(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Lead Journalist/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
If you read my articles here on Riff Relevant or my personal social media posts, then you probably know I absolutely love this band and have avidly championed them from the moment I first discovered them.
I say “them” but truth is, THAL have only become a “them” in the last year or so, starting originally as the for-fun project of Vince Green. After some early singles were released, Green made a defining mark upon the planet’s underground musical realm with 2016’s full-length, Glitter.
Now, he is back and has recruited his fellow wytCHord band mate Kevin Hartnell to come in and man the drum kit for this latest album. I also interviewed Vince Green in connection with this, you can find our exchange after the review further below.
Let’s jump right into things, shall we? Heaviness. One word that seems to have an unlimited scope of meanings, depending on whom you speak to. What is heavy to one person is not necessarily always heavy to another. They say opinions are like assholes, ya know? Everybody has one and they all stink, and in this age of division, one where no one seems to find anything they can agree on, know this: THAL‘s “Reach For The Dragon’s Eye” will be the defining litmus test for heaviness from here forward.
Perhaps Vince has sold his soul or something, I don’t know, but I do know one damned thing, NOBODY gets the massively thick density in their sound that THAL does.
From the very roll out of the introductory “Rebreather“, with its sinister, fuzzy riffs and body-battering rhythmic backing, the quest for a heaviness never known to man begins. Aggressively sought and masterfully wrought, the slow, simmering savagery of this song shall sear its mark upon the inner recesses of your skull.
From this jumping off point, things only get more massive with the all-out crush of “Under Earth“. For fuck’s sake, the song sounds like its being blasted through long-blown speakers, an impassable wall of furious doom fatness that hammers away at you. All the while, everything remains clearly decipherable as the indented grooves draw you along like a hook sunk into your jaw.
Indeed, that groove permeates every track as the malevolent undercurrent of this record works to erode all righteousness. There is no denying the evil feel of this music, from the hellish vibes impacted amid the audio itself, right to the matter-of-fact lyrics revering all that is amoral and liberating.
The lyrical themes of this album are as profound as the music really, taking on everything from relationships to politics and religion, always exhibiting a repeated, murderous irascibility. A recycling mindset bent on wrath, retribution and recompense manifests itself time and time again in the words contained here.
The (d)archangel of the female persuasion, Sophie Steff returns as a vocal contributor on the pulsing “Her Gods Demand War“. This number weaves and winds its way out with some serious, harmonious guitars and a chunky, but laid back swagger. The latter is undeniably set by Hartnell’s opiate-like back beat, as Vince and Sophie serve up their striking vocals. All the while, Kevin’s kit work remains an essential part of this song’s success.
Yet successful songs are the stock-in-trade of this album, actually, each one a powerhouse in its own right. Numbers like “Thoughtform“, “Death Of The Sun” and “Punish” deliver a smorgasbord of varying emotions, genres, and ultimately, exploratory sonics. But, when it comes to a THAL record, there is always one song that just absolutely floors me from the first time heard.
“Soulshank” is that song here, rippling with such exaggerated badassery and bad attitude both that it is impossible to ignore. From the first time Vince let me hear this track I have been smitten, blathering on to him about its resonating impact upon me. Don’t be fooled by its more sedate, restrained start, for less than 15 seconds in, THE riff explodes and stitches itself in as if with rivets.
Crushing everything in its path with undiscerning hostility, as if a song itself could exude hatred and disgust for all things equally. This is what I take away from “Soulshank“, its bluesy doom only augmenting its profanity-laden wording, displaying a disdain rarely captured on a recording.
I must also mention the psyche-laced purgatory of the album-ending title track, “Reach For The Dragon’s Eye“. It and the aforementioned “Soulshank” are my own personal favorites here. This number ebbs with a gradually building bent toward that which must come, the damnable end. Haunting, harrowing and wholeheartedly a deluging torrent of tumultuous riffs, isolated bass lines and pummeling drums. All while the lyrics unfurl a tale as old as man, and time, itself. You know the one.
In closing, I listen to a lot of music, (surprise!) and am constantly presented with “heavy” this and “heavy” that on a daily basis. And while some do register as such, none come close to touching what is encapsulated within THAL. This is a seemingly supernatural heaviness, one not acquired by natural means by human men.
It might not be your thing, but it damn sure is mine… and it only gets better with each new THAL transmission. This is music for the disillusioned and disenfranchised, those harboring disgust for certain things. Here, that disgust undergoes a metamorphosis into music and it ain’t pretty or quaint, but it is oh-so enthralling!
