Thaw’s often been lumped into the black metal category over the years, but that only represents one aspect of the Polish band’s sound. Early on they merged elements of post rock, ambient, and noise alongside black metal, with 2015’s improvised drone/ambient release St. Phenome Alley demonstrating just how far of a reach the instrumentation was capable of. With Grains Thaw has bridged the gap between the two extremes, capturing chaotic black metal and dense doom riffs with the type of droning amplifier worship that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Boris or Sunn O))) record. It’s likely to take a certain type of listener to get the most out of the sprawling arrangements, but those who choose to sit back and let the darker atmosphere overtake them will find this an adventure worth taking.
Grains is a bit deceptive at the beginning, as opener “The Brigand” opens with chaotic drumming and riffing that blows the sound wide open towards a more expansive style. There’s a little bit of black metal and sludge/doom to the instrumentals at this point, with the vocals coming through as ear piecing shrieks and screams. It’s a combination that starts off dense and pushes outwards as the track progresses, but as it comes to an end the instruments slowly fade out. From this point on is where Thaw is likely to either draw listeners in further or push them away entirely, and which of these two scenarios occurs is dependent entirely on your musical tastes. Soft, minimalistic riffing moves forward with sudden breaks into blasting and more aggressive riffing. Each song feels like a dark journey into the unknown, and while some of the droning amplifier worship reminds me heavily of Boris there’s plenty in between to give this album its own identity. In particular, the emphasis on sparse ambient passages and hints of industrial and other experimental elements that appear at key points twist Grains into something that feels different.
The vocals prove to be just as unpredictable as the instrumentation, with the aforementioned shrieks/screams only serving as one of the many styles that appear throughout the five songs. These aren’t just harsh and aggressive pitches, as a little ways into the second track “The Thief” you’re greeted by robotic verses that were run through a vocoder. Later on Grains also heads into mellower singing, but even at these softer ranges there’s still a darker tone that gives off a sense of mystery. The amount of variety and unpredictability keeps you on edge, ensuring that even when the instrumentals seem to be spreading out methodically there’s no telling what will be placed over top of them.
With each album Thaw continues to reinvent their sound and push further outwards. How much Grains is likely to appeal to you will depend on whether you find drone and ambient elements to be appealing, but if that’s the case the material’s sense of mystery and haunting atmospherics are sure to stand out. And like other drone oriented recordings, headphones are recommended. Grains is out now on Agonia Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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