posted on 1/2010 By:
Thrash metal has a lot of things going for it, but room for creative maneuver generally ain’t one of them. The thrash revival of the last few years has proved this point ad nauseum—when was the last time you heard a young crew of thrashers who had more to offer than homage to their forbearers?
Once in a while, though, a young(ish) band steps up and does something a little different with thrash. Meet Walken, a bizarrely-named San Francisco act featuring two thirds of renowned progsters Grayceon. Though this band has technically been together since 1999 and self-released a debut album in 2004, they continue to be virtual unknowns—this self-titled sophomore effort is just as DIY as its predecessor.
Given Walken’s membership, it’s unsurprising that their style is a little tough to pin down. Their sound is unquestionably rooted in thrash metal first and foremost, but it’s peppered with outside elements. Axemen Sean Kohler and Max Doyle (Grayceon) favor a comparatively low-gain, vintage guitar sound to thrash’s typically steely tones. Along with Grayceon drummer Zack Farwell’s 100% non-digital drumming, their tonal approach gives Walken an organic, almost classic-rock feel. This atmosphere is heightened by Doyle and Kohler’s gift for baroque, soaring guitar interplay akin to fellow Bay Area denizens Hammers of Misfortune (particularly the thrashier August Engine material). On top of it all, bassist/vocalist Shane Bergman calls hardcore punk to mind with his scrappy howl and equally ragged clean singing.
But in the end, Walken are a thrash band, and they prove it with the album’s first three tracks. All three are hard chargers. “Nadir” tosses a stately march into the mix, and “Running Out of Time” has a touch of Mustaine-style blues influence, but the accretions are woven into the band’s terse thrash rhythms with remarkable deftness.
As impressively as it begins, Walken really peaks with its next three cuts. The dourly majestic instrumental “Thunder Paws” hearkens heavily to Doyle and Farwell’s other band, but with a hell of a lot more guitar crunch. Follow-up “Bitter Red” is built around pulse-pounding doubletime and an anthemic shout-along vocal line from Bergman. By the time the nearly-melodeath blastbeats of “The City With No Seasons” kick in, most listeners will be marvelling at Walken's ability to bring so many approaches into a cohesive, distinct sound.
Afterwards, Walken falls off somewhat; the album concludes with a series of instrumentals and lengthy, plodding numbers that could easily have been trimmed. But the first six songs alone are more than enough evidence of this band’s remarkable gifts. It’s no secret around these parts that I’m a sucker for bands who spit in the face of convention, so there’s a chance that I look more kindly on this disc than the next guy would. That said, I genuinely believe that Walken have hit upon a blend of ideas that will appeal just as easily to staunch traditionalists as to experimentation nerds such as myself. Check these guys out—they’re more than worthy of the support.
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