"The Pilgrimage"

By Earthdog

The rise of high-quality female-fronted doom and sludge bands continue with this absolute mind-blowing album from the girls of Mares Of Thrace and their second release 'The Pilgrimage.' The first thing I should say here is; this sounds fresh; not that they are doing anything remarkably original but something about this sounds unique and vitally refreshing for the doom and sludge scenes. Mares Of Thrace are a duo, Thérèse Lanz and Stef MacKichan, and these girls know their chops. Stef is a jazz-trained drummer so I guess that is part of the reason the drumming on this album is so dynamic while Lanz has a voice to scare the pants of the most extreme heavy music fan. Even though the only instruments here are drums and guitar; it is amazing how thick, full, warm and rich sounding this album is.

Musically this album is closer to experimental hardcore sludge-metal than it is anything traditional doom metal but the atmospheric quality dives to the darkest of doom depths in most of these 10 tracks. However, the band never gets stuck in the rut of plodding along or just simply hitting monolithic, crawling riffs. These songs have a wide array of variations, both in tempos and stylistic approaches and songs actually get very fast at times with blast-beat bursts of insane fury. I am not going to do my usual track-by-track review with this album. Each track is great but if I was going to describe each track in detail, it would end up a near-novel in itself. It is not that these songs are very complex... far from it... but the depth to these pieces is staggering.

Mares Of Thrace have found a great niche for themselves within the doom-laden sludge genre. They have found an absorbing, interesting balance between the experimental factor, tight grooves and just out-and-out monolithic doom riffing. The vocals of Lanz have also come of age and can easily blow away most of her male counterparts for sheer intensity. The album kicks off with 'Act I: David Glimpses Bathsheba' and the evil foreboding intensity of this album is quickly established. From there; the dark and oppressive intensity doesn't let up. The only departure from this vibe is 'Triple B' which is an oddball electronic-noise track but apart from that, this album is solid compelling sludge. At times the songs will head into a more melancholic direction but it is usually short-lived and while 'The Pilgrimage' has a lot of ambient passages, overall it is still a menacing wall of sound.

'The Perpetrator' and 'The Gallwasp' stand-out as two of the most accessible tunes with insane amounts of groove while 'The Three-Legged Courtesan... ' is an instrumental showcase for their incredible talents as musicians. The bulk of the charm with this album is it is constantly pulling in all directions but keeps a great balance between being challenging and being very accessible. The hardcore sludge and doom metal fan should find most, if not all, of this crushingly excellent while the more adventurous listener should find some of the passages very captivating. The mix of noise, experimental ambience, sludge metal, doom metal, and even some hardcore punk elements wont be for everyone but I feel this is one of the most important releases of recent years. Along with Undersmile (another female-fronted band), Mares Of Thrace are game changers but I get the feeling like so many of these kind of albums, it will fly under the radar for most people. All I can say is:  wake up, folks! Bands like Mares of Thrace are giving doom and sludge metal a much-needed shot in the arm whether you get it or not. Another essential, formidable release for 2012 that knocks most other bands into the dirt.....9.5/10