The second segment of our piece here is an up-to-the-minute interview I was able to land with THAL‘s Vince Green. I won’t prolong things with a lengthy hyping roll-out (I have been known to do it sometimes). Instead, let’s just tear right on into my interrogation of Vince, okay?
Pat Riot: “Reach For The Dragon’s Eye” has just dropped… what are your feelings about the new record at this time? Along with what listeners themselves garner from the record, is there anything you would hope they take away from it also?
VG: I am really excited that people will finally get to hear the songs! I feel like I’ve been driving around listening to this album in my car forever. I understand that CD production time and the promotional hype period is an integral part of releasing an album, but I’m impatient. Ha ha!
I am really proud of this beast that we’ve created and I think others are going to dig it, as well. I hope that listeners can relate to the feelings I am expressing on the album, as I think they are feelings we all have from time to time, especially in these crazy times.
Pat Riot: With the new album, THAL is no longer a one man undertaking… what prompted you to bring your wytCHord bandmate Kevin Hartnell on board? What do you think that he specifically brought to the table that may have been absent from earlier output?
VG: Kevin is an absolute musical force. Working with him in wytCHord was a great experience, as he made me think differently about song structures and guitar harmony parts, among many other things that I feel make me a better musician. All of that and he is just a really nice guy. Both of us are pretty “prolific” when it comes to putting down our ideas, which made the songwriting process relatively painless. I would send him something and he would have immediate ideas to add or vice versa. We’re a great team.
He brings a lot to the table that I didn’t have before. The drums on “Glitter” are not in the same league as the drums on this album. I played or programmed all of the drums on Glitter. I don’t know the first thing about drumming except pick up sticks and hit the drums! Kevin has the nuance to be pummeling or pull it back when the song calls for it. His groove is great and makes it a joy to play guitar and sing over. He is also a multi-instrumentalist, so he brought in a lot of subtle synth effects and additional guitar parts that THAL did not have before.
Pat Riot: THAL always possesses such a massive underlying heaviness in all aspects, is that purposefully sought or just the way the music translates? And speaking of that… I’m not a tech / equipment guy in any way but what kind of rigs and their set ups do you use to play on and capture that heaviness?
VG: Thank you! That is absolutely sought on purpose. I know the terms stoner and stoner / doom have been used to describe what we do (and I take it as a compliment as I am inspired by both genres), but when asked, I describe THAL as “heavy rock”. We want all the elements to reflect the essence of heavy…pounding drums, deep bass, thick guitar tone, and vocals with lyrics that are deep and reflect the madness of our times.
I mostly use Les Paul guitars… heavy weight, mahogany bodies with humbuckers, that produce a lot of sustain and thick tone. My amps are an Orange OR50 stack and a 70’s Sunn Concert Lead head on top of 2 15” cabs — top cab is a guitar speaker, the bottom cab is a bass speaker. It is insanely loud and thunderous. My dirt pedals are mostly Black Arts Toneworks with some Electro Harmonix thrown in for modulation. I run a bass guitar directly into the board through an Ampeg DI box for recording, but the Sunn can double as an amazing bass setup, as well.
Kevin’s drums are Tama with Zildjian and Paiste cymbals, and Vic Firth drum sticks. He uses a Korg Triton for keyboard parts. We lay all of our tracks down in Cubase.
Pat Riot: Please walk us a bit through the songwriting process of THAL… and how, or did that change with Kevin now in the picture? And what about the lyric-writing process… I personally derive a lot of political, religious and spiritual themes in your lyrics. Is it valid to cull such from them?
VG: We created quite a bit of this album using the miracle that is the internet. Kevin and I live a couple hours apart and both have families, so that makes it tough for us to get together and jam as often as we would like. But luckily, we are both adept enough with the technology that it is not a hindrance. Usually I’ll start with some main guitar riff and keep looping that over and over, while I come up with the various sub riffs of the song to support it. Usually at this point, I am not thinking about lyrics or anything; just creating a killer instrumental. Then I will program a scratch drum track and make sure everything is arranged the way I want.
After that, I will add bass parts and do an initial mix to make sure everything sits together nicely and then send the files to Kevin. He will pull out the scratch drums and proceed to write / record his drum parts. He will also add additional parts to the song whether it is synth / effects / additional guitar parts, etc. He has never sent something back to me that I wasn’t wowed with. That is the complete truth. Once I have the instrumental, I will usually sit in front of a microphone and begin writing whatever is on my mind for that day. As I write, I will record scratch vocals in order to remember the melody for when I record the “real” vocals soon after.
