Calgary duo Mares of Thrace’s second album perfects their raging brand of creepy-crawly noise rock. Their debut, The Moulting, certainly did a great job capturing what they were all about, but the recording’s ragged urgency revealed a few rough seams. They were still a fairly new band at that point. After seeing them live a couple times in 2010 it was clear that their fierce playing and dedication to touring would pay off on their follow-up album, and it has. The Pilgrimage outdoes its predecessor in every way. Sanford Parker handled the recording and mix, and extracted the maximum precision and intensity from the group. The sound is huge, built on the twin forces of G. Thérèse Lanz's bulldozing baritone guitar and Stefani MacKichan’s thunderous drum kit. Adding another musician would be redundant, I think; the band’s existing approach doesn’t suit. It wouldn’t be Mares of Thrace anymore. While the red-lined vocals aren’t totally my thing, they are at least consistent and don’t succumb to the hackneyed old growly/clean tradeoff approach. No, Lanz’s voice preaches discomfort and horror amidst her spiralling riffs. How else are you supposed to make yourself heard over such an onslaught?
Music this astringent demands attentive listening. Confronting its stark beauty head on is the best strategy, one made easier by the album’s approachable length and varying flow. The riffs are electrified barbed wire dragged across the art-damaged realm of post-punk/post-metal heaviness. The first four tracks dish out some stern punishment, with “The Gallwasp” standing out as the best crafted and memorable. The rest of the album branches out from there, with the mostly instrumental “Act II: Bathsheba’s Reply to David” and entirely wordless piece for solo guitar “The Three-Legged Courtesan…” providing some welcome, and sinister, mood shifts. When I stick this disc into my computer at work, it comes up as Unknown album by Unknown artist. Stupid bloody computer. Let's get it straight—it’s The Pilgrimage by Mares of Thrace, and it’s going to end up as one of the best albums of 2012.