Baal al-Maut" and "Nerxiarxin Mahathallah," is where the album fully commits to the older-era style of black metal and maxes out in speed and ferocity.
Lyrics — 6
Whether you were tipped off by the band's name, the cover art for the album, or the simple fact that the music is black metal, it's not hard to figure out that the lyrics in "Sovereigns" are embedded in themes of occult fantasy - and whether or not the band is coming up with these lyrical stories on their own or getting their source material from role-playing games like "Pathfinder" is up for debate. You'll of course find songs about atrocities and wraths from godly beings, such as in "Divine Coagulation," "Nerxiarxin Mahathallah" and "Baal al-Maut" (just about every metalhead should be familiar with the name Baal), and "Lamp of Invisible Lights" details a conversation between the demon Buer and the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. Enthroned's vocalist Nornagest had said in an interview that knowing the lyrics is the most important thing to understand "Sovereigns," but of course, the lyrics are not easy to decipher when they're delivered in Nornagest's sinister growls and screaming.
Overall Impression — 7
Whether or not you like it, black metal is changing, and bringing progression in its sound (even if it's just a little). The die-hard black metal fans may ridicule today's black metal for being too digitally refined (which really isn't saying much at all) and putting in more elements than traditional black metal should have, but with black metal keeping a consistent presence for so long, it was bound to break away from the vintage sound it began as, much like any genre. "Sovereigns" may contain extra riffs aside from the hazily distorted tremolo riffs, and it may contain extra sound elements that the die-hards don't welcome, but overall, it still sticks to the standard black metal aesthetic, which is the most important thing of all. This is what black metal is in the year 2014; just remember that if you're unsatisfied because it doesn't sound exactly like the way black metal did in the '90s.