Thursday, January 22, 2015

Local Love: Review of Thorr-Axe's Gates of Winter

It's been a good four years since Thorr-Axe put out their full-length debut, Wall of Spears. The Bloomington, Indiana band has recently expanded from a trio to a quartet and a few side projects developed between releases may have resulted in a few stylistic modifications. Either way, Gates of Winter is a pretty ambitious sophomore effort that showcases an interesting evolution.

In a way similar to the jump between Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning, Thorr-Axe sounds much more mature on this album in comparison to its predecessor. The overall sound is still rooted in sludgy High on Fire worship but the guitar tone is stronger and the Eyehategod recalling shrieks have more power this time around. Even the lyrics have a clearer sense of purpose than before; they still consist of North mythology but the definitive storyline at work does make it more intriguing.

Gates of Winter also sets itself apart by its more prominent black metal influence though it isn't used in the way one would really think with that description. You'll find a lot of tremolo picking and harsher vocals but the inspiration is based more on the blackgaze and post metal variants than any serious brutality. This results in a more dynamic and melancholic sound comparable to a doomier Chrome Waves. This is most evident on the closing "Intermission" and "Awakening" as the former consists of a spoken word dirge while the latter packs in a lot of building riffs and emotions over its fourteen minute duration.

Speaking of closing, the album is also one of the rare efforts that has its strongest songs in the album's second half. "Open The Gates" does make for a powerful instrumental opener and "The Seer's Vision" has a commanding attitude, but the bass heavy doom of "The Foraging Ritual" is where things really start to shine. From there, "Descent" utilizes the extreme influences well and the punctuated beats on the title track are quite memorable.

I may personally consider Walls of Spears and Gates of Winter to be about equally matched in quality, but Thorr-Axe's sophomore effort is the one that is sure to leave the deeper impression. You won't find a song as catchy as "The Island" or "Dragon King," but you will find an album with more ambitious compositions, a more unique incorporation of influences, and a more seasoned group of musicians. And since there are weirdos out there who prefer Master of Puppets over Ride The Lightning, that can only mean the band has something even greater in store for the future...

"Open The Gates"
"The Foraging Ritual"
"Gates of Winter"

Sunday, January 18, 2015

On the Art of. . . Art

Why is it such a chore to create a piece of art? It is something that everyone aspires to do but you find so many people who seem to be content with using the artist's title as a status symbol or identifier rather than anything truly productive. But then there are the people that actually do try to give life to the ideas that fill their heads, only to be confronted with paralysis when they think about the possibility of their art not being adequate. Or they simply just don't know where to start. You can outline and plan structures all you want but sometimes the natural reaction to the possibility of doing anything at all is to do nothing. Why do you think I still go to record stores when every album that has ever been made is right here ready to be downloaded?

No one likes a Magical Barefoot Poser, Mr. Duck
I have been guilty of both approaches, which one more so seems to depend on which medium I am working with at the time. Thankfully I am consistent with my music writing and band affairs, but it's been a year or two since I seriously addressed my fiction and even longer since I tried to get some honest to God drawing done. There is something to be said for fluctuating interests but sometimes I think it has more to do with being afraid of churning out a bunch of crap. But why?

I don't want to say that I didn't have great expectations for myself when I was younger but I still enjoyed writing or drawing even when I was at my most miserable or if the end result wasn't what I wanted. I spent many hours as a teenager composing hundreds of lyrics not knowing where they would end up as the albums that inspired them played endlessly in the background. I actually have used a few of them as an adult and have plans for a couple others; the rest are in the landfill a few feet away from where they found those old Atari games.

And a shit-ton of Vogon poetry
I don't think I ever expected to become famous then and there, but that didn't stop me from giving the entirety of my junior high school experience to the comics I was drawing back then. Sure, I can judge plenty of it and rule it as either good or crap (Or apparently both, as my roommate thinks my old comics are masterpieces of adolescent surrealism), but should I really base what I make in the present or future on how I or someone else will see it?

Art is something that should be made for its own sake with no expectations or regards for any temporal context. Even if you are one of the lucky bastards who has actual people expecting a certain quality from each piece you create, not every piece should be created with their conceptions in mind. Even if the piece you make will never used beyond its composition, the process of making it was still more rewarding and exhilarating than refreshing your Facebook feed for the tenth time in two minutes would be. It would've been nice to have friends to hang out with back then but I don't regret the time I spent in that spiral notebook madness. Your mind sees it as work and you will be exhausted by the end of it, but the feeling you'll have in your head and fingers will be not unlike the best sex you've ever had.

I shouldn't make too many promises but I really do need to create more, even if it's just making random posts like this one when my brain won't shut up. I need to be free of the paralysis that everyone faces and do just everything without the fear of how it will be perceived. Even in the likely event that no one will give a shit about the album that my band is set to release this spring, it will still be there when I die and will still be the greatest thing I've ever done until the next one I'm a part of. It is way more interesting to find a laptop with fifty Word documents full of unpublished fiction than it is to find the same laptop with no files and a soon to be deleted browsing history. Of course, this is also being published on my public blog where there is a remote chance of other people seeing it. You decide how much of a hypocrite that makes me.
I will try, Batman. I will try.