Lyrics by David James Young
For a genre that was initially forged as a niche hybrid, metalcore has certainly become an overcrowded genre unto itself.
This is particularly the case in Australia, where several purveyors of this distinct heaviness have forged careers with considerable crossover appeal throughout the previous decade. When it comes to Thornhill in Melbourne, however, it’s clear from the start that this is not a team interested in being the next Parkway Drive, the next Amity Affliction, or even the next Polaris. On the contrary, their vision is much more precise: they want to be the next Thornhill.
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“I think we always had in mind that we wanted to be different all the time,” says Ethan McCann – the band’s guitarist, co-founder and co-producer.
“We always wanted to grow. I don’t think it’s ever been in a way that’s been like, “I don’t want to be in a metal community” or “I don’t want to be a metal band.” That was not the case at all. It was more about growth – and the need to keep growing, just to see where we’re going. We don’t know, and we never will, until we get there. All we know is that we’re going to enjoy the process and keep pushing ourselves.
Thornhill frontman Jacob Charlton agrees with his bandmate. “At this point, we literally just want to write the music that we would want to listen to,” he says.
“I think that’s something we achieved on this album. We definitely dipped our toes into a bunch of different things, and I think we did it well. Taking those risks is really important, because if you’re not nervous about releasing music or you don’t know how people are going to think about it, it’s so boring. That’s what makes all the excitement, and that’s what sets a lot of bands apart. If we wanted to release the same fucking ambient, spacey, sad metalcore album… we could. It’s just that we don’t want to. »
The album Charlton is referring to is titled Heroin. This is Thornhill’s second studio album, following their 2019 debut. The dark pool. This album did incredibly well for the band, earning them a top 20 spot on the ARIA Albums Chart and critical acclaim across the board.
“If we wanted to release the same fucking ambient, spacey, sad metalcore album…we could.”
For Charlton, the formula for success was certainly in their hands as a result – which is why Heroin is an even more admirable effort from the band than anything they’ve released before.
It adapts, evolves and reorients the band’s approach, establishing new elements of alternative metal and simpler rock in the process. McCann points out that artists like the Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones, Radiohead and Jeff Buckley were influential in his guitar playing for the album, while Charlton found himself drawn to Elvis Presley and the age-old sound. Hollywood gold. Almost none of this sounds like a heavy band – and really, that’s kind of the point.
“We basically started over, from scratch,” says McCann.
“We wanted to feel like a new band again, because we were getting bored. Our sound and look didn’t really reflect who we were – at least not then. Even though it was only three years ago, we changed people and our tastes changed. We wanted to reflect that in everything about this album. For us, it was about creating our own universe.
For Charlton, it was also a chance to expand and enhance his own role within the band: “I was ready to grow vocally,” he says.
“There were some things, as a singer, that I don’t think I hit as well as I could have on The dark pool. We grew up and toured a lot between making the last album and making this one. We have all improved as musicians. We wanted to do things about Heroin that we couldn’t have done The dark pooland that’s something we always want to be able to say – so the next album will contain things that we couldn’t have done on Heroin.”
McCann and Charlton point to different songs on the album as those that signify this growth and change within the Thornhill camp. For the first, it’s “Arkangel”, which also served as the album’s second single. McCann describes writing the song as a “spark moment”, in that the creative vision became clearer once the song took shape.
“There are parts that sound like The dark pool, but there are also parts that sounded very different to us,” he says. “I started writing this song for the opening credits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – hearing this nostalgic music with the nostalgic visuals felt very special to me.”
As for Charlton, he is drawn to the album’s song “Blue Velvet” in this regard. A song written around the same time as “Arkangel”, it marked positive progress for the singer. “I was like, ‘oh shit, nobody does that,'” he says.
“We were forced to be the producers of the album more than we were probably ready for.”
“It was kind of an epic. I really liked what we were doing and I felt like we could extend that to the whole album. That song, to me, was really interesting and really unique. Until then, the songs we were working on were a little lacking in that department, with that we were starting to understand the full experience better.
Like many albums seeing their release in 2022, Heroin was inevitably impacted by the lockdown restrictions. One of the main stumbling blocks was the band’s inability to record in person – which led to Charlton becoming co-producer on the album.
“I recorded most of the vocal takes on the album by myself, literally where I am now,” he says. He waves an arm, as if to introduce his room over the Zoom meeting.
“We were forced to be the producers of the album more than we were probably ready for.
“I sucked at doing that, because I’m not meticulous and I don’t really care about vocal takes. In a way, however, it ended up being rather beneficial – we were hoping it would come across as a looser album; one that was a little more raw. For us, it was way cooler than the more polished sound we were used to. There was a real vibe to the way it all came together.
McCann, unlike Charlton, considers himself quite meticulous in his approach, meaning his role as the album’s producer was considerably different.
“It can be difficult to take on this role when you’re already part of the group,” he says.
“You end up really critiquing your own parts, all the structures you’ve come up with, just like that. It’s something that I really struggle with on my end – I got to the point of self-mockery, where I was thinking about everything. One of the biggest things I took away from making this album was to focus on where I’m stuck and really learn from them.
Heroin will be published on June 3 via the UNFD. Pre-order here.