MetalSucks and American Aftermath have premiered individual tracks from Gates of Winter — the second album by Indiana’s Thorr-Axe — and those were tasty appetizers, but now we serve you the main course: a full-album stream.
When I first saw the cover of Gates of Winter, and coupled that with the band’s name, I’m afraid I got the wrong impression. I was expecting tongue-in-cheek, Viking-themed folk metal, with extra cheese. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
There is indeed a narrative concept that gives the album its structure — a tale loosely based on Norse mythology, with some high fantasy thrown in. As the band’s vocalist/guitarist Tucker Thomasson has said (here), “It’s full of frost giants, shit talking, a magic sword forged by a smith producing an incessant stream of f-bombs, and a metric fuckload of ice and snow.”
But the music, the music is something else again. It is no joke.
There’s an icy grimness in the atmosphere, a freezing river that courses through the songs. The band blends together the vibrating tremolo-picked motifs of black metal with the heavy, stalking riffs of doom and the bleak rumble of sludge — and the melodies are much more sombre and serious than beer-soaked and rollicking.
That’s not to suggest that the music has only one gear. The album includes up-tempo songs like “Four Hooves” that are powerful and electric, with riffs that will put a charge in your spine. But it also includes blackened doom tracks like “Mountain Crusher” that sound like… well… mountains being crushed, by glacial flow (though that song takes off in a burst of warlike mayhem before it ends).
Thomasson’s caustic vocals are full of acid, blood, fury, and anguish — and when he shifts into a hollow roar, the effect is ghastly. The drum work is a main force in the music, beautifully imagined and precisely timed in its progressions to give the song’s an extra charge of energy, even when they’re moving at a crawl. The bass grinds like a pavement-cracking machine (and gets some cool mini-solos over the course of the album).
And there is a tremendous amount of dynamic change as the album progresses. “The Forging Ritual” is a lead-heavy chunk of stoner/doom (with gang vocals) that transforms into a rumbling road machine that eats up highway miles with smoking tread marks in its wake.
The title track is a ponderous, sludgy monster that leaves splintered bone and spilled entrails where it has passed — but it also includes an absolutely beautiful melodic solo that’s full of grief and longing, as well as a blast-beat-driven finish that’s just a beautiful, though quite different in mood.
At the end you’ll find the 14 1/2 minute behemoth of “Awakening”, a multi-faceted progression that’s blasted, harrowing, and soaked in doom — and that also includes one of the most powerfully neck-snapping riffs you’re likely to hear in months as well as yet another beautiful, rippling, melancholy melody.
I’ve left some songs out of this description, but not because they’re negligible: There’s not a weak track on the album (even the mainly instrumental “Intermission” really isn’t an intermission at all — you’ll see). I just want to leave you a few surprises.
And I want to repeat the point I was trying to make earlier: Thorr-Axe is a really heavy, really creative band who aren’t fucking around. They have expertly interwoven a multitude of musical styles to produce an album that’s a dark, gripping listen from start to finish.
Gates of Winter will be released on January 13 by Riff Reaper Records, and it can be ordered here. Relevant links are below, followed by the album stream.