Like the unknown mutilated stepchild living secretly in the family basement, Norway's Thorns -- perhaps the biggest black metal inner-circle band that had yet to record a proper album -- finally broke out of hiding to do just that with this self-titled 2001 release. Thorns mastermind Snorre (he of the basement-dweller analogy) was of course a card-carrying member of the feared and disgraced Norwegian black metal inner circle during the late '80s and early '90s, and therefore, his musical tastes run the same wide gamut of creative expression -- from primitive simplicity to far-reaching symphonic ambitions -- as contemporaries like Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Emperor. But, for this career relaunching release at least, he has chosen to ignore the genre's baser, Neanderthal-like proclivities in order to showcase his talents with its finer, more sophisticated qualities. As such, most of the album's first-half offerings ("Existence," "World Playground Deceit," "Stellar Master Elite") show Thorns carving out sharp, acetic, velocity-prone guitar assaults underpinned by eerie synthesizer screeches, and characterized by frequent time changes and no small amount of highly involved keyboard orchestration. Standing out of this pack is "Shifting Channels," which recalls Snorre's old partner in crime (literally!) Varg Vikernes (and his nefarious solo venture, Burzum) with its evil atmospherics and rampant industrial technology. Along similar lines, "Underneath the Universe" and its simply titled "Part 2" inaugurate the disc's second half by matching chilling synthesizer ambience with dread marshal rhythms in what feels like a virtual invasion of the devil's vast armies. Then, it's back to full-tilt gonzo black metal terrain for "Interface to God" (a spiral symphony of perdition that would fit nicely into any mid-period Emperor record) before listeners descend into a final collage of wicked synth atmospherics, deeply spoken verses, brittle guitar power chords, and ominous piano chords called "Vortex." All in all, Thorns is a multifaceted affair displaying Snorre's many talents. If he appears to be trying to cram eight years of enforced exile (one that many probably wished he'd never escaped from) into this one belated offering, give him a break -- it's been a long time coming.