The discussion around tech-metal, and tech-metalcore in particular, isn’t one that’s evolved all that much over time, mostly because the bands usually at the centre of that discussion have been just as motionless. Even when looking at a band like Northlane, who’ve essentially risen up the ranks to become the poster boys for the entire scene, they only found themselves hitting real quality earlier this year with Alien when they tightened up and eased back on formless tech-metal meandering. So for Thornhill, whose most noticeable characteristic has been how much they sound like Northlane, there’s a certain amount of weight that’s attributed to what they can bring on their debut full-length The Dark Pool, and whether it’ll be a case of building some leverage out of Northlane’s shadow, or holding firm and proving that there’s really not much to them beyond what meets the eye. They’re yet to really impress with anything they’ve done and how they’ve essentially plundered the most uninteresting tech-metalcore formulae, and it’s not like they’re going to get a better chance than this to redefine themselves and shed so many negative preconceptions.
That would require showing even the slightest interest in doing that, though, and if The Dark Pool does anything remarkably well, it’s prove that progression is most definitely not at the forefront of Thornhill’s mind. It honestly makes it difficult to see where a lot of the hype around them has come from, as it’s not like there’s anything all that bold or brazen about what they’re actually doing. It’s quite the opposite, in fact; The Dark Pool fits snugly in the realm of tech-metal backing music, as a compositionally sound but dynamically empty album that rarely sticks beyond the fact that this is indeed a tech-metal album. There’s maybe something for completionists to find in it, but as far as replicating the success of Northlane goes as they’ve gained a habit for doing, Thornhill just don’t stick at all.
It’s all the usually genre trappings holding The Dark Pool back as well, as Thornhill insist of sifting matching the tech-metalcore rulebook letter for letter in an album that really struggles to forge its own identity. The atmospheric production and rumbling, clinical guitars that aren’t so concerned with melody are as dominant as ever, and in a way that really highlights how one-note this album can be as a whole. There are odd glimpses of dynamism, like with the slightest flashes of Architects that colour In My Skin or the much-improved flow and expanse of the closer Where We Go When We Die, but even then, it’s the initial hit that leaves the most impact rather than any sort of staying power. It’s a shame to say that, too, because the potential is here; Jacob Charlton has a good voice and choosing to stick in his willowy, more vulnerable clean register emphasises the more expansive air that Thornhill are looking to lean into. The foundational sound is solid, and that really can’t be denied, but it’s the fact that The Dark Pool doesn’t seem to move much further beyond that which leaves Thornhill so deep in the lurch. They’ve absolutely nailed the tech-metal fundamentals, but when nothing of their own is brought along to augment them, it’s a bit of a shallow listen that’s not all the gripping. It’s the same with the writing as well and how a largely broad selection of themes pertaining to humanity and bigger, widespread experiences within it isn’t all that interesting when other bands are doing a lot more to differentiate themselves. To have nothing expand all that deeply is just a bit tiresome, and subsequently doesn’t make for a satisfying listen at the end of it all.
It’s the only real issue that Thornhill have, but it’s not as if it’s insignificant in any way. The number of bands trying to occupy this sound only appears to be increasing, and the fact that Thornhill have been offered substantial leverage and aren’t making the most of it screams of a missed opportunity. The Dark Pool could yield something good at the end of the day, but with a lack of experimentation or greater willingness to move beyond what’s not unfair to say is something pretty minimal, breaking free of the doldrums they’re currently stuck in isn’t going to happen on its own. The bones are here, sure, but that alone has never made for a great album, and with The Dark Pool, it’s hardly going to start now.
For fans of: Northlane, Erra, Structures
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Dark Pool’ by Thornhill is released on 25th October on UNFD.