Metal is a genre that often indulges in excess, adopting a “bigger is better” approach to songwriting, instrumentation, number of musicians and technical showmanship. But Calgary sludge duo Mares of Thrace, who will play the Park Theatre on June 11, manage to do more with what might, on the surface, look like less. The intricate drumming of Casey Rogers pulse in tandem to the punishing guitar riffs and caustic vocals of Trez Lanz to create a sound that is distinctive and heavy as hell.
Lanz’s vocals are so distinctive, in fact, that the moment I put on their 2022 album The Exile, I was immediately transported back nearly 20 years in my memory, to when I saw her previous band, Kilbourne, play at the Deer Lodge Community Centre at an all-ages punk show with Vancouver anarcho-ragers The Rebel Spell, Selkirk horror-punk quartet The Resistance and a half dozen other local and far-flung Canadian underground acts.
Lanz laughs at this ephemeral remembrance from a 2004 evening long forgotten, whose Xeroxed show posters have long been torn from Hydro poles and bulletin boards.
“There’s actually an interesting link between Kilbourne and (the release of The Exile),” she says via Zoom. When Kilbourne’s bassist decided to leave music behind to get a “normal” job and start a family, Lanz and Kilbourne drummer Stef MacKichan decided to continue as a two-piece. This became the original lineup of Mares of Thrace, with the minimal setup helping craft the duo’s sound.
“I thought, ‘I’ll just play really slow and buy more amps,’” Lanz says of the two-person approach. “A lot of people seem to assume it’s a make-do situation. But we do this 100 per cent by choice. It’s a very pragmatic and economical band format. We put in a lot of work to make it sound like more than two people ... It’s very freeing. Writing as a two-piece is fast. There’s fewer schedules to worry about, less people to worry about getting time off to go on tour, less people to fit in the van, less plane tickets to buy.”
The band’s current tour and most recent album come after a decade-long hiatus that saw MacKichan give up music for good and led to Lanz starting work in the video game industry (their previous album, The Pilgrimage, dropped in 2012). She moved to Halifax for work and put down her guitar until she realized, “If I don’t write some riffs, I’m going to explode.” While she initially saw the album as something she needed to get out of her system, “because I wanted to close this chapter of my life. And then as soon as we started jamming, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if this chapter of my life is over yet.’ Then, thirty seconds into our first live performance back (at the 2022 Sled Island Music Festival), I knew, ‘I’m going to keep doing this until I’m physically incapable.’”
The partnership with Rogers has been a fruitful one - the followup to The Exile has already been written, with plans to record in the winter. Lanz says they’ll be playing those new songs on the tour, one of which deals with topics of “intergenerational trauma and colonialism and how it affected both of our families.” (The band’s bio proudly proclaims that Mares of Thrace are “mixed race, mixed gender, all nerd.”)
“(During our hiatus) things have actually gotten quite a bit better,” Lanz says. “A lot of the racist, sexist bullshit that used to be normal really doesn’t fly anymore. There’s a lot of underrepresented people ... particularly Brown and queer people making strides in heavy music. I kind of wish I hadn’t dipped and that I’d been more a part of the resurgence!”
Mares of Thrace play June 11 at the Park Theatre (698 Osborne St.) with Dead Quiet, Wilt and Ogimaa. Doors open at 7 p.m., music starts at 8. Tickets are $15 plus fees and available at tinyurl.com/eaanzk7r.
Published in Volume 77, Number 25 of The Uniter (May 9, 2023)