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Experimental Extreme: Thaw’s “Grains”

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As often as the “experimental” tag gets thrown around, there are instances where its applicability exceeds its ubiquity. Bending or even breaking the rules is one thing, but seeking out entirely different sets of rules is another. The danger here is that — as with most experiments — unconventionality breeds unpredictability. Or, the results may be blurry or skewed, i.e. no art to be found, just a mess of messy data. So wary be those who undertake the arduous journey toward the outer limits of music in search of new horizons. All that effort and you might end up finding nothing but shit (save for your “experimental” tag, that is).

Polish five-piece outfit Thaw’s upcoming fourth full-length Grains — out this Friday and streaming exclusively below — faces these odds with confidence, aiming squarely at the intersection of black metal, doom, and noise in the hopes of poking straight through. That much it does, most definitely. Within its five tracks are layers and branches of experimental nuance — irregular structures, electronic noise, and special effects — tied together with clean, dark narrative. The art is in the craft, however: despite its level of involvement (a few notches below contrived), does Grains have the capacity to make you actually feel?

If that’s the ultimate goal of the experiment, Thaw defied convention in the cold, uncaring aura which surrounds Grains. Not that it’s bleak, but that it’s machine-like (e.g. the robotic vocals on the second track “The Thief” and the heavy-ass synth at the end of the fourth track “The Harness”). The effect, though, is extraordinary: oozing with unusual texture and frightening complexity, the album almost comes to life as something alien. If fear is what you feel, then fear is what you are supposed to feel. Coupled with mental exhaustion (to be frank, Grains does ask for patience), the net result can be overload.

Good. This is what it’s all about. Making it hurt a little. The first track “The Brigand” ends without resolution, a build to a climax never reached. Spoiler alert: Grains ultimately has a satisfying climax, but it sure felt better having arrived from a so-called climactic deprivation. Along the way, prepare to be crushed, though, multiple goddamn times, either by machine-gun drumming or drop-z post-doom riffage or sudden shifts into triumphant, screaming ascensions. And a mind-scramble comes courtesy of jagged geometries and super-heady atmospherics (see: feedback, fuzz, abstract noise, layering, distant vocals, etc. toward the end of the third track “The Cabalist”).

Grains begs for headphone listens in quiet, dark rooms — moments of mental investigation slightly detached from your normal state of awareness. Or, blast it on the stereo and allow the noise to totally consume you, preventing normal thought-flow. Or, even better, see Thaw live (we have yet to see a show, but we trust our guts on this one) and close your eyes, raise invisible oranges, or march like an elephant when they play the final track “Weilki Piec.” Despite all the headspace and its trappings, Thaw know when and how to rock, a testament to the super-pleasurable vividness of this otherwise inhospitable and extreme album. Stream the record below, along with an interview with the band.

Grains is huge, dark, and atmospheric. It feels both insurmountable but freeing, in a way. Regarding atmosphere, though, what was your goal in creating the album’s mood and feel? What themes or ideas do the grim, esoteric, and vivid aesthetics represent?

Thank you. We did not have any assumptions during writing process at all, we never have. This time the music naturally transpired to be more, for a lack of a better word, peaceful and atmospheric. The lyrical concept was created by P afterwards. It is based on “The Manuscript Found in Saragossa” by Count Jan Potocki.

Tell us about the writing process for the opening track “The Brigand.” It feels ominous, and doesn’t have a completely resolute ending, leaving some anxiety for the listener as we go into the next track “The Thief.” The question is: how did you want to introduce Grains to listeners?

Just as it is – with a jab right between your eyes. We wrote and recorded this song with our friend Macio Moretti, who played these wonderful drum parts there. The whole composition is simply based on creating the tension between parts with his heavy drumming and these with a regular rhythm section or – as in the outro – the guitars solo.

A variety of special effects appear on Grains, like the vocals in the first part of “The Thief” (which are then followed with a wicked fucking awesome bass drop). How did you achieve those sounds, and (a bit deeper of a question), how do those more electronic sounds lend themselves to the nature and character of Grains?

This vocal track was created using a vocoder. It occurs during a moment of almost complete silence and we felt it did a good job of presenting the vocal in a stone cold, unhumanized manner, that empowers the contrast with the peaceful, warm, tube powered guitar even more. Speaking of the electronic parts of Grains – there are plenty of them along the record. The synths are as important as every other instrument.

What does it mean to be “forward-thinking” or experimental, in your opinion? Maybe with respect to black metal, specifically? Also, any improvisation?

These are real traps, aren’t they? The problem is that if your assumedly want to create something experimental, cross- genre, and innovative at all costs, you’ll most likely end up with a product, that might even by natty or impressive to some on the first sight, but completely deprived of emotions and beauty. That seems to be the worst possible assumption you might have. On the other hand, if you jam around some heavy, doomy riffs and then record it with a desire to catch not only the sound of particular instruments but also the atmosphere of playing together, and then someone calls it a collective black metal/doom/sludge/drone/other improvisation, that’s fine, we don’t mind. But that’s not how we feel about it at all.

Grains releases Friday, December 8th via Agonia Records. Pre-order here. Follow Thaw on Bandcamp here.

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