I’ve noticed something weird here in Belgium during the Euro 2016 soccer tournament: no Belgian seems to know their national anthem. I asked a couple of good Belgian friends why this was, and they told me that Belgians just don’t care about their country that much. I’ll admit to being taken aback; we Canadians tend to love our country, and can sing our wonderful anthem in our sleep. While there’s the odd thing about contemporary Canada that I’m not exactly proud of, I can always find solace in the beautiful nature, the by and large wonderful people, and the best of our culture. One such best was Woods of Ypres’ Woods V, which apart from being one of the best records I’ve ever heard also came from Ontario. When I caught wind of co-conspirator Joel Violette’s project Thrawsunblat, I took to listening and was impressed with their back catalog. Now Thrawsunblat’s on full-length number three, Metachthonia, and I was about as excited to hear this as I am to get back to Canada and have proper maple syrup and steaks again.
Thrawsunblat is a bit more related to black metal than the last two Woods of Ypres records were, but the late David Gold’s influence is certainly felt here. It’s easy to hear some similarities to Ensiferum along with newer Winterfylleth, but there’s a very Canadian element that sets Thrawsunblat apart: the influence of Maritime folk music. Maritime folk music, like folk music generally, has undercurrents of a simple type of happiness along with a world-worn sense of melancholy. This is all jammed through the black metal filter, meaning plenty of tremolo lines and blast beats, but the folk elements are never truly buried. While most will be tempted to call this melo-black, it’s important to note that the “melo’s” come from Maritime folk as opposed to the Second Wave. Metachthonia will make you happy if you like metal, but much happier if you also happen to enjoy some blue-collar folk as well.
Opening with gorgeous and somber cellos, “Fires that Light the Earth” starts Metachthonia off strong. A recurring lead pleasantly reminds me of “Death is Not an Exit” from Woods V, and the folk is impressively emotive throughout the nearly eleven minutes of runtime, and the band wastes approximately zero seconds of it. “Hypocthonic Remnants” veers into some pretty convincing melo-black territory in spots, pushing the folk more to the background than anywhere else yet is still convincing and coherent. “Rivers of Underthought” has a simple yet quite affective melody that recalls Mgla’s “Exercises in Futility I” in the best way, although Rae Amitay doesn’t let us know she has a ride cymbal in quite the same obnoxious way, her performance here up to her usual high standards. This tune also sees Raphael Weinroth-Browne’s cello used to great effect, particularly before Violette’s best lead around the three and a half minute mark. After this climax, Thrawsunblat wisely goes into some clean vocals and an extended soft guitar part reminiscent of a Maritime Opeth before blasting back in to finish strong with typically great folk-black riffing.
“She Who Names the Stars” is my biggest problem with Metachthonia. It’s not a terrible song, but it’s the least compelling piece here by a noticeable margin. Perhaps it’s the riffing which sometimes sounds like Eternal Helcaraxe but not as good, or perhaps it’s the odd vocal melody that sounds too close to David Gold for comfort, or perhaps it’s the less convincing placements of clean segments and attempted climaxes. I wouldn’t skip it because Thrawsunblat has gone out of their way to create a story here and jumping around like that would torpedo the point of the record, but it’s definitely a weak point, the musical equivalent of an alright but necessary expository scene in a film. Other than that, there’s little to complain about. The mastering is loud, but Amitay’s drums didn’t lose their punch, Violette’s multi-guitar harmonies are easy to pick out, and Raphael Weinroth-Browne’s cello occupies a perfect amount of space and sounds great. That said, bass is unfortunately wont to get a bit lost sometimes.
With the average song length being about nine and a half minutes, I was worried that we’d need to call the same elite team of proctologists currently trying to find the head of modern philosophy to take a break from that and find Thrawsunblat’s. Luckily, Metachthonia is a better record than 2013’s Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings and a well-written concept album that grows more rich and rewarding with each listen. The good material outweighs the lesser material by an order of magnitude, and the hour-long runtime, even with its flaws, is captivating and never feels overlong. Kudos to Thrawsunblat for helping to keep the True North’s musical presence strong in 2016.