Between post-rock and post-metal, the former is the only genre I prefer over its metal equivalent. In both cases, the genres are known for their atmospherics, long cyclical instrumental sections and overall floaty dreamy attitude. But where post-rock seems to have mastered the art of supplementing the reverberating guitars with great ebb and flow in the composition, post-metal often seems satisfied with turning up distortion and echo and calling it a day. I’m always happy to have my preconceived notions shattered, and Thera Roya appears happy to oblige by mixing a heaping spoonful of sludge into the pudding of melancholy.
Stone and Skin takes its sweet time entering the ominous opener, slowly fading in the humming, distorted bass and darkly reverberating jangle. Hushed vocals drift across the foam while the perpetual shuffle of the snare lends some urgency to the otherwise downtempo first act. Through a rambling and shrieking solo the band arrives at the sound that marks the rest of the album: an uneasy rumbling at a classic doom pace, interspersed with echoing guitars that often remind of a darker Explosions in the Sky. The only track where the pace really picks up is the short halfway station “Hume & Ivey,” a chunky stoner groover, but the modus operandi is digging a pit of melancholy, filling it with hazy riffs and tossing the listener in for a few laps. The songwriting is marked by cyclical riffing that intends to hypnotize but nonetheless avoids lingering in the same spot too long. The exception here is “Solitude,” which takes a lot of time going nowhere in particular.
The biggest problem with the band could be solved with an 8 inch length of duct tape. Several different vocal styles are adopted throughout Stone and not one of them is actually good. The main strategy is a clean vocal style with an unfortunate whine reminiscent of an inexperienced Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins,) but at regular intervals a hysterical hardcore technique is employed which sounds like an inexperienced Billy Corgan employing a hysterical hardcore technique for the first time. The quiet evocations don’t irritate, but “Egypts Light” in particular had me gritting my teeth more than once. While I must give Ryan Smith credit for having both drum and vocal duty, which isn’t easy, he does the former more honor than the latter.
However, the vocal work is just the most obvious flaw. The fact of the matter is, most of the music simply isn’t very interesting. It lacks a drive, a focus. Some exceptions notwithstanding, moment to moment it comes across as Hansel and Gretel, wandering through the forest unsure of where to go. The riffs have plenty of meat on the bone and the overall sound is good, but I do miss some structural buildup throughout the songs separately and the album as a whole. Where the aforementioned Explosions in the Sky use the cyclical riff structure and create chapters of a story, Thera Roya merely doodles in the margins. The same unfocused feel can be felt in the production. While it mostly avoids the common sludge pitfall of being overly loud, and the presence of the bass is commendable, the mix is unsteady, shifting without a clear sense of purpose. The vocals go from quiet in the back to way upfront, and the guitar and drums almost seem to push and pull to get ahead of the other.
I don’t hate Stone and Skin, not at all. There is plenty of potential, once the vocals get an upgrade, and there are a lot of appealing bits and pieces. But it has the sound of a band not quite sure how to apply the style they want to play. This is the first full-length of Thera Roya, ignoring several EP’s, a few splits and a name change, and that does leave me inclined to cut them a little slack. But I do hope that on the next album more of the potential is actualized. I can’t label this one as more than inconsequential.