The Great Schism is a split that portrays two bands at very different stages in their careers. Green Altar of Sioux Falls, South Dakota appears to be on the upswing with a couple of EPs to their name thus far while Bloomington, Indiana’s Thorr-Axe tragically disbanded months before the split’s release. Fortunately, both bands have plenty to offer on The Great Schism despite it being somewhat overshadowed by these muddled circumstances.
Green Altar’s contributions start things off well enough. While the two tracks presented are longer than the majority of those on 2016’s Idle Worship and Ill Will Toward Man and 2018’s Heavy Side of the River, they are cut from the same cloth of extreme stoner sludge. The tone is slightly more hostile than those releases’ swampiness, but the riffs remain packed with monolithic fuzz and the vocals executed in a raspy screech reminiscent of Weedeater or Dopethrone. “Emperor” may be the superior track as it fully gives into the blackened tinges that were merely hinted at on “Dragged Over the Gates,” but both songs are serviceable.
And with Thorr-Axe being the half driving my interest in The Great Schism, it’s fair to say that their swansong manages to deliver. “Tollund” is a strong elaboration of the Agalloch meets High on Fire formula seen on 2015’s Gates of Winter and their 2017 split with Archarus. The track alternates between pounding mid-tempo rhythms, more ominous soundscapes complete with drowning sounds, and unhinged speed burst at the end. It isn’t quite on the climactic scale of “Sundering of the Frost Giant” or “Battle of Five Armies,” but it effectively sums up everything that the band had come to be known for.
Of course, the release’s real curveball ends up being Thorr-Axe’s cover of “Shadow of the Wind,” a track originally recorded by Heaven & Hell/Black Sabbath for the Dio Years compilation in 2007. The band deserves props for not only tackling such a deep cut but for also putting their own spin on it. They even fiddle with the dynamics further with a rare clean vocal performance appearance during the bridge that reminds me of Khemmis in spots. Part of me wishes the verse and chorus shouts were a bit more mixed, but justice is done.
Overall, The Great Schism is a solid collaboration that should greatly appeal to those who like their sludge with extra nastiness. Green Altar represents their style well and Thorr-Axe throws in a couple of curveballs that are enough to make one wonder what else they could’ve had in store. This release should’ve been a stepping-stone to bigger and better things from both bands, but it’s also worth checking on its own merits.
R.I.P. Thorr-Axe (2007-2019)