Unraveling is the second EP from Brooklyn post-sludgers Thera Roya, following a 2013 self-titled, a split with respected NJ black metallers Hercyn (review here) and a smattering of singles going back to when they were called The Badeda Ladies and played as a duo, circa 2012/2013. Tour veterans with Maryland’s Foehammer and others and regular denizens of The Meatlocker in scenic Montclair, New Jersey, and the formidable group of bands that haunt that space — Dutchguts, Set and Setting, The Sun the Moon the Stars and so on — the three-piece also recorded the three-song Unvraveling there and push the line between an EP and an LP at 28 minutes but in the end benefit from the concise intensity that a shorter offering brings.
Working under the basic concept of portraying a panic attack, drummer Ryan Smith (also Mountain God) varies between lyrics and indecipherable syllabic screams, and he, guitarist Christopher Eustaquio (also Sunrot) and bassist Jonathan Cohn bring about a suitable tumult to fit that ideal, though as stormy as it is at its most raging, Unraveling is never far from its sense of atmosphere, and as the vinyl-ready structure moves between the first two seven-minute tracks “Anomie” and “Body Breaker” and into the 13-minute closing title-cut, the scope likewise broadens. Looking at it on the level of its concept, I’m not sure I’d say Thera Roya have made sense of the panic attack, but they’ve at very least begun to process what has just given way within the body. It feels significant enough to mention that after all the explosiveness and abrasion contained in these tracks, Unraveling ends quietly.
The EP arrives as a customized presentation of the cover art — almost like a greeting card from the recesses of your psyche. Inside one finds a note in challenging handwriting, various symbols and words jumbled together and a download code, the band tapping into DIY ethics without necessarily having to pay to press a CD or tape. As noted, the structure of Unraveling is suited to vinyl and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up that way sooner or later, but a digital release works for setting up a linear, front-to-back flow in a way that vinyl wouldn’t allow, however enjoyable it might be to see Miriam Carothers‘ cover art at such a scale. That flow winds up a major argument in favor of considering Unraveling as a full-length, but the stated intent is otherwise, and at under a half-hour, it’s still easy to read the release as offering a sample of where Thera Roya are at in their progression.
For an answer, they present the punch-you-in-the-face feedback that launches “Anomie,” a thick, grueling riff emerging in slow grind soon topped by screams, deceptively intricate building, and a pervasive rollout offset by post-hardcore-style turns — Isis at their angriest — but by the time it gets down to its final minute, the mood is more desperate than infuriated. “Body Breaker” picks up from there with a tense underlying fuzz that Smith soon joins on drums, its opening more dedicated to instilling unease than smashing away, though of course they get there as well. Around the halfway point, “Body Breaker” shifts into bigger post-metallic riffing, setting up a transition into a quiet, isolated-sounding ambient stretch that carries through the last two-minutes-plus of the song, Cohn‘s bass and Eustaquio‘s guitar taking a forward position as a softer nod takes hold, but it’s not until “Unraveling” itself that they really revive the push.
Their finishing move, “Unraveling” is a monster. It starts out full-boar, finds a middle-ground and even introduces some cleaner singing — a first on the release — before turning to slower plod. All within its first two minutes. Aside from demonstrating Thera Roya‘s ability to work in longer forms, something which I’d be very surprised if they didn’t try again at some point, it’s the richest of the three inclusions and the most atmospherically complex, setting rhythms against each other and moving into an ambient stretch that sets up a linear build to serve as the apex of the EP but not its actual ending, which after. A series of crashes at 6:30 are topped with shouts from Smith as the band move into a highlight, densely-weighted low-end groove, the bass and guitar distinguishable only in the level of force they elicit.
It’s from this foundation that the peak of “Unraveling” is launched in somewhat abbreviated flourish of melody in the guitar, Eustaquio finding room in all that onslaught for subdued, post-rock noodling. The vocals don’t dare — yet — but for this outing, the threat is enough, and before “Unraveling” falls apart at the close, Thera Roya underscore the potential for growth in their sound. Already, they’ve ranged farther than they probably knew they would when they started writing this material, but it still sounds like just the beginning of what they could accomplish stylistically, figuring out how to play off the loud/quiet trades, the dynamics between bass and guitar, where and how and what vocals can add to the atmosphere as another instrument in conveying intent. Unraveling does not suffer from a lack of ambition, but neither is that all it has to offer, and it proves an immersive listen that shows its real strength in putting the listener in the mindset where the band wants them to be. It is disturbing and engaging in kind.