One of the records I meant to get to but never was able to was this modern heavy metal/thrash metal epic from Colorado’s Silencer. These guys have been kicking around for almost a decade, but I’d never heard of ’em (I live in Sweden ffs). But The Great Bear is a unique album, actually, and it grabbed my attention immediately because it’s a concept record about the space race between the USSR and the USA from the perspective of the Soviets. Strike you as weird? Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming either. But I was pleasantly surprised upon giving it a few listens and seeing that, indeed, The Great Bear is a very ambitious and cool record – but completely unpretentious despite the seemingly obscure and borderline esoteric topic.
After a great opening march (though, not this great march) called “Sacred War,” the opening track “I Am Thunder!” kicks in with a strikingly Motörhead-esque opening riff, based on old-school blues riffing that places the band in 1978 not 1988 (or 2012). It doesn’t take long for that to pass and for the thrashy riffing to kick in and move the band a bit forward in time, with vocalist Keith Spargo’s semi-monotone, semi-melodic vocals over top. But that old school feeling permeates the whole of The Great Bear. This groove laden, blues-based riffing builds up the backbone of this record. But while the record has a cool, old school charm, it never feels anachronistic (see: re-thrash). Instead, with the pretty modern (clean) Mastodonesque vocals and a very unique topic and approach Silencer keep it feeling raw and old school, but simultaneously modern.
With all that in mind, there’s not a ton to say but “sit back and enjoy the ride.” At 30 minutes the ride is short—practically an EP—but the songwriting is excellent and immersive. Tracks like “The Great Bear” and “Insignia” will crush you with a mid-paced groove and heaviness, while “Star City Pt. 1” and “I Am Thunder!” are faster, thrashier pieces and “Orders / Noble Sacrifice” even borders a bit at death at times while showing off Spargo’s voice. Spargo shines the most in penultimate track “Light” (which features an awesome bass intro that reminds me of late 80sMaiden), rocking a great chorus which is underscored by a solid riff and a simple, but effective solo. This is easily the record’s finest moment.
But The Great Bear has a lot of excellent moments, and most importantly The Great Bear is subtle. In metal—an infamously gaudy affair at times—that’s not something we say a lot. But the production and the sounds seem to blend perfectly with the chosen clips from, I assume, Russian movies. There’s a retro fuzz to the guitars and a dreamy quality to the whole production (which is also old school in its volume levels!) that is understated and that I totally fell for immediately. The whole thing culminates with the launch of Sputnik 1 (the final track “The First, The Last”), which is just a Soviet anthem (not the anthem) and the beeping of Sputnik; a brilliant touch that ties the whole piece of music together into something more than just a few heavy metal tracks strung together.
Of all the independent releases I heard this year, this might be the most interesting and the deserving of accolades. Check out the whole thing, but if you must pick and choose: “Light,” “The Great Bear” and “Star City Pt. 1” are probably the album’s best tracks. Buy it.