It’s been three years since Thrawsunblat’s Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings was released, but it feels like an eternity. I’m not sure if this perceived blip in the spacetime continuum is due to the fact that the first studio updates of the new album were posted an indeterminable time ago (damn, even the album cover was revealed over a year ago), or whether my innate impatience has gotten the better of me. Either way, its release is long over due. Well, was it worth the wait? Let’s see.
Thrawsunblat are known for producing heavily folk-tinged, melodic black metal, and while the album falls squarely within this characterization, their new album Metachthonia is a completely different beast. For a start, for a folk black metal (or as it’s more affectionately known, Trees ’n’ Shit black metal) release, it’s surprising lacking in trees. If you don’t believe me, here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth.
While the bands overall sound remains intact and recognizable, gone are the overtly folky elements such as fiddles, tin whistles and other standard fare, and gone are the sea shanties and drinking songs. Instead, we find a band that has been steadily honing its craft, a band that has shunned the standard genre tropes and a band that has developed an erudite awareness of how to take the best elements of both folk and black metal and morph them into a single cohesive unit (albeit more black and less folk this time around). Metachthonia, Greek for “the age after that of the Earth,” is a concept album revolving around the rejection of the current industrialized epoch, and a longing to return to the simpler times when people were at one with nature and landscape. The manifestation of this message vacillates between ethereal beauty and raging fury.
“Fires That Light the Earth” opens with the warm, somber notes of a cello, given to the hands of Raphael Weinwroth-Browne (Musk Ox and The Visit), before being joined in musical accordance by a sweet lead. The mood is then abruptly interrupted by some serious riffing and blasting. Riffs are layered and transformed, leads come in and out, tempo changes abound. It’s a wild ride for sure, but not in a chaotic sense as all the components of the song are impeccably placed with quite deliberate phrasing. Joel Violette’s vocals are on point throughout with his vehement growls and his robust cleans, both being delivered with palpable feeling. (Favorite riff @ 1:13)
The second track, “She Who Names the Stars,” was released as the lead-off single and grabbed my attention immediately. Initially stunned, now that I’m familiar with the entire album, it’s arguably the weakest song. While most of the songs twist and turn and lead you on a journey, this song is quite structured and follows a more linear trail. It starts off well enough with some excellent, hooky vocal melodies, and there are a few nice interludes connecting the dots, but I find that it loses me a little with the somewhat repetitive vocals towards the middle and latter part of the song. There’s an affluence of soothing cello to be found (providing a melodious undercurrent that always enhances and never detracts from the proceedings), and despite Rafael not being his typical virtuosic self, his contributions to the entire album are expressive and considered. (Favorite riff @ 0:42)
“Dead of Winter” is probably the least folky song on the album and barring the brief harmonized vocal intro, and the tiniest acoustic break, it’s a ripper. Clean and harsh vocal lines are juxtaposed to great effect, all backed up with some of the fiercest riffs and explosive drums on display. What I like about Rae Amitay’s (Immortal Bird) blasting in particular is that it’s not all pedal to the metal, hyper speed variety. In fact, it seems much more conservative and dialed in with the music, and with the decrease in speed, comes power and impact. The album is infested with sing-a-long choruses, and I’ve found my self incessantly singing (as will you), “All you, welcome to Metachthonia,” while showering, cooking and cleaning. By the way, this is a refrain that is introduced in the previous song although in an altered state. (Favorite riff @ 4:15)
I haven’t yet mentioned this yet, but the songs on this album are long, with “Hypochthonic Remnants” being the shortest at a little over eight minutes. The band’s last album had more succinct ideas formed into smaller packages, but I must admit, for this style of music, I prefer the journey that these longer compositions take me on, meandering along, all the while knowing that I’m on the right path. This track is brimming with heavily palm muted riffs and gruff vocals, counterbalanced with some formidable tremolo picking and a beautiful neo-folk outro. (Favorite riff @ 4:13)
“Rivers of Underthought” is an up and down affair (or more accurately up, down, up). While it contains a plethora of engaging and diverse moments, it’s some of these diversions that are in fact, diversions. For example, the proggy interlude midway through the song seems forced and unnecessary, and rather than being an unusual textural element it just seems out of place. The highlight of the song has to be the brief (and only) solo that occurs prior to this section. It’s absolutely stellar, and I could have done with a few more of these scattered throughout the record. (Favorite riff @ 2:34)
The affair concludes with “In Mist We Walk” which showcases some of the best lead work on the entire album and more harmonizing than a Welsh male voice choir. In fact, you could say that this album is a master class in harmonizing, and whether that is guitars, cello or vocals, there’s always a melodic counterpoint to the main theme. Much of the guitar work has more of a classical than folk bent to it (as do a lot of the other songs on the album), especially when you consider the development of the ideas and their multiple variations, and so when listening to this song, I’m left with the feeling that it was composed rather then written. (Favorite riff @ 2:04)
With Metachthonia, the band has opted for a more modern sounding production, and for the most part the rhythm guitar tone is thick and meaty, while the lead is crisp and clean. The bass guitar provides more of a background rumble with a lack of discernible lines of its own (except in a few cases such as the middle of “She Who Names the Stars”). Typically, I enjoy a bit more space between the instruments, but as this is a far more angry release, the murkiness just works.
4.5 out of 5 Flaming Toilet ov Hell
Metachtonia,is a compelling release and a more than worthy follow up to Wanderer. Its black and folk ingredients have been revamped, refined, reduced and tempered to perfection. Any fans of the style will be elated, and although it’s way too early to start talking about end of year lists, I’m sure this album will end up on a few. FFO: Riffs, Melody.