Here’s a thought exercise for you: imagine the proggiest, most technical, most challenging death metal you’ve ever heard.
Got something in your mind? What did you come up with? Necrophagist? Pyrrhon? Gorguts? Alkaloid? Blotted Science? Okay…those are all good choices. Now, I want you to think of the knottiest, gnarliest, most tendonitis-inducing song in that band’s discography…and multiply it by a factor of ten.
Impossible, you say? Meet Thoren, who will want to have a word or two with you about that whole impossible thing.
Hailing from a suburb of Detroit called Sterling Heights, the duo of guitarist Anthony Lipari and bassist Joseph Paquette have been making music together for the better part of the last decade, starting with a progressive rock band called R.O.P. After that band went on hiatus, Lipari decided to head in a different direction, and Paquette soon joined with him. That different direction became Thoren, an instrumental dissonant progressive death metal band whose music damn near defies classification, but includes elements of modern classical, skronky jazz, and brutal death metal.
On Gwarth I, the first part of a 19 song, two album project that’s due out on November 9 via Drylands Records (preorder here), the duo is joined by two of the most technically impressive drummers in the game today – Alex Cohen (ex-Pyrrhon, ex-Imperial Triumphant, Epistasis, live drummer for Malignancy) and Kenny Grohowski (Imperial Triumphant, Secret Chiefs 3), and the end result is 27 minutes of the most daring, what-the-fuck inducing music I’ve ever heard.
We’ve got the pleasure of bringing you a track from Gwarth I today here at the Vault. “Galvorn” packs more into less than three minutes than some bands do into entire albums, but not only does it not feel over-stuffed – it’s somehow also catchy as all hell. Give it a listen below, and once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, check out my interview with Lipari and Paquette.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey – thanks for the interview. Gwarth I is a wonderfully knotty little album, and I’m stoked to have the chance to chat. As I was listening to it for the first time, I found myself thinking about those (mostly) instrumental shred albums I used to buy when I was learning guitar in middle school, like Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, Jason Becker & Marty Friedman, etc. – the sort of stuff with an audience primarily of people with subscriptions to Guitar magazine. Obviously, Thoren isn’t a shred band, but your music may well be even more complex, technical, and challenging. Now, I know most musicians will say they primarily make music for themselves; however, once you start releasing albums, I’d guess that you also have to start thinking about who those albums might appeal to. So I’m curious – who do you think is the audience for Thoren’s music?
Anthony Lipari: Oh yeah, those classic shred albums, all the Mike Varney stuff, was big in my early development for sure. I think that Thoren could appeal to anyone who likes unusual song structures, off-kilter rhythms, and dark harmonies. We try to up the complexity of what we do without losing the aggression and darkness, and I think that has an appeal. Hopefully I’m not alone.
Joseph Paquette: I would say that our music would appeal to those who have been looking for something fresh to listen to within the death metal genre. There are so many bands out there that just flood your ears, and a lot of it can end up sounding the same, but once and awhile you hear a band that just catches you off guard and just end up liking them. Anyone who’s looking for something new to listen to might find something they like here.
IMV: I think the thing I find most surprising about Gwarth Iis the run time: 27 minutes. There is so much going on in the album’s nine songs that it doesn’t feel like less than half an hour of music – in fact, it really feels like the perfect length. I did see in the PR materials, though, that you recorded nineteen songs and decided to divide them between two separate albums. Unless Gwarth IIis going to be all seven or eight minute songs, I’m guessing they’d have all fit on a single disc. What made you decide to split them? Was it because you didn’t want to potentially overwhelm listeners with too much material, or was there some other reason?
AL: Yes, knowing that our music is not going to be for everyone, being that it’s very dense and technical, it can be very trying on the ears to digest so much music within one listen. So we decided to break up the material so we wouldn’t overwhelm the audience so that they would enjoy listening to the album again and again.
IMV: Since the PR materials note that Thoren was formed partly out of your dissatisfaction with your previous band R.O.P.—and since the initial Thoren lineup was essentially R.O.P., minus a vocalist—I listened to a couple of R.O.P. songs for the sake of contrast. To say the two bands sound is a bit of an understatement. In fact, I’d never have guessed the same group of musicians produced them both. About eighteen months separate the last R.O.P. release, the Fragments EP, and Thoren’s self-titled debut EP. How did you manage such a drastic shift in sound in that relatively short span of time? Compared to the material on Thoren, R.O.P. almost sounds like a pop band.
