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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets

The Shadow Out of Tim

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve been a fan of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets for years. Their music is usually based around H. P. Lovecraft’s mythos and that has endeared them to me. In fact, they earned a whole chapter in my book. Well, this is the latest installment from the group – after quite a few years with no new recordings. The time away has definitely paid off as this is their best album and has a more polished sound that works well to making it more accessible. The thing is, they’ve achieved that without the loss of any of their quirkiness or integrity. The cover is incredible, with its total homage to the paperback H. P. L. books. The story is a modern retelling of the story The Shadow Out of Time – with the title derived from the main character in TDOTHT’s version – Tim.

For those looking to check out this band for the first time I can heartily recommend this as the first helping. I’ll be doing a more detailed review (at least more in line with the Lovecraftian connection) in an Amazon Short soon – and that will be integrated into a newer edition of the book – should that happen – down the road a few years. For now, let’s just say that this is the best album from The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – and that’s saying a lot.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Prologue: Theme To An Earthquake:
This is a short track that’s basically cultist chanting and doing rituals. It’s quite an interesting track, mostly rhythmic in nature.
Chapter I: A Marine Biologist
Here they launch into a killer retro rock riff that’s one of the best the band has ever put together. This track has an almost Beatles-like approach in terms of the vocals on the verse. When they launch into the more punky jam for the chorus, it’s in more typical Thickets fashion. They drop it to a slower paced grind later and crank out some decidedly stoner rock sounding jams. The psychedelic overtones return here in some ways. After a false ending they return to the central themes with some cool echoey guitar soloing.
Chapter II: Blackout
This one pounds in with the most trademark Thickets sound we’ve heard thus far. It’s a fast paced, crunchy rocker that includes some retro keyboard elements. It’s definitely a highlight of the disc. There is also a cool bass driven instrumental segment later and when they come back out the textures are really interesting.
Chapter III: No Way
Percussion serves as the introduction here. When they bring in the other instruments, it’s in a tentative, stripped down arrangement. They power to a more full treatment on the chorus.
Chapter IV: Strange
Here we get another tasty slab of the sound we’ve come to love and expect from the band. This one is pretty straightforward, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Chapter V: Return To Melanesia
A rather dance oriented percussion sound starts things off here. Vocals join in this great mode that reminds me of something from Bobby McFerrin – wow, never thought that name would show up in a review of a Thickets disc. The thing is, McFerrin was well known for creating what sounded like instrumental music through the use of his voice. That’s precisely how this song is laid out. It’s definitely a change for the group, and a great one at that.
Chapter VI: Cultists on Board
This is based on a killer riff. While it’s fairly typical Thickets, it has some newer edges to it. The guitar lines at times are back in that heavy psychedelia motif. This is another standout. The breakdown grind in the middle of the number reminds me a lot of early Rush. Next up we get some melodica. This gives way to a reprise of the main themes to take the track out.
Chapter VII : A "Need To Know" Basis
This comes in with a very frantic metal motif. At times this track feels a bit like Hawkwind to my ears. It does turn more punky as they carry on, but the guitar solo section is quite firmly entrenched in the world of heavy metal. This also might be the tastiest guitar work to appear on a Thickets disc. It’s another place where I can hear some minor hints of Black Sabbath. That melodica from the last track returns.
Chapter VIII : Operation: Get The Hell Out Of Here
I have to throw out some kudos for the title here. I’m reminded of a scene from the John Carpenter classic Assault on Precinct 12 (the original – I haven’t seen the remake). At one point a person trapped in the jail – actually a prisoner released to keep him from being shot – declares, “I call this Operation: Save Ass – I’m going to walk through that door and run like hell.” Musically this is another changeup for the band. After a percussion intro we get a riff that feels like it could have come from Molly Hatchet. They drop it down to more bluesy territory for the verse, but power back out on the choruses. I can hear a bit of Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” on those verses. In another bonus, the cool instrumental break includes cowbell – you can never get enough cowbell.
Chapter IX: The Flying Polyp
The Thickets seem to need to open up a store called “Riffs R Us,” as here we have another great one. It’s metallic and frantic. The odd falsetto on the vocal line seems like a spoof on some metal vocalists. In any event, this song is quirky as hell and also very cool. The guitar solo section seems to have a rather epic metal texture to it.
Epilogue: Some Things Man Was Not Meant To Know
It didn’t seem possible, but they get even more metallic with this heavy duty stomper. The riffing once again is just plain incredible. It seems like every song on this album is a highlight, but that’s not really possible is it? Parts of this one almost feel like prog rock.
Footnote: Sleestak And Yeti
Anyone for a marathon of “Land of the Lost?” For those who are old enough to recall, that was a great live action Saturday morning show way back when. Well, the Thickets connect it to Lovecraft with this hard rocking number that is yet another in a stream of killer pieces.
Footnote: Downtown (In The Cenozoic)
Starting with just vocals, when they jump into the song proper it’s in a great hard rocking, punk sort of mode. They turn in a really strange, angular section later. While it’s odd, it’s also exceptionally cool.
Appendix: Nyarlathotep
Percussion leads things off here. When the other instruments join, it’s in an extremely dramatic metallic romp. The lyrics to this song are in Middle Egyptian, perhaps? The music does, appropriately, have a bit of an Egyptian texture later. An echoey, almost jazzy, guitar solo adds to this musical vision.
Unlisted Track
So, this is only 18 seconds in length, it's set as a separate track. It's basically more of the chanting that opened the CD, making for a nice bookend.
 
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