On Thorns I Lay have been around for a long while, even if you haven't heard the name before, but they're not the same band they've been. They were founded in Athens back in 1992, with their first album released three years later, and they've experienced a slew of line-up changes, as tends to be the case. However, until their ninth album, Threnos in 2020, the band remained centered around a pair of founder members, lead vocalist Stefanos Kintzoglou, who also contributed bass until 2017, and guitarist Christos Dragamestianos.
That changed in 2021 when Kintzoglou left to reform the band that became On Thorns I Lay with a few former members. That's Phlebotomy, not to be mistaken with Phlebotomized, the Dutch death metal band. Maybe that's why this album is self-titled. Presumably Dragamestianos sees it as the fresh start the band needs, especially given that the rest of the line-up is very new. Vocalist Peter Miliadis, guitarist Nikolas Paraskevopoulos and bassist Kostas Mexis are each making their studio debuts for On Thorns I Lay here.
If you've followed On Thorns I Lay through those decades, you might be wondering what style they have adopted this week. They started out as brutal death metal, shifted to symphonic doom/death and then gothic metal, before eventually moving back to the doom/death style evident here. The new aspect is folk instrumentation, which I believe shows up here for the first time. There are lots of ethnic instruments on display here and the opener, Fallen from Grace, kicks off with ethnic voice and strings. However, it's still doom/death rather than folk metal, merely with new textures.
I'm a folk metal fan, so I'd be happy with more of the ethnic instrumentation, but it works well as a contrast, replacing the beauty and the beast vocal contrast from some earlier albums. This aspect isn't overused, but it is integral. One of my favourite sections in the album arrives late in Thorns of Fire when the heavy doom/death is accompanied by what I presume is some sort of zither. Many of the songs feature this contrast in some form, especially Crestfallen, both at the beginning and in the midsection, and Among the Wolves, both of which are favourites of mine.
The band's core sound nowadays is an elegant form of atmospheric doom metal, which is slow and crushingly heavy but full of melody, especially through the guitars. It's a rich and immersive sound that, at its best, feels apart from everything as if it's torn a hole in the space/time continuum and dragged us through to somewhere and somewhen entirely new. The death aspect comes mostly in a warm but harsh growled vocal from Miliadis, who I presume is versatile given that he also sings for a crossover thrash band, Double Square, and used to sing for a metalcore band, SlavEATgod.
The instrument that stood out the most for me was the guitar. I don't know how much of that is the work of Dragamestianos and how much his new compatriot, Paraskevopoulos, but the combination worked for me, whether they were soloing, providing melodic lines in a Paradise Lost style or even dropping into an acoustic or ethnic mode, using whatever other stringed instruments were sitting around. I've read that there were many of them, as many as fifteen different instruments, though I have no idea what or where.
The other aspect that deserves mention is that these aren't generally short songs but they're not epics either. Fallen from Grace opens up at just over eight minutes and Crestfallen exceeds it by a single second. The final three songs run seven minutes and varying degrees of change, with only a single track left to serve as the anomaly. That's Newborn Skies, which fails to reach five minutes, a strange and ironic fact given that it's the song with the most symphonic backdrop. We might think that that would be the epic but it isn't here and it's a fair length. The rest of the songs breathe nicely.
I'm new to On Thorns I Lay, as far as I'm aware, and I have to remind myself that this is a new start for them, but I'm interested in what they sounded like previously. The gothic tinges have been far more pivotal to their sound in the past, from what I read, and I've been a particular fan of beauty and the beast vocals since they were invented. Maybe I'll dip into their earlier work once I get back on track with reviews after the events of the past few months. In the meantime, I'm happy with the old school doom/death sound they have here, with heavier death growls and a teasing element of folk added for good measure. I like.