THRAWSUNBLAT - Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings
Flashback review!!! Released March 13/13 (Ignifera Records)
StartFragmentWanderer on the Continent of Saplings is the second full-length release from the Canadian melodic black/folk outfit Thrawsunblat. The trio started as a side project of former Woods of Ypres guitarist Joel Violette, but became his main band after David Gold's tragic death led to the disbanding of Woods.
Instrumentally, Wanderer is immaculate - Rae Amitay's fierce drumming has as much of a part driving the songs forward as Joel's catchy guitar work. The production defies black metal tradition in its crystal clarity, which allows every instrument some space to shine and is very welcome in the sections containing multiple guitar melodies on top of each other. The album also lives and breathes folk - not only does every track contain very discernible Canadian melodies, two are full-on traditional folk songs, both of which are well-composed and nicely placed to provide a break from the intensity, adding yet another layer of depth.
Thrawsunblat's greatest strength is their way of seamlessly juxtaposing more tense and emotional sections with catchy riffing and folky melodies, and this record is an excellent showcase of that. In general, the variety is extremely impressive - songs like 'Bones in the Undertow' have slow, melancholic verses which transition into an infectious, memorable chorus, while other pieces like 'Once Fireveined' remain brooding throughout, gradually building up through both harsh and clean vocal sections to a satisfying conclusion.
The penultimate track on the album is far and away the best in terms of both composition and delivery. The first half of 'Song of the Nihilist' is crawling and sinister, wherein a man called the Nihilist tells the narrator of the woes of the world and of how they will inevitably grind him down. A quiet segment in the middle allows the Wanderer to reflect on the man's words before a new melody comes in, triumphant and proud. Our protagonist dispels his doubts and continues on his journey, more determined than ever (also delivering my personal favourite line on the whole album - "If every step is a mountain, enjoy the fucking view." Pure inspirational joy.) Despite being only 6 minutes long, it packs a lot of variety in while still retaining a clear theme and consistent vision throughout. However, the record isn't always this perfect in its composition. 'We, the Torchbearers', for instance, is just a mess. A cool intro leads into a repeated part that seems to be beginning of a buildup which ends on the very next line and transitions into a new riff that immediately drops away and is replaced with a quiet section that comes out of nowhere. All of this takes place over about thirty seconds - if my description was confusing to read, imagine what listening to it's like. The band generally has a pretty bad habit of repeating lines when it doesn't make much sense to, which takes away from a lot of otherwise impactful sections, but fortunately it's nowhere near as noticeable on other tracks.
Overall, Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings is a very capable release from Thrawsunblat, overcoming a few compositional faults to deliver an experience packed with energy and emotion. It's somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the group would go on to release Metachthonia, which improved on many ideas found here and ended up being one of my all-time favourite albums, but even so it's a different approach to the sound and well worth listening to. (7.5)