Thetan – Grand Ole Agony Review

The world is an unjust place. That’s not exactly a novel sentiment, I know, and as we witness new and freshly hellish injustices happening on a near-daily basis, I certainly don’t mean to trivialize those, mind you… but were this world in better balance, and were Thetan’s home city of Nashville to truly live up to its marketing moniker of “Music City,” Thetan would have their own bar on Broadway, one where the beer is cheap and the grime is real; where Dan Emery’s bass rumbles loudly enough to shatter all the purple neon in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge; where Chad L’Eplattenier’s blastbeats drown out the dizzying sound of 75 bar bands playing “You Shook Me All Night Long” and none of them nailing the vocals; where unsuspecting bachelorettes ride their damnable pedal taverns right into a whirlwind of rage…

Born of pulverizing powerviolence, and built upon a base of bass and drums and screaming, Thetan has now branched out beyond the blasting hardcore confines of their initial sub-sub-genre. 2020’s Space Goretex saw them collaborating with oddball surrealist rap king Kool Keith, to interesting results, and equally as weird as you’d think; earlier this year, the Dim Times EP saw the addition of banjo to the band’s arsenal of angry oddities (and compiled a whopping 40 bonus tracks for the collectors). And now, Grand Ole Agony takes all of that even further down the line…

Release date: October 13, 2023. Label: Anti-Corporate
“God’s America” features Three 6 Mafia member Crunchy Black in a free-form introductory rap, before Thetan’s primary duo hammer through a further minute of that beautiful blastbeats-and-fuzzbass sound. Emery’s vocals are tortured, not guttural death growls as much as full-on screaming augmented by a hardcore-punk biting bark. His bass tone is enormous, heavily distorted and yet with plenty of definition to bolster the nice melodic touches he adds as he moves further up the neck, easily filling the traditional roles of bass and guitar both. L’Eplattenier’s drums fire like cannons, shifting between a furious manic fast and swinging sludgy slows with ease, driving these songs with a near-palpable energy. “White Sheets Blowing In The Breeze” slows things down to that lesser tempo, the drifting qualities augmented by what I’m thinking is a theremin, wailing low in the background. (Both band members are credited with theremin on Grand Ole Agony, so perhaps a theremin duel is in the works for upcoming shows? One can only dream.)

More of Thetan’s, dare I say, progressive proclivities truly emerge in Agony’s midsection, a two-song punch that begins with the string-laden grime of “Gutted,” blending haunting violin and cello melodies alongside the gnarled ugliness of the band’s usual attack. By the time the vocals enter, midway through the track, the insistent rhythms and the crunching bass chords lend the whole song a massive weightiness that masterfully counterbalances the beauty of those strings. Follow-up track “Sad Endings And A Feeling Of Disappointment” is two minutes of jangly mountain dulcimer and cricket sounds, a mid-album respite from the pounding around it, before jumping back into the blasting end with the blistering “Coup de Grace.” “You don’t fucking get it,” Emery snarls repeatedly in the equally savage “Culo,” as close to a vocal hook as Thetan could ever have, and born for screaming along to in whichever divey club you’re lucky to see them in.

Closing out with the fourteen-minute “Eulogy,” even more of Agony’s outside-the-box approach emerges, more of the interwoven strings and theremin warbles, more of the light/dark contrast against chugging punkish anger, later augmented by Mac Gollehon’s lonely trumpet and Benjamin Tod’s wistful harmonica. It’s a beautifully almost post-rock-esque noise-collage atmosphere between bursts of blasting, and an expansive approach largely foreign to many bands traditionally labeled as grindcore or hardcore or whatever genre-tag you may choose to apply to this particular brand of powerful violence.

Moving forward from the more straightforward savagery of their earliest albums, each subsequent Thetan offering has expanded the band’s boundaries and their sound, and Grand Ole Agony is further culmination of that envelope-pushing. It’s equal parts interesting, emotive, and absolutely punishing, the sound of a band not content to just crush but also to challenge expectations, to create something beyond two instruments and a scream. It’s far and away the best Thetan offering yet – on many levels (concept, songwriting, performance, production) – and more than anything, it’s a fun and furious rampage for anyone interested in the ugly.

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

  1. Great album cover!


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