On May 13, 2018, I described Regicide by We The Heathens as “a great exploration of where folk punk could be going and hopefully will go soon.” It weaved frenetic strums and screeching vocals with sweet melodies and soft production. The same could be said of their self titled debut and their follow up to Regicide, The Blood Behind The Dam. They breathed new life into a genre that had largely grown stagnant since Days n Daze’s revolutionary Rogue Taxidermy. Heathens’ June 7 release, Approaching Thunder, puts somewhat of a damper on that hope.
The great revelation of We The Heathens was that they were a folkier metal than folk metal. Whereas something like Boston-based Wilderun (who, to be clear, I like quite a bit) will mix wild thrashing guitar tones with mandolins, We The Heathens took it one step further and removed the amps and pedals entirely and played metal as a string band. In a sense, it was as if Black Sabbath had been transported to 1920s Kentucky and had to perform by the rules of The Grand Ol’ Opry — they didn’t even have drums. The contrast of metal scales and screeching vocals with a three piece string band was the great appeal. Approaching Thunder throws most of what set Heathens apart out the window. Sprawling guitar solos with maximum distortion and blaring drums dominate the soundscape, while the lone acoustic string instrument, the violin, is almost muted in the mix.
Approaching Thunder is entirely old material, rerecorded with this new style. It does really highlight the strength of the songwriting. Although “33 Shots” turns out to be rather mediocre if you distort the guitar and remove the mandolin, “Neurotic Decay” is still a fantastic song, even with the significantly more conventional arrangement and production. I hadn’t totally appreciated the ingenuity with which these songs were crafted until they took away the gimmick. I’m not sure if that’s praise for this release or just something I didn’t totally get about the previous ones, though.
Approaching Thunder isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just a little uninspired. It’s a bit like Your Heat Breaks’ Greatest Hits, which is dance remixes of 20 some-odd songs previously released. It was a fun little one-off project, but it never would’ve worked as a new direction for their career. Hopefully, Thunder is a similar concept. It’s an entertaining spin-off, but doesn’t indicate a shift in We The Heathens’ future discography.
The big thing that shoots Approaching Thunder is that it is 7 dollars while the rest of their discography is currently “Name Your Price” on Bandcamp, meaning you can download it for free or pay as little as a dollar to save it to your library so that, even if it gets taken down, you will have it in Bandcamp’s cloud as long as that exists. I’m not against charging 7 dollars for 8 songs, but the price points definitely make it hard for me to recommend this album to someone who isn’t already deep into We The Heathens.
Approaching Thunder is available now on Bandcamp.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.