[About the lyrics] You are very perceptive! Yes, almost all of my songs involve one of, if not all three, of those elements. I feel like there is so much material in our modern life to pull scenarios and inspiration from, there isn’t a need to make stories up for the most part. I am usually appalled at some current event or the current state of affairs and the words just flow. I will write metaphorically about concepts that mean something to me, and leave it up for interpretation for each person that hears the song. Everyone can assign their own meaning and it would be correct.
Pat Riot: At what point or when do you know, or feel, that a song is “finished”, that it is in the best possible state it can be… that it is at completion, for lack of a better term?
VG: With regards to the instrumentation, Kevin is a “get it done right now” guy. Ha ha! Once he has the guitar parts and bass parts, he will knock out the drums and other pieces in a day or less. Obviously if something is going on in life, that will be variable. But he doesn’t like for things to be unfinished. I am very similar, maybe not AS fast… but relatively fast overall when it comes to trying to complete something.
When doing the lyrics, I could feel a certain passion for the subject that may not be there in a week or so. So, I try to get the lyrics written and recorded within a day or two, so that the immediacy can be felt on the listener’s end. Once those two elements have been married, it’s done. I am usually ready to move onto the next idea so I don’t go back and question a lot of things.
Pat Riot: I notice Sophie Steff (These Butchers Will Kill You) appears on this album. How did her collaborating with THAL originally come about?
VG: I was on my SoundCloud account and it had alerted me that Sophie had followed my channel. She left a note saying that she liked the songs I had posted. I went to her channel and started listening to her music and was blown away by her voice. Crystal clear, full of emotion. We became Facebook friends and have been for the last few years. As I was recording this album, I thought it would be great to have a female vocal on one of the songs and took a chance and asked her. She said yes, and now we have a killer song together! I won’t give away too much, but we had discussed a future collaboration so we’ll see what happens.
Pat Riot: On the new album, and earlier records both, there are always such dark vibes musically and lyrically and even heavy violent content in the lyrics, which seems to be a contrast to you as a person. Is it safe to say that THAL is a cathartic vehicle for you personally… a platform to exorcise any demons, so to speak?
VG: That is a great way to put it. Yes, it’s totally cathartic. We all have those demons and the world is so dark nowadays (always has been really) that getting my thoughts out through music is a great stress release and in the end you’re left with the cool “product’ of a song. Something permanent to remind you of that certain moment in time.
I will also say that through the negativity, there is also always some kind of glimmer of hope in there. For instance, the album title and song “Reach For The Dragon’s Eye” is about trying to raise above the negativity. Find the knowledge and light inside yourself, whatever that may be and ascend.
Pat Riot: Speaking of you as a person, but related to the band, might there ever come a point where you’d feel comfortable taking THAL to the live stage in some capacity?
VG: I would say yes. The difference from the first album when it was just me, to having a musical partner to create with, has been immense. In a sense, it has grown organically and I like that. It’s not like “quick, find someone so we can do this or that.” It is a relationship that has grown and the “band” is now a little bigger. If we were to bring someone in that was a natural fit, especially on bass and maybe a second guitarist, I would say we are there. I’m not NOT trying to perform, I just want it to be done the right way.
Pat Riot: Detouring from the new record a bit… what was the catalyst that originally sparked your interest in music (i.e. band, album, event, etc.)?
VG: I was a hip-hop guy in high school and college back in the 90’s. I started feeling like my creativity was limited in that genre. At this exact same time, I heard the self-titled Clutch album. That hit me hard and I knew I wanted to do that. Those damn riffs, Neil’s gruff vocals and that picture on the back of the CD cover with the Orange amp. I didn’t know what it was, but I set out to learn as much as I could. So, I started teaching myself on an acoustic guitar and several years later got comfortable enough to record.
[Side note: My parents gave me my first electric guitar on my last birthday that I lived at home. It is a beautiful sunburst Fender Strat that I still have and use, especially on some of the clean sounding parts of the album. I’ve upgraded that with hand wound ’69 Custom Fender single coils, higher caliber electronics and locking tuners. They have always supported my passion to make music and do whatever I want to do in life. I love you Mom and Dad!]
