Thrawsunblat’s music is some of the closest stuff we have to Canadiana (which my word processor says isn’t a real word) for metalheads, and I’m always thankful when they decide to put out new stuff. Main man Joel Violette played on Woods of Ypres‘ Woods V, one of my favorite records of all time, which makes me respect his musical acumen even more. For those who aren’t Canadian and couldn’t care less about Woods of Ypres, Thrawsunblat is interesting because they’re hard to predict. Sure, we know we’re not getting an Illud-flavored dance party, but what approach they’ll take to their metal-infused folk music changes on each record. On their fourth, Great Brunswick Forest, they’ve played down the metal part of the equation to a degree unheard throughout their catalog.
To say that Great Brunswick Forest sounds like Thrawsunblat without all the metal parts is to do it a disservice and miss the point of what they’re doing here. The record is made of two types of songs: folk-rock songs that are delightfully simple and easy to sing along with, and the more complex structures of Metachthonia, but played almost entirely on acoustic instruments and without any harsh vocals. Rae Amitay’s drums remain firmly in the metal camp, which is an interesting choice. It serves to reaffirm that Thrawsunblat are still a metal band, but they’re doing something different with that aspect this time around.
On Great Brunswick Forest, simplicity works in Thrawsunblat’s favor. Opening number “Green Man of East Canada” is a joyous little number that’s energetic and could easily be sung by most. This is great for a folk song. “Via Canadensis” is the best song on the record and boasts one of the best choruses of Thrawsunblat’s career. The addition of electric guitars to the acoustic instrumentation works wonders, and it sounds like a metal player is joining in the folk song to add whatever he can. It’s a great device, especially given the age-old idea of “everyone play something” that folk music performed by friends at a gathering traditionally utilizes. “Song of the Summit” follows and does almost the identical thing with structure and instrumentation. It worked the first time, and unsurprisingly it works here. Violette’s vocal work, particularly when he sings the title in the chorus, is superb. “Singer of Ageless Times” is another highlight, especially its gorgeous fiddle melody which serves as its chorus. It’s Violette’s best vocal performance on Great Brunswick Forest, understated yet emotive and with well-placed harmonies aplenty. The instrumentals, once again featuring some electric guitar and quite the active fiddle, do most of the heavy lifting here. It’s another case of the band firing on all cylinders, and its four and a half minutes are enthralling.
Great Brunswick Forest is, to Thrawsunblat’s credit, an experiment. It works wonders in some tracks, but others fall a bit short of the standard of quality expected. “Thus Spoke the Wind” sounds like a song written for “normal” Thrawsunblat to play, with electric guitars and harsh vocals included in there. The near-jig midsection works well in the current style, with acoustic guitars and fiddle feeding off each other, but what surrounds it is a bit lacking. The tremolo and blast section feels a bit forced. This is a minor blemish on a quality record, but it’s disorienting. By and large the experiment to translate Thrawsunblat’s essence into this type of music is successful, but this track comes closer to feeling like a novelty.
Overall, Great Brunswick Forest is a treat to listen to. The whole enterprise sounds natural and lush, perfect for a record so focused on the natural beauty of Canada. It’s lively, and it sounds like almost every little detail can be heard. The acoustic guitars are a highlight, and it sounds like it’s there in the room with you. I’m always impressed by music that can paint a picture, and here Thrawsunblat paints the natural beauty of Canada in delicate and colorful strokes. As someone who’s lived here for many winters and cold falls, it’s easy to get wrapped up in how much nature irritates and hinders us day to day. I’m certainly guilty of this. Records like Great Brunswick Forest remind us that we’re lucky to be here and to see the gorgeous wilderness that can inspire good songs such as these.