Review by: Noah Salo
And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1)
Thus begins the story of David and Bathsheba. David, the king “after God’s own heart,” decided to stay home from battle instead of fulfilling his duties. After spying on a naked woman named Bathsheba bathing he decided to use his kingly clout to rape her, kill her husband, and then marry her. The story is presented in the bible as a cautionary tale to men – do what you are supposed to, and don’t avoid responsibility because that is when temptation will strike. Little attention is paid to Bathsheba and her role, how she was manipulated and abused by a man who was trusted by everyone.
In their sophomore album The Pilgrimage, Mares of Thrace tell the story from the other side, to the tune of crunchy doom metal. With a line-up of only two, Therese Lanz on baritone guitar and vocals and Stef MacKichan on drums, Mares have a surprisingly full sound. A bass guitar isn’t missed because Therese’s tone is full and deep, and MacKichan lays down the bottom end thick with her drumming. She is trained as a jazz drummer, and although Mares does not leave any space for jazz inflected style, her experience is palpable.
This is a concept record. Daring for any band, especially daring for a two-piece’s sophomore, however it works surprisingly well both musically and lyrically. Any good concept record will contain musical themes and motifs. The songs will be connected enough to show that they go together, but varied enough to not blur into one. As a two-piece, Mares of Thrace have limited sonic capabilities, and that aids them on The Pilgrimage. Without being bogged down by an endless array of sounds, they avoid the proggy excess of many concept albums and instead focus on the meat: slow, sickening and noisy metal. They certainly put the “doom” into doom metal – the album sounds positively apocalyptic. It also has a mournful tone, instead of the angry one usually associated with metal. It is worth listening to the album for the guitar tones alone.
The vocals are impressive – shockingly deep and throat wrenching, however they are also the reason for my one major complaint. Mares’ first record The Moulting featured a variety of vocal styles: growls, singing, shouting, speaking, etc. The Pilgrimage primarily features growling with a bit of whispering. It can be a bit monotonous. The drums lay firm bedrock, and never get too fancy even though we know Stef is capable of it. The music aids the telling of the story and is interesting in its own right apart from it, ideal for a concept record.
The lyrics also shine. Split into three “acts” they tell the story of David and Bathsheba, alternating from each character’s point of view track to track – with at least one other voice coming in at the end, but we’ll get to that later.
Bathsheba is characterized as confused and self-deprecating. She resents David but resents herself more, and takes on the blame for David’s actions. David is arrogant and proud, admitting fault but placing the real blame outside – onto God. The final song on the album appears to be written by an outside narrator as a message to Bathsheba. It features a surprisingly hopeful message for a metal album, “oh the things I’ll do for you… beautify you… till in yourself you see what I see: potential, purpose, worth. The only savior you’ll ever need.” The Pilgrimage uses the biblical story of David and Bathsheba as an allegory – sending a message to those who have been sexually abused: it is not your fault, and you are beautiful.
The Pilgrimage is the type of album we need more of. It’s a mature artistic statement that is both musically progressive and lyrically powerful. The message rings out loud and clear and is not condescending. Unlike so many other bands that equally focus on depravity, Mares of Thrace take the darkness and turn it into light.
Mares of Thrace will be performing live at Hamilton’s This Ain’t Hollywood on May 9, 2012. Advance tickets are available at Dr. Disc for $7.