It's difficult to feel connected with nature while living in the heart of one of the world's biggest cities. The hardest part of my new life in Mexico is coming from a place where both ocean and mountains were minutes from my front door. Where hiking, camping, and hanging out in National Forests aren't just hobbies, they’re an assumed part of life and universally understood to be enriching, no matter how hard that is to quantify. Since moving here and losing that part of my life, I've had to frequently turn to music to remind me of the beauty of the natural world, a motif in no short supply in metal. But, like the trash-strewn, overcrowded national parks near Mexico City, the world of folk-influenced heavy music often lacks a sense of meaning and is becoming increasingly easy to wave off. There's a certain authenticity required when attempting to play folk-inspired anything, and too often bands who turn to this style lack the depth, nuance and reverence it deserves. Thrawsunblat is not one of these bands.
Joel Violette and Co’s brand of folk metal is subtle, even hard to identify at times. It lies not in haphazard use of some obscure instrument or forgotten language, but deep within the melody and soul of the music. It’s enriching and uplifting, filled with a sense of grandeur and visceral beauty. With Metachthonia they have created something near-impossible for the style: an album that’s equally ferocious, somber, void of pretense and utterly majestic.
The first listen of Metachthonia borders on overwhelming, so there’s nothing to do but embrace it, and revere. It’s an album that demands the listener to just sit back and absorb. On my first playthrough I let it run without looking at the track titles or progress, and it was an intense and harrowing experience. It's easy to make assumptions about what to expect, where the songs will lead, and the emotions that will be evoked. But the difficulty in penetrating it was astounding as its structure slowly became clear. The whole thing blurs the line between concept album and single, longform work as it feels like there are dozens of distinct tracks on the album. In reality that's not far off: as the lyrics sheet reveals, each of the six tracks is a triptych, split into three distinct parts with their own feeling and story. The blurry lines eventually become clear, but slowly discovering the links and breaks and finding each piece at they fall into place is what makes the entire creation something special; with deeper and deeper meaning brought forth on each listen.
My feelings of longing for natural beauty and grappling with isolation in a modern city were awakened by the music, so I was floored to find that exact theme make up most of the lyrical structure of Metachtonia - a testament to Joel’s skill as a songwriter. The lyrics are well worth a deep-dive, meaningful for anyone with similar feelings (and indeed humanity as a whole). The album represents, in all its parts, the essence of what folk metal should be.
But not every listener needs take an existential approach to the album, and they, too, will be rewarded. Because at its core it’s still a ripping batch of melodic extreme metal. Built around Joel’s lush, swirling and badass tremolo’d riffs, there’s a nonstop sense of excitement and exploration. Very few repeating choruses and an ever-changing, labyrinthine structure evoke a constant feeling of surprise and anticipation for what will come next; a burst of cello, a dance of acoustic strings, or the molten, unexpected vocals provided by drummer Rae Amitay, whose varied performance on the skins provides the perfect backdrop to the heart-melting adventure. Both a sprint and a marathon, the album almost never slows, and the small gulps of fresh air intoxicate before you’re once again plunged into the fray. Mixed beautifully, the production gives plenty of room to the multi-layered guitars while still providing enough room for the immense amount that’s going on with the rest of the key players.
Metachtonia is a grand statement, both in music and in word, about the importance of our world, our history, and how we live our lives. I can’t be transported back to the wonder of the Pacific Northwest on a whim, so this album is as close I can get imagine to returning. Metachtonia is proof of the power of music, showing that the most skilled songwriters can export us to a different, yet familiar, realm while keeping a smile on your face during the ride.