Thrash metal meets horror/fantasy story, part III: their latest album Return To Hemmersmoor sees German-American act Them present the third part of a trilogy that was launched back in 2016 on Sweet Hollow and continued in 2018 with Manor Of The Se7en Gables. Return To Hemmersmoor takes up where the thematic thread of its two predecessors left off and brings the story to a gripping finale, documenting at the same time the band’s unmistakable musical evolvement. “Possibly the new material is a little tougher and more uncompromising,” say guitarist Markus Ullrich, comparing the three recordings. “Being directly involved, we’re too close to really be able to judge. Fact is: the album definitely sounds more mature, which certainly has to do with the song writing as well as with our general approach. From the start, Them have worked in a very focussed manner according to a definite plan. For that kind of targeted strategy you really need the right line-up consisting of accomplished musicians that are one hundred per cent behind the concept. Them totally fulfils all those conditions.”
Ullrich is referring to his colleagues, vocalist KK Fossor, guitarist Markus Johansson (Sylencer, 4ARM), drummer Angel Cotte (Demolition Hammer), bassist Alexander Palma, and keyboardist Richie Seibel (Lanfear, Ivanhoe). Although the band members live on two continents (Fossor, Johansson and Cotte in the US, Ullrich, Palma and Seibel in Germany), Them play and work together as a tight unit. When guitarists Ullrich and Johannson collaborate on compositions, frontman Fossor translates their inspirations into skilfully worded melodies and lyrics, the rhythm section puts the pedal to the metal and expansive keyboard sounds lend the songs their special atmosphere, Them are at their preferred operating temperature, which frequently culminates in breathtaking results such as Return To Hemmersmoor. Them’s stylistic range includes hard-as-nails thrash metal songs like Age Of Ascension, Hellhounds: The Harbingers Of Death and Battle Blood with its references to the best of Bay Area traditions; numbers such as Free and Field Of Immortality, which are set to become Them classics; and unusual tracks like the anthemnic Waken or the final epic Maestro’s Last Stand, which brings the trilogy full circle with its intelligent Sweet Hollow references.
Talking of which: this concept story consciously doesn’t feature a special message or lesson. “Horror stories don’t need a happy ending, no specific ethics, no moralising undertone,” explains Ullrich. “At the end of Return To Hemmersmoor, you don’t see good automatically win over evil, quite the opposite: our fictitious protagonist started out in Germany on Sweet Hollow, went to America on Manor Of The Se7en Gables and is now returning to his roots to embark on a merciless revenge campaign in the Hemmersmoor mire. The story is a kind of parable about the fact that good can easily mutate into evil if it’s not recognised.”
No doubt about it: Them’s new album Return To Hemmersmoor, available on Steamhammer/SPV on CD, double vinyl and for digital download from today (30 October 2020), is an impressive release. The group’s diverse song writing with its well thought-out story, the band members’ accomplished technical skills and the modern production, mixed again by Dave Otero at the Flatline Audio studio in Denver, have culminated in a haunting thrash metal opus. On the one hand, the album lives up to the role models of the Bay Area scene, on the other hand – thanks to clever references to US power metal and the band’s typical ingredients – it leaves an unmistakeable and characteristic fingerprint. It would hardly be possible to pay the band and its new album a greater compliment.