It is a fact. The grizzled old warhorses from those good ol’ times when Hard Rock and Heavy Metal were in full swing are not getting younger. And sometimes I fear that there will not be enough decent young blood to keep the genres alive and well furnished with fresh material.
True, we had Iron Maiden this year with Senjutsu, and they’re still alive and kicking. Boy, we even had AC/DC who came back from the dead lately. But – to my point above – looking at these folks more fills me with foreboding than anything else.
2021 already sent us a few reasonable records with their hunting grounds firmly established in the hard ‘n’ heavy. Yet, none of them really convinced me. This starts to feel like Symphonic Metal with a lot of make-believe and little substance.
Now, here Thy Row and their debut album Unchained move in with a record that oscillates between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. But often enough, they sail right on the edge between both styles. Not something RMR’s old metalheads could really resist. You know, those who still remember the times when metal was just that and Hard Rock totally en vogue. With none of that abject nonsense that splits any soundbite into a different genre. Rock and metal combined.
And for once we got a band with a talented vocalist – Mikael Salo – who doesn’t try to be a Dickinson-in-waiting, but rocks on in his very own sturdy style. Oh, and we haven’t found one note out of place – and even the metal screams sound great. That’s a relief because many a Heavy and also Power Metal vocalist out there screams about the soundscape without regard to their own capabilities these days. And Thy Row here turned out to be one of those very welcome exceptions.
Now, Unchained doesn’t break any new ground with new snazzy ideas to spiff up their tune, nor should it.1) Instead, the band unpacks what we knew before already and puts their own spin on it. And they do this like true experts in a way that makes it difficult to spot those references. I’ll list one or two of the juicier ones below.
The RMR deckhands truly relished this youthful energy that oozes out of every crevice of the record. Already Road Goes On – a pretty simple piece – got on our good side. It leans far into Heavy Rock and insanely reminds me of Slap Betty once they finish with a song after endless progression. In other words, Thy Row take off where the former guys end their efforts. The energy thing all over again, and one first track put a smile on my face already.
Now back to some of those references. Unchained – the title track – indeed sounds like something Halford2) always wanted to be. But I really got a kick out of the first part of Hidebound. This is AC/DC incarnate with a Thy Row spin. Bands like Krokus also tried that stunt, but they often went full copycat, whereas these Finnish boys present a subtle reference that I found irresistible. Oh, and it won’t last – you’ll suddenly find a rap-ish interlude3) slam in the middle of the track.
And then, suddenly you got that subtle groove going all over the record. Like in the excellently arranged Just Fine that had my fingers lose the thread of the review and my mind go a-dreamin’. It’s an on-and-off affair of sorts, but pretty remarkable nonetheless.
Now, in case you thought that Unchained displays too much energy for its own good, wait until The Downfall trilogy hits ye. That’s kicking the former performance up a mile. A downturned thrashy slugfest of meaty riffs, snazzy drum work, and a few jaw-dropping solos. We were seriously waiting for the vocalist to scream ‘Yeah’ a few times, believe it or not. Until they revert to healthy Heavy Metal once again, that is. These three tracks also let the bass shine at its very best on this record.
Ultimately, Thy Row got us what our old metal souls craved. Unchained contains much of that tasty old-school Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, yet with a modern tinge that keeps the content fresh. Not all tracks are equally strong, but there are absolutely no duds on this disk. And the relatively slim 40 minutes of airtime help to maintain crisp progress with no danger to slip in some fatty puddles all of a sudden.
So, in other words, Thy Row unchained the beast once more. And there are no maidens available to object this time. Stellar.
Ed’s note: And congrats, the record made it onto the 2021 Top 10 Records.