May 6, 2014

Thrall - Aokigahara Jukai

Written by Justin C.

Artwork by Tom Void

"Aokigahara Jukai", roughly translated from the Japanese, means "Sea of Trees." It's a relatively small forest in Japan at the base of Mount Fuji, and it's a popular place for suicide in Japan.** It's also reputably a place were "ubasute" was once practiced, which is the abandonment of the sick or elderly in a remote place to die, although how much of the practice is simply folklore seems to be in dispute. This all sounds like great fodder for a doom album, but Australian band Thrall have taken it on with black metal instead. And now that I've heard it, it makes a certain amount of sense. Suicide can be as much about rage as it can despair.

Thrall play a thrashy brand of black metal that, at times, puts me a bit in mind of Dark Funeral. The vocals have a very satisfying rasp to them, and guitars and rhythm are very well executed. The band also has a penchant for mixing slower, doomier passages in their songs, which are very effective given the subject material. Interestingly, though, the mix of tempos backfires on them a bit on the first half of the album. As I've said, the songs are very well done, but the first five tracks are a bit repetitive. You're pretty much guaranteed a shift to a slower tempo about halfway through, before a change back to a more galloping tempo. The overall effect is that you're listening to the same song over and over again, and although it's a good song, it can be a bit wearying.

Photo by Bad Teeth

But at the sixth track (and the best song on the album, in my opinion), things get more interesting. "The Pact" starts as blackened doom, with a well-earned and slowly building intensity. The band plays tempos off of each other, mixing fast guitars with slow drums and vice versa, providing an excellent sense of tension. At times, the vocals are pushed nearly to the breaking point, sounding almost painful. The song eventually circles back along to its doomy beginnings and beautifully transitions in to "Ghost Chryslides," which showcases a simple guitar line mixed with wind chime-like bells. I know it's a bit weird to say, "I really like the part on that black metal album where they play the bells!" but it's the moving breather that the first half of the album desperately needed. The last track on the album features a riff and variations that are toe-tappingly and head-noddingly catchy.

There's a lot to like here, even if it feels like this should have been a killer EP instead of a full album. It's well worth checking out, and if you find your attention wandering a bit in the first half, I urge you to hang around to see what this band is capable of. A Facebook post indicates that they've started writing their next album, and given the promise shown here, it could be some exciting stuff.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

**As metal fans, most of us are probably fairly desensitized by shocking imagery. Cartoon depictions of someone tearing out his or her own intestines barely merit a shrug. However, if you Google image search "Aokigahara," as I did, you'll find some lovely shots of the forest mixed with very bleak images of the bodies of real people who have committed suicide. Depending on your sensibilities, proceed with caution.

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