Wednesday 8 May 2024

Thoraway - Navigating Nightfall (2024)

Country: Australia
Style: Heavy/Viking Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 May 2024
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Thoraway hail from Brisbane in Queensland, which seems odd given that they play Viking metal. If you dug a hole through the centre of the world from there and survived a trip through it, you'd be in the Canary Islands and Scandinavia is quite a way north from there. However, given that three of the band members have names that sound like they might be Vikings themselves, it isn't a huge stretch. This album doesn't sound like it was written in Norway, mostly because Joseph Wiley sings entirely in English, but it does feel far more authentic than I expected it to be.

It's big and bombastic, often easily categorised as epic metal, but it's also both angry and melodic with a real sense of motion to it, as if the band are playing on a swaying ship that's sailing right at us at a fair clip. Wiley's vocals, occasionally deepened by backing vocals, hold a promise. Thoraway are, well, on their way. This holds for a couple of songs, Pianara and Greetings, which means thirteen minutes because the album isn't short but it only boasts five tracks. Wiley sings primarily clean but there are echoes of harsh for effect. It's all epic and powerful, as Viking metal ought to be.

And then comes Wild Child of the Night, at the heart of the album, to shake this up. Now, it's still epic and powerful, but it sounds very different to the two openers, mostly because the guitars are completely absent for almost a minute. This one has a strong slow groove built out of bass, drums and a commanding vocal and that groove continues even when the guitars show up in surprisingly dissonant fashion. In a way, the effect is very much the same, just more ominous because this ship is bearing down on us in slow motion. In a way, though, it's very different, because it's a story song and so it never gets closer to us than the page in front of us.

The bottom line is that these songs can't be ignored. Whether we feel threatened by this rushing ship or we feel welcomed in kinship by it, it's big and brash and utterly in our face, even when it's taking time for Jan Gustav Engmark's enjoyable bass solo during the second half of Wild Child of the Night and overtly during that song's woah woah sections and the repeated harsh "We salute you!" at the end. This holds as Bedtime Story takes over, because the theatrics that open it up are rather like a pirate, with all the traditional trappings, stuck his head through our window and stole us away into what we're going to hear. It's blatant stuff, but it works perfectly with the big and bold sound.

With the exception of Bedtime Story, the songs get progressively longer, almost as if the band are teasing us into what they do and getting deeper each time. Pianara kicks off over six minutes and Greetings is a little longer again, Wild Child of the Night is eight and a half and Einherjar (Army of One) is almost eleven. At a breath over six, Bedtime Story breaks that trend, but its intro helps it to feel longer than it actually is. It's long enough to feature a strong guitar solo from either Truls Nilssen or Martin Alexander Einarsen. On most of these songs, the riffs are more important than the solos, because of how they bludgeon, but the latter are still excellent.

Wild Child of the Night has to be my favourite song here, but Einherjar (Army of One) won't leave me alone, perhaps because Thoraway benefit from the added song length. It feels more versatile too, the general approach being the same but the harsh vocals emphasised more and a few more fast and extreme sections that go along with that. As if to counter it, there's a looser exploratory section midway that feels like the ship that is Thoraway isn't barrelling down on us but journeying nonetheless and finding itself in new waters. It's wonderful texture, all the more because of how heavy the sections either side of it happen to be.

I like this album, all the way to the comradely vocals that wrap up Einherjar (Army of One), almost like a drunken choir. Nothing about it is small. Nothing about it is subtle, except maybe that single stretch midway through the closer. It wants our attention and it's happy to grab it. It's also happy to sound very heavy, the bass end pumped up high and the solos always partly buried in the mix. It works because of the sonic assault but it wouldn't for another band, where we want the guitars to be as clear and free as the lead vocals.

I believe this is a debut album, following five singles, only one of which, Greetings, made it to the album, so I presume Thoraway are relatively new. Two members, bassist Jan Gustav Engmark and guitarist Truls Nilssen, were born in Norway, both in Bodø, so I'm guessing that their moving down under prompted this antipodean Viking metal band's formation. The rest of the band are Aussies, it seems, even guitarist Martin Alexander Einarsen, whose name doesn't suggest that, but they're on target with this sound. I look forward to hearing it develop.

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