Nonexist - Throne of Scars - (7.5/10)
Published on October 24, 2015
Where to begin with Nonexist? I remember hearing Deus Deceptor back when it was new(ish) and upon revisiting it, I definitely believe it has held up, existing as one of the better exports from the burgeoning melodic death metal scene at the time. The main draw of this band is the presence of Johan Liiva, who after Arch Enemy kept himself busy with a myriad of projects, finding the most success with Hearse. Progressive/shred virtuoso Johan Reinholdz is no stranger to yours truly, obviously due to the Skyfire connection. He is a technically profound player who has trouble nailing the perfect formula. That said, Throne of Scars was a surprise to me, and not for the reasons one might expect. The most apt descriptor is “loose,” born of the stylistic idiosyncrasy exhibited. To Throne of Scars‘ credit, it keeps you on your toes throughout, for good or ill.
The precise riffing climate of the debut is not necessarily carried over in earnest, but the core of the band’s earlier sound is present and accounted for. Specifically, expect melodic death metal with a proclivity for dirty, rocking grooves and ephemeral progressive tinkering. The record belabors expectations right out of the gate with “Pyroclastic Cluster Torment,” which toes the line partitioning white-knuckled death metal and features Liiva at his most… unpredictable. There are autotuned clean vocals, standard death growls and this particular (and intelligible) half-shout style which I am always partial to. It reminds me of Radek Polrolniczak from Made of Hate. People always shit on the shouted vocals, and I am aware of Liiva’s detractors, but as always I prefer just about anything to placid, gutless melodeath “grunts.” Strange moments abound throughout the first few tracks, not limited to the vocal cadence of “Pyroclastic Cluster Torment” and the surprisingly competent cleans on “A Promise Unfulfilled.” Yeah, Liiva is responsible for much of the brow-furling, but he has a very distinctive style that bobs and weaves throughout Reinholdz’s clinical shredding and rollicking grooves.
Throne of Scars is an endearing listen because it doesn’t try to fit any specific mold beyond surface level. Reinholdz just pumps out whatever style is on his mind at the time, be it the Behemoth-level monolithic flair of “Rodents of War” or the half-time crushing, murky dirge of “Cathedrals Beyond.” Keyboards are used sparingly but to great effect, although some of the transitions feel a bit awkward; almost like the band hadn’t heard some of the songs in full until they were already recorded and pieced together, then just went with it anyway. The lyrics are also suspect at times, especially during the sections where Liiva is spotlighted. It isn’t that they are daft or mindless, but his spoken diatribe style doesn’t particularly lend itself to such generic themes.
Functional, workmanlike guitar lines exist aplenty, but I have to admit that I expected Reinholdz to fly off the cuff more often than he does here. Soloing is spectacular as expected, but in limited quantity at best. Now that Andreas Edlund has left Skyfire, it is up to Johan to pick up the slack, and I hope that he finds that perfect formula that has eluded him up to this point. Nonexist is a fun project and Throne of Scars is an enjoyable album, exhibiting many hallmarks exorcised out of the melodeath gene pool against better judgement over the last decade or so. To that end, the record has some enjoyable throwback appeal, and Liiva is always a riot to listen to. Good, not great.