The career of On Thorns I Lay is typified by the wanderings that led the band past a total of five albums and as many labels in the last 20 years. This ramble is indeed symbolic of how fickle and successful the musical career of these Greek veterans has been since their formation in the early nineties. Although over those three decades the band released a creditable 10 full-length albums, which were not equally well-received and the band even briefly threw in the towel, On Thorns I Lay is back with this new, self-titled album and have sought refuge with the biggest label in their career so far: Season Of Mist.
Although the band always belonged to the earliest Greek metal bands that paved the way for what would become the well-known Hellenic metal scene, they were never close musically to the likes of Rotting Christ, Necromantia or Varathron. Instead they have opted for a far more doomy approach of their take on the metal genre. With this they had more in common with the Italian Doom/Gothic band Novembre than with the hard hitting Black Metal bands that Greece got increasingly well-known for. But while many of their countrymen went to explore different regions of the metal spectrum, On Thorns I Lay mellowed out even more, resulting in an album like the in 2003 Black Lotus Records released ‘Egocentric’, on which the band drifted further away from the metal genre and fully adopting a Gothic Rock identity.
On these non-metal years they were much closer to bands like Antimatter, Anathema, Novembre and Klimt1918, a transformation that many other acts took, most notable might be Anathema who went to pursue their love for Tangerine Dream-like progressiveness. I am quite sure that, just like me, many were surprised to hear On Thorns I Lay returned to a heavier sound with their 2015 album, ‘Eternal Silence’ (Sleazy Rider Records), their first record after a twelve-year hiatus. Heavy guitars and a thoroughly doomy sound and even lots of throaty grunts made their (re-)entrance to the band’s music, while the guitar sound and overall production it was clear that the band was not used to work their way through these heavier regions of their tones…
Much did change on its follow-up from 2018. ‘Aegean Sorrow’ (Alone Records/The Vinyl Division) was a huge step forward both in terms of song writing but foremost in production, the grand walls of heavy guitars and extreme vocals made the band sound heavier than ever before. The mournful and overall dark atmosphere of the album really made me look twice to make sure this was really the band that released those three “classic” albums on Holy Records, which really sound thin and fragile compared to the huge sound of ‘Aegean Sorrow’.
As always with such hugely unexpected events like this, it rises the question: what to expect next? Is this something that forms the blueprint of what is yet to come? ‘Threnos’, which was released by Lifeforce Records (yet another new label) in 2020 sounded a bit less fresh and overwhelming, but had largely the same intent as its predecessor and that same musical course can be heard on this new same titled album on Season Of Mist.
‘On Thorns I Lay’ has more or less the same heavy approach to their musical formula of its two preceding sister-albums, fully taking on that Doom/Death Metal with hints of Gothic approach, not at all so far removed from genre giants like Draconian, Saturnus or Swallow The Sun. It serves you with beautifully crafted melodies, grandiose orchestrations, great depths in dynamics and a fully impressive deep grunting vocal delivery. It might (again) not be of the same level of (my favourite) ‘Aegean Sorrow’ and by now definitely adopting this musical identity, they do sacrifice on originality, something they achieved with the bulk of their earlier work, but in return these Greeks anno 2023 do present a massive album that is thoroughly enjoyable.
Ironically, with their “new” sound On Thorns I Lay sounds pretty much like a doomier version of SepticFlesh, a band that also nowadays sounds much heavier than they ever did. Whether it has to do with whatever shifting of musical tastes and preferences or a musical mid-life crisis, it works remarkably well. Maybe it has to do with the aging of its members too, but with the last three (maybe even four, including ‘Eternal Silence’) albums they have at least found a stable musical formula that allows the band to get into somewhat calmer waters, now it is only to be hoped that they found their definite home at Season Of Mist too. As far as I am concerned, On Thorns I Lay never received the recognition and praise they deserved, it might just be a bit sour that this might only come after they abandon their originality and visionary musical views…