By Kyle Harcott
Mares of Thrace captured a lot of due attention with their debut full-length, 2010’s The Moulting. Their introductory outing deftly melded virulent sludge with scorching post-hardcore, and a healthy worship of anything casting the least bit of AmRep shadow. Cut to two years later, and the Calgary duo is set to release their follow-up (and first release on Sonic Unyon Metal), titled The Pilgrimage. The new album is broken into three acts, themed around the biblical tale of King David’s seduction of the married Bathsheba, and the subsequent catastrophic ramifications of this deceitful lust. For an album loosely based on biblical catastrophe, Mares of Thrace picked the right theme, because The Pilgrimage smites and lays waste with a righteous wrath.
The sound is the first thing. The bombast of Stefani MacKichan’s drums, and punch of Thérèse Lanz’s baritone guitar cinch a be-taloned, windpipe-crushing grip about your throat and dig in; Sanford Parker’s production has launched this record light years beyond The Moulting, which, though a monster of a record in its own right, downright pales and trembles next to The Pilgrimage. Oh, you’ll instantly recognize it as the same band, Lanz’s voice and MacKichan’s drumming are their signatures, but I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the is-it-live-or-is-it-Memorex? wind-tunnel pounding you’ll get the first time this record blasts out of your speakers.
Certainly, while Mares of Thrace are no strangers to bringing the heavy, there’s a dire, white-knuckled urgency in the songs here that wasn’t so immediate on The Moulting. Several moments throughout (‘The Perpetrator’ is a prime example) skirt Steve-Austin-circa-In-The-Eyes-Of-God levels of sonic violence, a scorched-earth kind of mean that pricks the hairs on the back of the listener’s neck. There is also the eerie, reeling doomdirgery of ‘Act II: Bathsheba’s Reply To David’, which brings to mind ‘Slave Ship’-era Jesus Lizard before it nearly Kylesa-gallops off a cliff, only to deftly careen back into its drunken lope. Especially menacing is the stalking crawl of ‘The Gallwasp’, Mares of Thrace packing the perfect punch in this slow and menacing track, which devolves into sheer violence in its last minute or so.
Passages of experimentation, more prevalent on the first record, have been downplayed somewhat here, in favor of bludgeoning brute force. It’s not just the everything-up-front production of that marauding baritone guitar or those apocalyptic war drums, Lanz’s voice is front-and-center absolutely punishing on this effort: Go listen to ‘The Goat Thief’ and try not to get your hackles raised, the song fairly drips venom. True to form, the album still has a few diversionary moments of lull, such as the electronics of interlude ‘Triple B’, or the twangy swagger of ‘The Three-Legged Courtesan…’ But mostly, the album’s too busy spitting spite and rage to get too experimental or avant, and to monstrous effect.
There are a handful of bands, rarer still in metal, whose sophomore record manages to trump their first effort, but Mares of Thrace have done that in spades with The Pilgrimage. It will be amazing to see how the songs translate live on the band’s upcoming cross-Canada tour. Highly, highly recommended.
(Sonic Unyon Metal)