This collaboration between Bloomington’s Thorr-Axe and Archarus of Indianapolis has much more interesting prospects than your average split album. While splits are often released to cross-promote bands to each other’s fan bases or shed some excess recorded material, Archarus and Thorr-Axe wrote seven songs based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and placed them in narrative order. With the adventure of Bibo Baggins as the grand equalizer, it’s interesting to see how the Hoosier groups not only differ in their individual approaches to doom but also in comparison to their own past efforts.
For the most part, both bands stay close to their respective styles. Thorr-Axe adheres to the blackened doom template last developed on their second album Gates of Winter while Archarus continues to build off the “fast doom” approach of their debut Render unto Archarus. Having said that, each band puts a lot of variety and ambition into their contributions that makes these songs differ from their previous works. Each track has a standout element and the songwriting is never cast out to make way for the narrative.
Being no strangers to the concept album format, Thorr-Axe are certainly in their element on here. While the production doesn’t feel as bottom heavy as it was on Gates of Winter, the epic scope is firmly in place thanks to the harsh vocal trade-offs, slicing guitar work, and sudden lapses into battle friendly breakdowns and black metal barrages. “Riddles in the Dark” may be the best track on here due to its ominously building first half though the upbeat pace on “Dawn Take You All” is also enjoyable. There is also a degree of folk influence that was previously unseen as “Good Morning” avoids the clichés of the acoustic intro with its pleasant melody and subtle electric lead while “Battle of Five Armies” has a folk style rhythm hiding behind the black metal.
In contrast, Archarus is still finding its footing after the changes that took place shortly after their debut. The band has gone from a quartet to a trio and founding guitarist Drew Smith has taken on the vocal duties after the departure of vocalist/co-guitarist Matt Hannon. While the new approach can be serviceable, the vocals seem to lack confidence and are in a perpetual state of being drowned by the riffs and drumming. Fortunately, all the songs still have driving energy with “Flies and Spiders” showing off some sweet clean guitar work amidst the tempo changes and “Erebor” injecting some attitude into its mid-tempo riff and more active vocal work.
Whether it’s closer to being an ambitious undertaking or a concept put together by some friends after a series of fun jams, the Archarus/Thorr-Axe split is definitely a labor of love for both parties. While there are a couple rough spots and a greater emphasis on the vocals for both bands would make it easier to get into the story, both bands deliver energetic performances and have evolved a fair amount since their previous efforts. A good investment to look into if you need more Tolkien in your life.
“Dawn Take You All”
“Riddles In The Dark”