Love or hate metalcore, you’ll have to bestow the kudos on At the Throne of Judgment if you can endure the punishing assault that is their debut, The Arcanum Order: they’re probably the first band of their ilk to take lyrical prompts from Iron Maiden and Nile. That means ancient mythological lyrics (it’s somewhat ironic that the band members are Christians) and toothy, red-raw hardcore, unforgiving enough that it pushes metalcore to its upper extremities, and completely abandons any soppy ‘emo’ breakup choruses, or any melody whatsoever. At the tender average age of 20, their ferocious soundscape follows to some extent the path laid down by Job for a Cowboy, but minus the cred-damaging MySpace hype and with a much more authentic edge, which the unit trace to influences in classic European metal, including At the Gates and Hammerfall.
It’s not that At the Throne of Judgment’s outlook is a completely unfriendly or elitist one towards their peers—guitarists Brad Weaver and James Ruehlmann sprinkle catchy metallic riffs through tracks like “Sentinel” and “Horus Rises”. Eric Kemp, who seems to handle all vocal duties by himself, is very versatile, trading phlegm-clogged Dani Filth-style black-metal screaming for (poorly enunciated, for the record) death growl in an instant, while drummer Roger Hensley resists the urge just to pummel out the blastbeats, owning his kit with a muscular thwap that both fits the music and is in-sync with the aforementioned guitars—an accomplished feat that many extreme acts still can’t achieve (just ask Deicide).
It’s just that all of this is wrapped in a choppy, Slayer-esque instrumental grind that rampages mercilessly forward, so that you’ll never catch any wispy slivers of melody unless you listen properly to it. That’s right, if you’re going to endure The Arcanum Order at all (and it’s really a very accomplished, rewarding work from these young lads), you might as well give it your full attention. Otherwise it’s all going to sound like one indecipherable churn.
As standouts go, “Horus Rises” looms like a golden statue in the desert. Named after the ancient Egyptian god of the sky, it’s a rampaging romp from the get-go, with a bloodthirsty cry of “Rise!”, straight-forward tremolo rhythm playing, and searing lead guitar lines borrowed from Killswitch Engage, worked into breakdowns that are sure to work up a storm as part of the band’s live act. “Discarnate by Design” displays their songwriting at its most aggressive (“Your indifference is my motive to make you suffer / You’ll die just like all the others”), while “Martyrdom: Ruin of Gaia” switches their paganistic fascinations to Greek, on what is by-and-by the fastest track on the disc, featuring a scalene, chromatic riff that coils around a bottom-ended flurry of double-kick drumming, yet its progressive verse-chorus structure identifies it as more accessible than all out death-metal.
“Four Winds” serves as a warm, quasi-ambient interlude, a rich, minute-long instrumental that bears something in common with Porcupine Tree between the skull-crushing heaviness of the rest of the disc. Unsurprisingly, “Celestial Scourge” rushes out of the gate after it as if nothing happened, corkscrewing violently upwards from its opening guitar harmonics. And “The Captive” is a finale done with proper class, tempos slowed to a thumping afterburner, and the guitarists savage each other and the listener in an epic, metallic play-off, followed seamlessly by an untitled closer that cunningly employs a minor-key piano, a lingering, war-torn tune of the sort you’d expect to hear as a remembrance to those who died in battle. It’s the perfect cap-off to The Arcanum Order, an album whose music functions purely on the theatrical level.
“Tomb of the Thracians”, though, is the cut that sums up At the Throne of Judgment’s mission statement most completely: “Standing higher than the mountains / Surrounding our decaying gates / We stay true to our cause”. Manowar would blush. Like Behemoth, the fantasy throughout The Arcanum Order is a metaphor just waiting to be uncovered. If you can lose yourself in the unrelenting, brutal groove, too, all the better for you.