Under the Snow: A Canadian Music Expose #10

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets

Rocked PAX

Formed officially in February 1992, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are many things to the western Canadian music scene. They are legendary geek-rockers who have blazed a Lovecraftian trail through many styles of music, they are hard-rocking costumed performers, who have toured with the likes of GWAR, MC Lars, They Might Be Giants, Nomeansno and others, they are geek icons involved in many levels of nerd-dom, from RPG’s to podcast shows. The Thickets (as they are often called to shorten it up), have been making music since they released their first 3 song cassette (50 copies) out to friends back in 1992. Over the next 3 years, they would record a bunch of songs, and get included on a number of compilations, while the group itself fluctuated in size and membership, though, at the core has always been Toren Atkinson, Warren Banks and (after a year and a half of going through drummers, finally settled on) Jordan Pratt. By now (2011), the group has changed a number of times, they have dropped 4 full-length albums, played the Penny Arcade Expo and its predecessor Necrowombicon, and begun to start earning their due recognition.

Members
Toren Atkinson (vocals)
Merrick Atkinson (background vocals/bass)
Warren C. Banks (guitar)
Mario Nieva (back-up guitar, bass and vocals)
Jordan Pratt (drums)

Past members
Chris Woods, Devon Presseau, Chris West, Bob Fugger, Troy Zac

Pop-Punk meets Lovecraft

Their first real album, is 1995’s Cthulhu Strike’s Back, in it’s own way, it remains a classic. The album is definitely a punk-rock ride of humorous deviancy; Lovecraft’s artistic creation run through a surf-punk sound and delivered with punch and grim mischeviousness. The albums opening track, like the rest of the album show’s its age and the production (even the re-released version in 2003) is muddy and muffling. That said, it’s still a damn addictive track. Going Down to Dunwich references one of Lovecraft’s more famous tales (The Dunwich Horror) and has a very sing-along charm to it. Like the genre which they draw from, the Thickets early albums tend towards shorter, more intense tracks. The original release was a 15 track album, and the 2003 added 2 more tracks. This is no heavy listen, with each track having a certain charm and appeal that belies its downright disturbing subject matter. From the intense Unstoppable, with it’s pulsating guitars and bleak lyrical content, to the stand-out 11 minute electronic/ambient/post-punk track Cthulhu Dreams (the closest the band have come to sounding like other bands that worship Lovecraft). Of particular note, is the truly gruesome love song, Burrow Your Way to My Heart. Genuinely creepy, yet up-beat and addictive, it is one of the earliest examples of how well the band understands the idea of Brainworms…

Heads! IN Jars!

The bands second album, released the next year is entitled The Great Old Ones, and it carries on in the same manner. The album has a similar feel to it’s predecessor and this is not surprising considering it’s a compilations of demo tracks, live tracks and a few newly recorded tracks at the albums end. From the beginning you are treated to the same brand of simple-seeming punk songs, twisted around fantasy, sci-fi and horror themes, then delivered with a pop sensibility coating. Take for example the bounce-inducing anthem, Colour Me Gree; an ode to the Cthulhu mythos, and a truly pounding punk track that turns crowds into a frenzy of rhythmic bouncing and singing along. Or the delightful Big Robot Dinosaur, a tale about a tortured young geek in school, and the revenge he and his father enact on the world in their Giant Robot Dinosaur of destruction. There are two versions of the track Digging Up the World, of which I much prefer the haunting and strangely calming acoustic version. There’s the brutally grim yet cheerful Mustard Gas, a song that will burrow into your brain and leave you humming it for days on end. In short, this is the kind of album that any fan of fun engaging music with a sense of humour and nerdiness should be finding, despite being more of a B-sides album.

Geekrock for sci-fi RPG's...? Yup.

