Estonian Pagan Black Metal band Tharaphita first formed back in 1993 under the title Ancestral Damnation. The name stuck for about two years, though nothing official was ever released under that moniker. In fact, upon switching in 1995, it took another two years before the band's first demo, Kui varjud põlevad, was to be released, followed by a second later on that year. Come 1998, Tharaphita independently issued their first full-length recording, Raev, which marked the start of this group's ascension to notoriety within their home country. Since then, two major changes occurred to the line-up that welcomed rhythm guitarist Benton (Rattler, Winter Night Overture) into the fold in 1999, but most recently bassist Brutalis in 2009. Today, there have been four albums total, another demo in 2008, an EP, as well as a compilation in 2009. After about six years of studio silence (seven if you don't count the aforementioned demo), the five-piece returned in 2014 with their much anticipated fifth studio album, Ülestõus, which was handled by Vaarang Records. But did this release deserve the praise and recognition, such as being nominated for "Best Metal Album" at the Estonian Music Awards of 2015, or is it just over-hyped garbage?

Right out the gate, Ülestõus definitely benefits from having a superb audio quality. The drums sound fantastic for the most part, though the cymbals do have a bit of compression to them. Thankfully, it isn't enough to cause them to be distracting or obviously washed out. The natural sound of the kit, not to mention subtle click to the bass kick, works wonders in blending the Heavy Metal and Thrash Metal influences of the group's sound, to mention slightly sharpened distortions that suit early Sodom or even certain Melodic Death Metal acts like Amon Amarth quite well. Surprisingly, it's the bass guitar that really shines. It's just loud enough to kick out a mid-range twang with a presence on par with early NWOBHM acts like Iron Maiden, especially when channelling that specific atmospheric trait like on "Viimsepäeva koidik" and its gritty back alley Hard Rock tone spiked with semi-glorious Metal hooks and galloping. A lot of the song ends up restrained, really only throwing a curve ball through the nicely levelled raspy vocals by bringing in some Viking-themed chanting, but it all works to create a seamlessly fluid performance that is impossible not to get wrapped up with.

"Sõnad sõlmedesse" is one of the more hostile offerings. The guitars speak well of heavy Thrash Metal influence along the lines of Toxic Holocaust, but if you really listen to the bass lines throughout the performance, you can hear a strong Speed Metal backbone that the other tight stringed instruments nearly bury, only adding to the aggressive nature prior to the Pagan Black Metal groove just past two minutes in that can almost cast you off to sea. There's also "Luupainaja", which is an interesting mixture of Pagan Black Metal ideals with Folk Metal tendencies. The dominant bass line throughout is incredibly infectious, though the chorus has an interesting mixture of toned down Nile-esque Egyptian atmosphere with a jovial, upbeat Korpiklaani setting that makes headbanging along at the very least nearly impossible to resist.

The only track that really doesn't hold up for the band is "Tuuled rändavad ringi". It carries a bit of Kreator or even recent Sodom influence in the riffs that the raspy vocals perfectly feed off of. The bridge leading up to the guitar solo, however, is an interesting lighter touch that seems to tread into depressive territory before heading into a decent guitar solo the Satyricon of today would approve of prior to the shift that heads into material that comes off a bit too much like that duo's hit single "K.I.N.G.". Sadly, it's this shift that kind of kills the momentum. While it sticks with what Tharaphita is going for on this effort, it sends the song off into more of a direction of worship than originality. This even goes off to taint "Terasest taotud teel", but instead of just a chunk, you can pick up on the idolising all throughout the performance.

Despite the last six or seven minutes where Tharaphita actually turn themselves into Satyricon for some reason, Ülestõus is a fantastic full-length offering well worth the years of wait. NWOBHM and traditional Heavy Metal ideas, eighties Hard Rock atmospheres, aggressive and rooted-in-Satanic-appeal Thrash Metal influence, all worked over with a stunningly crisp mixture of analog bulk and digital clarity helps make one composition after another become absolutely addicting. There's nothing grand or over-the-top about Ülestõus, but, really, it doesn't have to be at all to become as memorable as it is fun as hell and well worth that aforementioned nomination, if not more. The only other glaring problem with this band and their latest effort, and probably the most expected, is that this is one that will probably go under-the-radar of even the most astute Metal fans outside their home country. If you've never heard a Tharaphita release before, do yourself a favor and check out Ülestõus right away, as it's one of the best hidden gems 2014 had to offer.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.