PICK OF THE WEEK: At long last, Mares of Thrace thunder back with sludgy, drubbing ‘The Exile’

There are 10 million heavy metal bands out there playing umpteen billion different styles of the heaviest of the arts, so it might sound a little silly to say when one of those is missing for a decade, it leaves a hole in your heart. But we’re humans, and we make emotional connections that are beyond our control, so, yes, it very much is possible to feel the weight of one band’s absence.

Canadian crushers Mares of Thrace are an unabashed favorite around here, this desolate place on the internet we inhabit, and there was question in our hearts if we’d ever get a proper follow-up to their killer 2012 record “The Pilgrimage.” Yet, here we are, in 2022, and we have that record in the form of “The Exile,” a six-track bruiser that keeps faithful to the band’s sound but also adds some new twists and textures that make this arrival that much more exciting. Vocalist/guitarist Thérèse Lanz (who also happens to be an incredibly gifted artist) remains at the helm and joining her on this leg of the mission is bassist/drummer Casey Rogers (taking the place of long-time member Stef MacKichan), and they carry on and do so with fire, precision, and emotional power. It’s almost like they never left, and this record feels like home—granted, a deranged, fully engulfed one—from the moment the first breath of music is pushed into the world. We missed this band for sure.

“Onward Ever Onward” opens confirming what no one should have doubted in that, yes, Lanz still has a bagful of snarling riffs that creep up on you and dice your flesh. Her roars bellow as the drumming splits your veins, the tempo mashes fingers, and the mud begins to thicken at your feet, making your travels incredibly hard to complete. “Dark Harbours” is cold and eerie when it starts, the moodiness thickening like a scratchy gray storm cloud before the pace tears open. Guitars carve tributaries as the shrieks pummel, anguish spilling from every crevice, riffs multiplying and mounting new assaults. The punishment increases as a fluid, exciting pace gets into your bloodstream with the song rumbling out into sound. “Offerings of Hand and Tongue” is one of the most different cuts in the band’s entire catalog, the playing feeling breezier, even sultry as Lanz sings cleanly, increasing the emotion to new levels. The playing pushes and pulls, heading into stormy waters where the harsh howls eat away at you, other times the waters subside and let newer textures take over. Later, the guttural ferocity takes over, the playing creating thoughts of battling phantoms, you with no weapons, as the struggle gets the better of your mind.

“Mortal Quarry” has some of my favorite guitar work on the entire record, its introductory riff lancing dangerously, the melodies burning your flesh. The shrieks feel like they’re digging internally for your life source, delirium rises as the vocals get nastier and the low-end trudges, then it feels like everything reverses course, as dangerously as possible, flattening your physical well-being as the drums cave in your chest. “In All Her Glory” is speedier as it strikes, taking you on a runaway mission downhill, picking up velocity and terror along the way. The vocals fire hard as the pace gets more inventive, and atmosphere allows you some breath, but you know that comfort is temporary. The vocals continue to smear ash in your mouth, and the playing eventually melts into the ground. “The Thread That Will Unravel You” ends the record with slow-driving heat, vocals blistering, and the guitars making a game of toying with you and refusing mercy. The bass thunders beneath the surface, feeling steely and cool, while Lanz fires up again and delivers howls that sound like they’re tearing apart her throat. The final moments coil and strike once more, adding insurmountable heat and punishment that will takes days, maybe weeks from which to recover mentally and physically.

Having Mares of Thrace back is one of the early-year feel-good stories, even though “The Exile” will do its best to deliver psychological scarring as the duo treats you to carnage and spacious madness. Lanz is a force the metal world absolutely needs, a performer whose fire and tenacity are front and center, making her someone whose work lives in your head permanently. She and Rogers are a formidable team, one that shows a muddier, bloodier side to this band that is more vital than ever realized.    

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/maresofthraceca

To buy the album, go here: https://linktr.ee/maresofthrace

For more on the label, go here: https://www.sonicunyon.com/