Atlas Kept His Gripes To Himself and Did His Job: Heavy Minnesota Music – Album Review: BLACKTHORNE
Dark days are upon us (and in more ways than one), and the most natural response to this darkness is Heaviness. Gravity, solemnity, quiet dignity & grace – however you care to describe the effect of the solstice, it’s there. The Heaviness.
But so are the sounds of fall. The sound of rattling wallet chains…the smell of old cigarettes and PBR…the warmth of a fresh busted eye in a mosh pit – that’s right: it’s metal season. With the onset of the Heaviness comes the roar of feedback, the thunder of floor toms, and the guttural/cerebral growls/shrieks of the gal/guy who writes the lyrics. And make no mistake, Minnesota is no slouch in shouldering the Heaviness.
Dear Sir or Miss,
Do you have time today to talk about BLACKTHORNE? Because this is exactly the type of thing you need in your life right now.
Who, or what, is BLACKTHORNE? Unorthodox, at least to my standards, that’s what. And that’s a good thing. Power violence meets thrash meets math-doom meets the Ramones, to put a finer point on it.
Do I naturally recognize these tendencies? No; and again, that’s a good thing. My motivation these days is to grow my musical vocabulary exponentially.
I’m no stranger to heavy music. If it’s loud, angry, and somewhat interesting, chances are it’s on my radar. But there is still plenty of subterranean noise with which I’m unfamiliar. So (per usual) I’m late to the party, but so glad I came. It doesn’t hurt that BLACKTHORNE are just about the best at this sort of thing (I bet). Man, I’m spoiled.
Released on October 6th of this year to much acclaim, BLACKTHORNE’s traditionally self-titled cassette (Damien Records, 2018) is fifteen and-a-half minutes of dark, heavy panic. So, ya’know…it’s an LP. The full length was recorded by Bruce Wuollet, mastered by Eric Olsen, and features artwork by Mark McCoy (Charles Bronson, Das Oath, Youth Attack Records).
As I made mention earlier, BLACKTHORNE continue to be the best fast and heavy unit the Twin Cities has to offer. Frontman Travis Bos provides the best dirty vocals this side of the 93rd parallel, retching and screaming his way through the diaspora of present-day reality (“Sickend Generation”). Guitarists Steve Brooks and Mickey Kahleck are the Legion of Doom with guitars, barrelling with aggression and twisting every riff they come by into an aural pretzel of pain, never sacrificing menace for speed (“Death Called Hoax”). Drummer Matt Seitzinger and bassist Bob Eisenbise lay vicious track for the guitars to chug over, and I would bet on Seitzinger any day over a steam-drill (“Unabashed Failure”).
What’s more, while most of the powerviolence/extreme metal I’m familiar with prides itself on pure speed and kit roaming, Seitzinger plays his drums as another lead instrument in an ensemble. Sometimes, everybody is the focus; and unlike Mr. Bungle or Trivium, BLACKTHORNE actually pull it off with flying, flaming, and even beautiful colors (“Eschatology of Desire”).
Maybe it’s the string of gray days talking, but (besides the joint reference) these songs give me some Neurosis vibes. Like…if old school Neurosis somehow got a visit from modern Neurosis, perhaps by means of time travel or psychotropic drug experience, and they all had a sit-down conversation…
All I’m saying is the slower…well, more brooding tracks are my favorites (“It’s Cold Gin”, “The Mind’s Ear”). I would not venture anywhere near the terminology of “slow” in describing this music. You get up, or you get mowed down. Shit, I’m here by myself writing this and I’m not sitting down.
If I were forced to provide labels, I would (ridiculously) categorize this music as ‘prescient metal’. It’s very plain that these are conscious, not to mention familiar players. The band has known one another one way or another for the better part of twenty-five years, so BLACKTHORNE’s cohesion is no mistake.
So, familiarity takes care of the personnel aspect of ‘prescient’. On to the social aspect…
…yes, sorry…here comes the soapbox for a moment…
What grabs me most about BLACKTHORNE is their commitment to refusal. Instead of wallowing in grief like most doom acts, or raising a bong to Satan like most black metal acts, BLACKTHORNE turn their gritty lens on the facts at hand. Their sense of social responsibility is very endearing, and I don’t mean that in a partisan way, either.
Like Jello Biafra before him, Bos renders the horrors of the ethereal into very concrete manifestations. Dracula is scary, yes; but raving gangs of fanatics are dangerous. Danger is a catalyst and a damn intriguing muse.
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that BLACKTHORNE are definitely on the right side of history. If Carl Sagan were still alive, I bet he would be a BLACKTHORNE fan…
…okay, I got partisan there – sorry…
I LIKE BLACKTHORNE BECAUSE THEY ARE A FEROCIOUS AND FEROCIOUSLY TALENTED HEAVY METAL BAND AND YOU SHOULD, TOO!
Make sure to watch out for the vinyl release from GEMS Records sometimes next year. Until then, go to here and get that tape, yo.
Adam Johnson lives in Minneapolis with his wife, cats, and guitars.