We’re all on a sort of journey here on Earth, be that literally or figuratively, and we all face many trials and tribulations to get to the places we’re headed, be that a pinpointed destination or some sort of goal we’ve set out to achieve. Nothing’s always easy on that path, but those who are determined manage to find a way.
That concept is embodied in the new album from Thrawsunblat, the Canadian-based band that clearly approached “II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings” with great ambition and heart. You don’t even need to dig into the conceptual material to know that because you can hear it in the band’s performance, but when you dig into what they’ve written about it gives you an altogether new level of awareness of what this group is thinking about. It’s also a record that, for me, I liked initially, but upon repeated visits, the layers started to explode, and the beauty and epic majesty of this record revealed itself to me, and now I can’t get these songs out of my head. That, of course, is a great thing.
“II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings” is a concept piece, based on Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” and “The Hero’s Journey,” both works deal with the concept of monomyth. Basically, it’s about a person’s journey into the world and that person finding in front of him or her a chance to experience a supernatural wonder. There are many obstacles along the way that must be overcome, but once the person survives, they are given a great gift. The person then must decide whether to remain in the supernatural world or return to a normal plane of existence, where the boon must be used to make the world a better place. Those concepts are applied to the band examining their own heritage, their existence in North America, and how some of the themes from the monomyth also are faced in everyday life, albeit not on the same type of spiritual level away from this plane. In other words, it’s a very deep, very personal album that’ll sink deep within you if you let it.
The band is made up of Joel Violette, former guitarist for Woods of Ypres, who handles the same duties here, as well as primary songwriter and vocalist. Joining him are bassist Brendan Hayter and drummer Rae Amitay (who played with Mares of Thrace and also currently is drumming for Castle on their tours), who were supposed to make up the Woods live lineup following the release of last year’s excellent “Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light” before David Gold’s passing. Ah, and there you go. Right there marks a journey these musicians have been through together, the realms of darkness they encountered, and their ability to return with what the experienced to make them better musicians and Thrawsunblat a more powerful unit. They’re making the metal realm a better place.
The 12-track, hour-long record begins quite interestingly, with piano work that sounds like it could emanate from a Wild West saloon before it blows up into a rousing folk metal jaunt that’s melodic, heavy, and pretty damn fun. That takes us to “Once Fireveined,” probably my favorite track on the record, as strong melodic death melodies similar to Amon Amarth erupt, scintillating lead lines carry the song on its back, and one hell of a rousing chorus gets your blood pumping and fists waving. It’s a killer track. “We, the Torchbearers” is another great one with some of most spirited singing on the record and lyrics that sound like they pay homage to the past and remind those who are to come that one day responsibilities with be theirs. “We all must carry the torch,” Violette reminds, sometimes whispering, sometimes bellowing. “Goose River (Mourner’s March)” turns the tides, as the song feels like a pirate folk anthem mixed with Jethro Tull and would be an awesome one to hear when throwing back a few pints. “Bones in the Undertow” has moments where it’s calling back to classic Iron Maiden, with infectious power metal, fluid soloing, and more great, anthemic singing.
“Wanderer of Saplings” has an epic intro that should grasp the air from your chest, and then it’s on to more glory and more homage to the band’s surroundings and the lands where they were raised. “Maritime Shores” is similar in vein to “Goose River,” though you can toss the Decemberists in as a comparison (don’t roll your eyes … they have some bloody fucking songs), and it’s enriched by strings and woodsy atmosphere. “View of a Million Trees” is the heaviest cut on the record, as it bursts into a black metal fury, with savage shrieks, sweltering guitars, and skull-blasting drums. “Borea “Pyre of a Thousand Pines)” follows that track up with more black metal savagery and punishing drums, though eventually the vocals even out and give you some chances to sing along. “Elegy Across Silence” is a pipe organ-led instrumental that feels spiritual and pulled from the winds of ages ago. “Song of the Nihilist” is edgy and thorny, but it also has its moments of melody and drama. Closer “I Am the Viator” is a tremendous final chapter, pulling together a lot of the elements from other parts of the record such as more folk-infused wonder, power metal fire, and heartfelt vocals that maintain their intensity until the song–and record–fades out.
Thrawsunblat have made a record that should make people pay attention, both listeners and critics. They have an understanding for writing emotional, catchy songs, using hooks, and finding ways to make each song interesting and memorable, from the first cut to the last. This is a rock solid effort that really should be out on a major indie metal label, and maybe that’ll happen yet if the band wants that. Either way, Thrawsunblat are ready to do some amazing things, and they prove that over and over again on this powerful album.
For more on the band, go here: http://thrawsunblat.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://thrawsunblat.bandcamp.com/