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Pale Thorns - Somberland (2016) - Review

Band: Pale Thorns
Album title: Somberland
Release date: 1 June 2016
Label: Divided Visions

01. A Downward Spiral
02. Human Landfill
03. Lightstorm
04. Through Passed Times
05. Soultransporter
06. The Way Out
07. Deserted Highways
08. Dead End

Pale Thorns is a one man band that doesn't seem to fit into any one genre. Magnus Lindh of Skin Area has delved into a projected wholly unlike his past albums. We know Skin Area as an often sonically brutal post-punk/post-industrial/post-categorization two-man band, along with the enigmatic and highly ecclectic Martin Bladh. Any project that includes front-man Martin Bladh is sure to be a sonic assault on the senses. I had the pleasure of witnessing a live performance by Martin's other project IRM, and it was mind-blowing to say the least. When I heard that Magnus Lindh had his own new side project Pale Thorns and was just about to release a full-lenghth solo album, I was very excited. Hot off the stage from their outing at the Epicurean Escapism Festival, Magnus has returned to his abode in Norrköping Sweden and launched his new endeavour, Pale Thorns Somberland.

Pale Thorns may be a one man project but the feel of the album as well as the artwork featured on the cover and in the booklet attests to his close connections with the Swedish dark music scene. Peter Andersson of raison d'être lent his talents to the layout of the album, which is adorned with some beautiful yet dark photography by Magnus Lindh. Most of this album art was taken in Gotland, an island off the Swedish mainland. As one listens through the album, the photography here really sets the mood and proves its deep connection to the sound itself. Assistance in the studio was given by none other than Erik Jarl of IRM and Jarl, who also happened to do a collaboration with Skin Area, entitled La Petite Mort.

The sound presented in Somberland is true to the album title and the accompanying photography. This is a multi-genre somber experience. Somberland starts off with "A Downward Spiral" a track which begins with field recordings of rain and some other lonely movements. A droning guitar note slowly fades in, almost in the vein of something from Taphephobia. But this initial impression quickly disperses as the distorted guitar strumming begins and the full drum kit sets the beat. As the water torrents continue to rush in the background the track moves into full swing with Magnus' vocals entering the mix initially repeating the phrases "sealed inside". While the music has its very own sound, the vocals almost remind me of something from David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. The bassy lonely yet perfectly harmonized sounds of his voice give the whole album a really interesting dynamic. Sometimes the music keeps a down-tempo relaxed feel, while at any moment it can change into a more upbeat affair, or fade off completely into another set of well-balanced field recordings. "Soultransporter" gives off an industrial feel, not of an electronically tinged German metal band, but of actual industry taking please nearby. Then "Deserted Highways" is another nature-focused ambient track with the sounds of rain, running water, and some guitar drones. The final track of the album "Dead End" takes the dynamic abilities to their climax, starting on its slow lonely path and gently building up over the length of this longest track on the album into a massive and intricately layered wall of sound.

Somberland is admittedly not the kind of album I would usually find myself putting on repeat, and yet with a little luck of finding this hidden gem I have been pleasantly surprised. The lack of any specific genre being utilized on Somberland gives it a very fresh feel. Heavy use of field recordings mixed in with a variety of physical instrumentation makes the fact that it's a one-man band all the more astounding. Listening to Skin Area, I would have never imagined that Pale Thorns was indeed the same musician. Various musical outlets of often opposing ideologies and structures always seem to come from the most talented within the music industry. Somberland is an worthy achievement by Magnus and one that exhibits a nice replay value with its multiple layers and approaches to the sound. I honestly wouldn't know who best to recommend this to, everyone should really give it a try and see if it draws them in as well as it did for me. This seems like the type of sound that would fit a live setting perfectly and it would be interesting to see Magnus bring in the help of a few more musicians to take this sound into a venue. Often the most valued finds come from the most unlikely of places, Somberland is no exception. Play this at generous volumes when you are alone and looking to contemplate life!

Review written by: Michael
Rating: 7.5/10