The band did not release another album until 2001, but there is no question that the 5 year wait, was more than worth it. Spaceship Zero, is the soundtrack to the independantly released RPG of the same name (courtesy of Toren Atkninson amongst others) and if you are ever in Vancouver and want to get yourself a piece of geek history, stop into one of the local used bookstores (or game-shops) and see if you can snag a copy. Better yet, as the book is still in print, order a new copy for yourself (www.greenronin.com). The album opens lightly, with the primarly instrumental title song, but is followed up immediately by one of the bands more famous tracks; 20 Minutes of Oxygen, a depressingly awesome song about dying because of a bad decision, which includes some truly catchy guitars and driving drums. Immediately after, you are seranaded by the bizarre Innsmouth Look, about going on a date in the demented town of Innsmouth. There’s the stand-out Math Song, which delivers a love-song in a very unique way, and reminds you that ‘you have a brain/and no one really needs another love song’. The album is flat-out full of hard to hate tracks, such as the truly addictive The Chosen One, which includes some plunky bass, stampeding drums and pulsing guitars, and a prophecy of sorts. The albums finale, End Credits, is an electronic instrumental that demonstrates how impossible it is to pin the bands sound or influences down.

An homage to the master of horror.

It took 6 years for the next album to the see the light of day, and the care and attention shown exceed any expectations. The Shadow Out of Tim is a tour de force of surf-punk, metal, rock and experimental/avant-garde moments. Lyrically, Toren has out-done himself, providing a poetic, evocative and occasionally chilling twist on the Lovecraft tale, The Shadow Out of Time. Musically, the rest of the band have delievered like never before. The album opens with a psuedo-primitive chant, complete with skin drums and vocal harmonies. It’s a feint, an opener that leads into something very different. Track two starts with a ripping guitar piece, and becomes a tale that opens up the rest of the album; entitled A Marine Biologist, it introduces the albums protagonist (Tim). The third track, Blackout, was nominated for an independent Music Award, and with damn good reason. Blackout is pounding, dark, depressing, catchy and surreal. Toren’s lyrical prowess is truly on display, while the drums and guitars truly lift him up and hold his unique voice out for admiration. There’s the fascinating Return to Melanesia, which starts out with a neat whistled piece, which turns into a vocal chorus backed by some very subtle instrumentation, and another demented piece of the tale. Its hard not to gush on and on about the brilliance of this album; this is a band at 15+ years experience, taking their time and crafting a real masterpiece. Not. To. Be. Missed.

Over the past 4 years, they have released two other tracks from the Shadow Out of Tim sessions (Shhh, and (We’re Gonna) Kill the Chupacabra (Tonight)), and from what I have been told, working their way into a new album. Given the bands attention to detail and care, the wait is pretty much guaranteed to be worth it.

Now, videos:

Shoggoths Away:

Some Things Man Was not Meant to Know:

Woship Me Like a God:

Kill the Chupacabra:

Walking on the Moon (Police cover):

20 Minutes of Oxygen (Official video):

As always, buy merchandise, see their shows, send them messages telling them how awesome they are. Support your independent bands.

This article has been edited to include the corrections Toren mentioned in the comments. 🙂

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About Messianic Rebel
Crazier than expected...

2 Responses to Under the Snow: A Canadian Music Expose #10

  1. Hey, Toren lead singer for the band here, great nicely detailed article but I have a couple corrections and additions.

    1. The band was oficially formed in February 1992
    2. We went through a few drummers in the first year and a half or so before we finally settled on Jordan
    3. We only played PAX the one time (though we played it’s predecessor, Necrowombicon)
    4. Great Old Ones is actually a compilation of tracks prior to Cthulhu Strikes Back – a collection of demo tapes with a couple live tracks and newly recorded tracks at the end of the album.
    5. Spaceship Zero the roleplaying game is not out of print! You can buy it on amazon or greenronin.com
    6. You’ve got a fan-made youtube video for “20 Minutes of Oxygen” but the official epic is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rSI-rMPVJM

  2. Heh. Awesome. Thanks for the corrections, will be editted in promptly 😀

    Hell, thanks for noticing.

    Looking forward to an opportunity to catch you guys live for a fourth time.

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