Calling music “retro” is a lot like labeling a novel “genre fiction” — it’s a way of keeping artists inside a fence that only exists inside your mind. The world is awash in bands emulating the sounds of predecessors from three and four decades earlier, whether by employing vintage instruments or using antiquated recording equipment, but critical opinion determines whether they’re labeled “retro” or not, and that judgment is mostly based on which ideas they’re stealing, and from whom. “Retro” is a pejorative, like “dated.” And musicians who seem to be echoing the sounds of days gone by are rarely actually doing that, anyway. The things that make good art unique and different always outweigh the things that remind you of other art you’ve seen/read/heard before.
Tanith, a band from Brooklyn via England (guitarist/co-lead vocalist Russ Tippins is also a founding member of the NWOBHM band Satan), play melodic hard rock with elements of folk. Bassist Cindy Maynard is the band’s other lead vocalist, with second guitarist Charles Newton and drummer Keith Robinson completing the lineup. In Another Time is their debut album. (Get it from Amazon.)
The music was recorded with analog equipment, and mixed without compressing it into a jagged roar for radio airplay. The guitars are loud, but never overpowering; the band clearly believes that if you want the music to crush you, you can turn the volume up yourself. Maynard’s bass gets plenty of space in the mix, and occasionally leaps out. She’s a skilled player who finds her own path through the songs, working together with Robinson without ever locking in, because these riffs need to breathe. The drummer’s kit sounds like a loose pile of cardboard boxes, as it should.
The songs aren’t heavy enough to count as metal, by 2019’s standards, but nor do they plod along like mainstream radio rock in the post-grunge era. Tippins and Maynard sing in clean, clear voices, and harmonize closely (they used one microphone in the studio). Their riffs are fast and distorted, but lack the chug of thrash. A song like “Under the Stars,” one of the most aggressive, hard-charging on the album, has the gallop of early, Paul Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden, but the lyrics, and Tippins’ high-pitched earnestness, bring to mind the Mountain Goats.
The album’s opening track, “Citadel (Galantia Pt. 1),” is the kind of ’70s rock exercise that makes you want to piece together the elements — are they stealing from Blue Öyster Cult? UFO? Early Judas Priest? The answer in all cases is “No, not really; they’re inspired by all those bands, but they’re doing their own thing.” Sure, there’s some Priest in the guitar tone, but the riff is all their own, and the breakdown — an almost psychedelic guitar melody over a twitchy, dancing hi-hat, with Maynard adding wordless keening from the corner — and the guitar solo that follows strike the same balance, working within a tradition without tipping over into cover-band territory.
The track that seems most obviously indebted to forebears is “Eleven Years.” The combination of strummed acoustic and distant, distorted electric guitars is very reminiscent of ’70s Heart, and Tippins’ vocals, particularly on the chorus, are closer to BÖC’s Eric Bloom than anywhere else on the album.
Tanith‘s music is just complex enough to hold a listener’s attention all the way through a song, and each song makes you want to hear the next. When they speed up, slow down, or let all the instruments drop away to make room for a solo guitar interlude, there’s always a reason, and the overall flow stays organic. That’s a tougher trick than you might think — lots of Opeth songs, for example, feel like sequences of unrelated parts stapled together. Ghost, another band drawing ideas from classic hard rock and pop, write catchy melodies, but they rarely seem lived-in. It’s impossible to imagine their members jamming in a room until a chorus comes together, but that kind of sweaty, face-to-face collective creativity seeps through every moment of In Another Time.