AL: The shift felt completely natural due to the fact that all of the members had a wide array of influences. As the main writer in both bands, it was a matter of tapping into a different vibe of music than what would have fit in R.O.P.
JP While in R.O.P., Anthony, Chris Burrows, and I would jam on metal stuff all the time, so having the creative freedom and not be limited to musical ideas due to a vocalist was the driving force behind creating the Thoren sound.
IMV: I want to ask about songwriting, but since I’m not even close to having my head wrapped around Gwarth I, I’m not quite sure how to approach it. Not to keep referencing the PR materials, but you’re quoted as saying that one of your “main goals is to synthesize modern classical music, dark jazz, and brutal metal.” Do you have any kind of formal background in compositional theory that you bring to your writing process for Thoren? I’m wondering if your approach is based on writing and linking together discrete riffs like a metal dude, if you think of it more in terms of movements and motifs like a composer, if you use modal improvisations, etc.?
AL: I have studied music theory and have a decent grasp of most of the concepts. However, there is always more to learn. I do enjoy sometimes experimenting with different theoretical concepts. For example, the first song on our previous record, “Timorsham,” has all twelve notes of the chromatic scale being played simultaneously throughout, while shifting through different voicings. Sometimes the inspiration is just writing a riff I enjoy, and sometimes I think more in terms of motifs. Breaking a riff into its nuts and bolts and reassembling it differently like Frankenstein’s monster can yield interesting results. The main goal is to make a dark and oppressive atmosphere with our own take on harmony, rhythm, and song structure.
JP: I too have studied music theory and am proficient in sight-reading and understanding complex rhythms. It’s difficult to explain, but my goal when writing bass for Thoren is try to serve the song while blending whatever the guitar and drums are doing. Whether it’s playing along with the riff, or against it. Though each song doesn’t have a set structure, we do our best to avoid going from riff 1 to riff 2 to riff 3, etc.
IMV: One of the things that really strikes me about Gwarth I is the way the drums function within the arrangements – they almost sound more like a lead instrument than playing the usual timekeeping/rhythmic role. You use two different session drummers on the album: former Pyrrhon/Imperial Triumphant drummer Alex Cohen, and current Imperial Triumphant/Secret Chiefs 3 drummer Kenny Grohowski. How did you end up working with those two? How was it decided who played on which track? How much autonomy were they given in developing their own parts?
AL: When looking for a drummer that we felt that would be a good fit for the material on Gwarth I, Joe and I compiled a list of drummers who we felt could tackle this material. After talking to various drummers, we felt that Alex Cohen would be the perfect choice. Due to the nature of the material and how dense it was, Alex felt it would beneficial to bring Kenny Grohowski on board. Both of them really stepped up to the plate and delivered some incredible performances.
JP: Alex and Kenny just split up the songs on their own, I’m not sure of what their method to their madness was, but let me tell you. However they decided which songs they were going to record, they selected right because they sound incredible! Both Alex and Kenny were given full autonomy for writing and recording their drum parts.
IMV: Since we’re premiering “Galvorn” along with this interview, what can you tell me about how that song came together? That’s one where Kenny Grohowski plays drums, correct?
AL: Yes, Kenny plays drums on that song. That was one of the earlier tunes written after I had listened to a piece of music by composer Samuel Laflamme entitled “Male Ward Chase” from the video game Outlast. I really enjoyed the syncopated rhythm with the dark shifting harmonies over top and tried to create something like that in my own style, and that turned into the galloping riff that repeats in different parts of the song. I built the song around that riff and I’d say Joe and Kenny really locked in to what I had in mind.
IMV: You also did the cover art for Gwarth I, which has kind of a Picasso meets Joan Miró feel about it that perfectly suits the music. What’s your artistic background? Did you create the cover for Gwarth I digitally, or is that some other media?
AL: I honestly don’t have much of a background in the visual arts other than an art history class in college. I have always been interested in the visual arts though. In January of 2016, I started doodling one day while bored at my job and I realized how relaxing it was. I eventually got really into it. I also experimented with fluid acrylic paint pouring and really enjoyed that. I decided to use both a drawing and painting combined for the artwork and John Strieder of Coma Cluster Void, who also mixed and mastered the album, did the digital overlay. Check out his work here, he’s brilliant.
Here is the original artwork and drawing:
IMV: What are your plans once Gwarth I comes out? Do you intend to try to gig behind it at all?
AL: There are no future plans for live shows.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
AL: Thank you for your interest in our music. There is more exciting stuff coming in the near future. Follow us here.