For Thrillhouse, everything begins and ends with the riff. From the gargantuan monster that opens their debut LP to the racing acoustic outro of album closer “Hammers & Boats,” their aim is to deliver the riff. Over the course of six songs and 35-and-a-half minutes, Thrillhouse is an unrelenting fury of some of the nastiest riffs recorded – and a fantastic document of a superbly talented Providence band.
On “It Lives In a Mountain,” dark, palm-muted passages cascade upwards over that ubiquitous galloping rhythm before breaking into multiple-harmonied guitar leads inspired by the twin guitar attack of bands like Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy. But Thrillhouse stands apart from these legends and other modern bands who simply ape them in the sheer amount of dazzling ideas contained in the songs. “Psionic Scimitar” wrong-foots you from the start, opening with a strangely discordant and noisy double-guitar line; there’s nothing inherently “metal” about it, before building and building once again into the riff, like Lucifer in “Sympathy for the Devil,” the same malevolent force appearing again and again under a different, shadowy guise.
On “Werewolf Town,” the band unleashes wave after wave of intricately layered, pummeling passages – a byzantine structure whose capstone is a wordless multitracked Greek chorus, one of the few instances of gang chants and punctuated yelling on an otherwise completely instrumental affair. On the excellently named “Elf Wizard Skyrider,” the band disarms the listener with a beautiful, sublime and all-too-short keyboard passage before, once again, the riff overcomes. Thankfully, the keyboard track emerges later in the song, a gorgeous counterpoint to the furious and towering guitar workmanship. On the aforementioned album closer “Hammers & Boats,” (easily the best song on the record and a natural finale), Thrillhouse offers what is hopefully a hint of things to come in the form of a gorgeously fingerpicked and extended acoustic guitar run that highlights the incredible musicianship within the band.
While guitarists Tom Sly and Kevin Curley obviously garner most of the attention here, this being heavy metal at its most riff-centric, Thrillhouse’s secret weapon is their incredibly tight and dynamic rhythm section. Andrew Ballingall’s monstrous drumming is perfect in its galloping processions, dropouts and time changes. This is a drum and bass duo that begs to be seen live, with Craig Chaves’ insane bass playing style best described as every- thing all at once.
I got to chat with guitarist Kevin Curley about the state of the band, the recording of the record and what gets Thrillhouse in the right headspace to find the riff.
“The power of the riff compels us. We’re all on the same page. We all love Iron Maiden. There’s never much arguing during the songwriting process as we’re all on a quest for the best. As far as growing and progressing goes, we’re always trying to top the last song we wrote. We’re always trying to write better melodies and make sure that our songs work as songs and don’t come off as complete riff salad. We recorded the record with Jon Downs of The Brother Kite at The Overpass, his studio in Attleboro. Jon has an incredible ear for detail and really helped bring the songs to life. He’s also not afraid to tell you when something isn’t working and/or sucks. That was helpful,” Curley says.
Thrillhouse is out now on Brown Out records and the vinyl is worth the price for the cover art alone, which was designed by local tattoo artist Tom Butts. Tight rhythms and big riffs in a display- worthy package – what’s not to love?