Pillaging Villagers – Pillaging Villagers Review

The metal scene has, for the last decade or so, been relatively stagnant in its progression. Though the genre thrives, large scale innovation has stalled. Deafheaven’s Sunbather and the rise of djent and argent metal have made a sizable impact, but otherwise the genre looks much the same now as it did a decade ago. But evolution doesn’t need to result in revolution; it can be a small scale experiment that thrives on novelty, executed with a bold, focused vision. Something like, I dunno, the death-y and melodic thrash metal of Necropanther mashed up with the drunken joy of Dropkick Murphys. And that’s exactly what Pillaging Villagers is. It may be derivative, but this self-titled debut from the Wisconsin wastes melds influences in a way that sounds fresher than anything that’s come across my desk in ages.

One of the best things to be said about Pillaging Villagers is that it’s so eager to be itself that, if it hooks you, you’ll fall in love with it within the first minute. Don’t mistake “Wretched of the Earth” for an intro track due to its two-minute length; it slaloms wildly from crossover thrash to Amon Amarth inspired melodeath and back again. But it’s the chorus that unveils the record’s novel hook, introducing a massive, singalong chorus ripped straight from the Celtic punk playbook. That same melodic exuberance bleeds into the frantic thrash riffs, making for an experience that feels folk metal adjacent while delivering pure thrash metal attitude. With relentless speed and a tangible sense of passion and earnestness, this is the most fun I’ve had with any album this year, and without question the one I’ve played the most.

Pillaging Villagers would not be half as addictive without proper songwriting chops to support the genre splicing gimmick. As something of a preemptive defense against this criticism, there is actually a significant stretch of the record that proves just as successful while foregoing the Celtic folk elements entirely. The four-track run from “The Count” through “The Crisis” introduces blackened and heavier death metal elements to the fray, greatly bolstering Pillaging Villagers’ diversity. As it’s also a concept album, this also serves to flesh out the story by exploring it from the villains’ perspective. The antagonists are so thoroughly evil that the rest of the record which follows – in which the titular villagers take gleeful revenge – makes for one of the only times I have ever been invested in a concept album. The fact that this tale of a working-class uprising comes at a time when America is experiencing a similar, larger scale (if quieter) revolution feels perfectly relevant.

Pillaging Villagers comes across as a passion project through and through, so it is somewhat unsurprising that it’s the sole vision of founder and vocalist David Frazer. I am not aware of other projects featuring Frazer’s talents, but he sounds like a seasoned genre veteran, unleashing rapid fire blackened barks that feel gleefully unhinged despite an obvious degree of control behind the mic. More recognizable are the musicians Frazer has recruited to flesh out the lineup, including Adam Tucker (A Scanner Darkly) on bass, Brian Koenig (the excellent Lords of the Trident) on guitar, and Jason Hirt (Ghost Bath, believe it or not) on drums. The musicianship and engineering feel so professional that I was honestly shocked to learn that Pillaging Villagers is unsigned. The production sounds a bit too sleek for my tastes, and I would have loved if real bagpipes had been used in place of synthesizers, but on a whole, Pillaging Villagers sounds fucking great for an independent release.

Bands like Pillaging Villagers are the reason I write for this blog: first access to hidden gems, and the opportunity to hopefully provide them with a bit more exposure. This is the kind of record that screams “underground classic,” a wholly distinct release that not everyone will enjoy, but that the people who connect with it deeply fucking jive with. Admittedly, I’m not sure if I would love another album from this project that follows the exact same formula, but songs like the progressive and lengthy “The Crisis” prove that this sound has significant potential for upward growth. Outside of that though, you’ll get no spoilers from me.1 You’ve gotta hear this thing for yourself.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Release
Websites: pillagingvillagers.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/pillagingvillagers | twitter.com/pillaging_vgers
Releases Worldwide: March 11th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Okay, one more: If I don’t get to scream “WE’RE GONNA SMAAAAASH THE FACTORY” at a live show at some point, then l will not have lived my life to its fullest.
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