Pat Riot: Who would you cite as some of your personal influences… and for THAL, as well?Who are some of your favorite modern / current bands that you like or listen to?
VG: My personal influences are varied and from all over the map. I love the blues, such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters (among hundreds). I am also a big Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash fan. They both influence my phrasing and not uncoincidentally, were both of my grandfather’s favorite musicians. Danzig is definitely a vocal influence as our ranges are very similar. As I mentioned earlier, I was a hip-hop guy and there is nobody that comes close to Tupac. His passion on each song is unmatched and I take influence from that.
From a guitar perspective, I really admire Tony Iommi, Josh Homme, Adam Jones, Matt Pike, and Scott “Wino” Weinrich. That guy is the ultimate “rock star” and can do nothing wrong as far as I’m concerned. Also want to give a shout out to David Jones, my friend and wytCHord guitarist. He is the first person I ever worked with in a creative musical capacity and I’ve learned a lot from him. He has definitely influenced my playing on a rhythmic level.
[On influences} High On Fire, Goatsnake, Church Of Misery, Chelsea Wolfe, Grand Magus, Victor Griffin, Wino, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Tool, Electric Wizard, Beth Gibbons, Elder, Bloody Hammers, Vista Chino, Mothership, Jex Thoth, Truckfighters, Bionic Cavemen, Bloody Gulch, Joe Carpenter, Motherslug, Plastic Crimewave Syndicate, Rage Of Samedi, Red Beard Wall, Riffana, Saints And Winos, These Butchers Will Kill You, and many, many, many more.
Pat Riot: What type things do you enjoy doing outside the realm of music i.e. hobbies, travel, collections, etc.?
VG: Although I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus recently, I really enjoy bodybuilding. I also love to cook, listen to / collect vinyl records, read / collect horror & occult literature and have more recently been going down the alchemy rabbit hole. I find the history of it and the combination of science and spirituality of it fascinating.
Pat Riot: You perfectly segued us into my next query! I’m pretty sure you are a vinyl kind of guy, ha… is that your favorite medium for music and – in your opinion, why? What is your “holy grail” of albums (or CD, cassette, 8-track)… you know, the one you’ve sought for ages but have yet to acquire?
VG: Oh yes! Vinyl is a complete addiction for me. Coming from a creative standpoint, nothing beats the size of the artwork and pure tactile nature of it. In addition, without the compression you get on digital mediums you are hearing a truer representation of the sound (better sounding in my opinion). It’s much warmer and the bass sound is better represented. There is absolutely a place for digital versions of music, as you can’t take a record into your car with you, but when I’m at home listening it is pretty much exclusively vinyl.
I would love to one day acquire an original pressing of the first Danzig record and an original pressing of Tool’s Aenima. Both are rare and go for a lot of money, so the search continues.
VG: Kevin and I discussed this yesterday. We’re just going to keep making music together and if an album comes out of that, there could be something else by the end of 2018. We aren’t holding ourselves to that though. For us, it’s about letting things happen naturally. I have also spoken to a couple of other artists about possible EP collaborations this year. We will see how that plays itself out.
Pat Riot: Vince, I have a tradition of closing with giving the interviewee the final say… care to share a parting shot, statement, comment, whatever, with us… this is all you!
VG: Thank you so much for this opportunity to share our passion with you. You (Pat) were the first media person to highlight what THAL was about and really tout us to the public with the “Glitter” album. I won’t ever forget that.
Also, many thanks to our wonderful families who put up with us from time to time as we try to balance doing music with “real life”, so to speak. Your encouragement is the best gift. Huge shout out and many thanks to Gero with Argonauta Records for bringing us on and giving us a label to present from.
Thank you, perhaps most of all, to everyone that appreciates the music we’re making and lends us support by buying the albums, interacting with us on social media, or even just sharing our stuff with others. The heavy music community really is the greatest community of people I’ve ever been associated with. Thank you!
There you have it, readers! I want to thank my guest, friend, and brother Vince Green for submitting to this verbal investigation. Thank you to THAL, Kevin Hartnell, Sophie Steph, Gero Argonauta, and Argonauta Records.
It is both humbling and thrilling for me to have been on the ground floor of discovering a band, musician, or what have you, becoming so enamored with their artistry, and playing a part in sharing that with others. That is exactly what has occurred with me from the moment I learned of, and heard, THAL. So do yourself a favor… if you too enjoy their music, support them in any capacity you can.
Not just them, but ANY band or artist that you see fit!