Thornhill: Melbourne’s metalcore maestros breaking the mould

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Thornhill: Melbourne’s metalcore maestros breaking the mould

(Image: Supplied)
Words by David James Young

For a genre that was ostensibly forged initially as a niche hybrid, metalcore has certainly become an overcrowded genre in and unto itself

This is especially the case within Australia, where several purveyors of this distinct take on heaviness have forged careers with considerable crossover appeal across the entire span of the previous decade. When it comes to Melbourne’s Thornhill, however, it’s clear from the outset that this is an outfit not interested in being the next Parkway Drive, the next Amity Affliction, even the next Polaris. Rather, theirs is a vision much more specific: They want to be the next Thornhill.

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“I think it’s always been something on our minds that we’ve wanted to be different all the time,” says Ethan McCann – the band’s guitarist, co-founder, and co-producer. 

“We’ve always wanted to expand. I don’t think it was ever in a way that was like, ‘I don’t want to be in a metal community,’ or ‘I don’t want to be a metal band.’ That wasn’t the case at all. It was more so about growth – and the need to keep growing, just to see where we go. We don’t know, and we’ll never know, until we get there. All we know is we’re going to enjoy the process and keep pushing ourselves.”

Jacob Charlton, Thornhill’s frontman, agrees with his bandmate. “At this point, we literally just want to write the music that we would want to listen to,” he says. 

“I think that’s something we’ve achieved on this album. We definitely dipped our toes in a bunch of different things, and I think we did it well. Taking those risks is really important, because if you’re not nervous to release music or unsure of how people are going to think about it, it’s just so fucking boring. That’s what makes up so much of the excitement, and that’s what sets a lot of bands apart. If we wanted to pump out the same fucking ambient, spacey, sad metalcore album… we could. It’s just that we don’t want to.”

The album Charlton is alluding to is titled Heroine. It’s the second studio album from Thornhill, following on from their 2019 debut The Dark Pool. That album did incredibly well for the band, landing them a spot in the top 20 of the ARIA Albums Chart and receiving considerable critical acclaim across the board.

“If we wanted to pump out the same fucking ambient, spacey, sad metalcore album… we could.”

To Charlton’s point, the formula for success was certainly in their hands in the wake of it – which is why Heroine is an even more admirable effort on the band’s behalf than anything they’ve released previously. 

It adapts, evolves, and re-routes the band’s approach, establishing fresh elements of alternative metal and more straightforward rock in the process. McCann points to acts like the Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones, Radiohead, and Jeff Buckley as influential on his guitar playing for the album, while Charlton found himself drawn to Elvis Presley and the sound of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Hardly any of that sounds becoming of a heavy band – and really, that’s kind of the point.

“We basically almost started again, from the ground up,” says McCann. 

“We wanted to feel like a new band again, because we were starting to get bored. Our sound and our look didn’t really reflect who we were – at least, at that point. Even if it was only three years ago, we’re changed people and our tastes have changed. We wanted to reflect that in everything about this album. For us, it was about making our own universe.” 

For Charlton, it was also a chance to expand and improve his own role within the band: “I was ready to upgrade vocally,” he says.

“There were certain things, as a vocalist, that I don’t think I hit as well as I could have on The Dark Pool. We grew up, and we did a lot of touring between making the last album and making this one. We all got better as musicians. We wanted to do things on Heroine that we couldn’t have done on The Dark Pool, and that’s something we always want to be able to say – so the next album will have things on it that we couldn’t have done on Heroine.”

Both McCann and Charlton point to different songs on the album as ones that signified this growth and change within the Thornhill camp. For the former, it’s ‘Arkangel,’ which also served as the album’s second single. McCann describes writing the song as a “sparks moment,” insofar as the creative vision became clearer once the song took formation. 

“There are parts that sound like The Dark Pool, but there’s also parts that were a very different sound for us,” he says. “I started writing that song to the opening credits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – hearing that nostalgic music with the nostalgic visuals had a very particular feel to me.”

As for Charlton, he’s drawn to the song ‘Blue Velvet’ from the album in this respect. A song written around the same time as ‘Arkangel,’ it signalled a positive piece of progress for the singer. “I was like, ‘oh shit, nobody is doing this,’” he says. 

“We were forced into being producers of the album more than we were probably ready for.”

“It felt kind of epic. I really liked what we were doing, and I felt we could stretch that across the whole album. That song, to me, felt really interesting and really unique. Up to that point, the songs we’d been working on were kind of lacking in that department. With this, we were starting to get a better understanding of the full experience.”

Like many albums seeing their release in 2022, Heroine was inevitably impacted by the restrictions of lockdown. One key stumbling block hit upon was the band’s inability to record in-person – which led to Charlton stepping up as a co-producer on the album. 

“I recorded most of the vocal takes on the album by myself, literally where I am now,” he says. He waves an arm out, as if to present his bedroom over the Zoom meeting.

“We were forced into being producers of the album more than we were probably ready for.

“I sucked at doing that, because I’m not meticulous and I don’t really care that much about vocal takes. In a way, though, that ended up being kind of beneficial – we were hoping that this would come across as a looser album; one that was a bit more raw. To us, that was way cooler than the more polished sound that we were used to. There was a real vibe to how it was all coming together.” 

McCann, in contrast to Charlton, considers himself quite meticulous in his approach, meaning his role as the album’s producer was considerably different.

“It can be difficult to step into that role when you’re already a part of the band,” he says. 

“You end up really critiquing your own parts, all the structures you came up with, everything like that. It’s something I definitely struggle with on my end – it got to the point of self-deprecation, where I was just overthinking everything. One of my biggest takeaways from making this album was to focus on the points where I got stuck, and to really learn from them.”

Heroine will be released June 3 via UNFD. Preorder here.