Album Review: The Dark Third – Even As The Light Grows

The Dark Third Even As The Light Grows
Standard

You’d be forgiven if Auckland act The Dark Third haven’t popped up on your radar yet, but that is soon to change. Formed in 2013, they underwent a number of changes, before gaining relative success in 2017 by playing support slots for both Tortoise and Alcest when each of those bands played in Auckland. On August 19 they will release début Even As The Light Grows.

The Dark Third have created a hazy brand of music that eludes easy description by drawing on a range of styles including shoegaze, post-rock, prog-rock and black-metal. Their style reminds me of other dark post-rock acts that offer similar moody output, like Coma Recovery, The Swan Thief and Blueneck.

They name check prog-rocker Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame) as an influence and I can see why. The progressive styling, long songs, and focus on intelligent song crafting over sheer heaviness all bear similarity to Wilson’s own work.

With opening track “The dreams of Lesser Men” a harsh discordant intro segues into hotel lobby piano playing, before transforming into guitar picking. Light floaty segments bookend distorted feedback, but somehow all the parts feel connected. Daniel Hay’s singing sounds weightless and ethereal, but still powerful and emotive.

To me, this strength of this album lies in the second track, “These Things Are Not Inherent”. Primal thumping drums and bass heavy piano chords ground the song, while hypnotic singing draws us in. It’s like Killing Joke minus the aggression. And I can’t get enough of it.

The album repeats itself a lot – not in an annoying way – but revisiting themes across the album through use of reprisals and motifs. Maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to it so much over the past few weeks, or maybe it’s because many of the songs are fairly long, but I keep hearing segments and getting a sense of déjà vu, that the same chord progressions and melodies keep cropping up again. It’s a good thing though, showing that cohesive elements thread through each song to make the album feel like a fully developed package.

Another neat aspect of this release is that the band includes a wide array of instruments that eschew the traditional rock four-piece expectations. Piano, violin and saxophone all offer different tones and textures that defy expectations. When I think saxophone, jazz comes to mind. Well here, it is used in a completely different context. There are 13 layers of sax in “These Things Are Not Inherent”, which all pile upon each other to create a unique drone effect. And speaking of interesting instrumentation, the end of “The Regressor” turns industrial, sounding like a factory in action, with reversed sound effects.

It’s hard to articulate why I like this album so much. I had the same problem reviewing Coma Recovery’s EP earlier in the year. It speaks to me emotionally, which is hard to convey with words. 

Even As The Light Grows is an album of polarities. Dark and light; heavy and soft; classic and fresh. The album art encapsulates their sound well: looking both serene and sharp at the same time. It’s like a good stout: dark, silky smooth and with layers of depth that stay with you long after your sip. Drink it all in and enjoy

Daniel Hay The Dark Third by Mandie Hailtree

Daniel Hay. Image: Hailtree

The Dark Third links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDarkThird/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedarkthird/
Bandcamp: https://thedarkthird.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Royal Blood at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Royal Blood Wellington
Standard

Royal Blood

w/ Dead Favours

TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Friday 4 May 2018

It’s weird to think that it was just over a week ago that I last saw Jared Wrennall onstage. The Dead Favours singer had joined Skinny Hobos during their set when they opened for Biffy Clyro in Auckland last Tuesday.

The Hobos had done well, but this opening set that Dead Favours played in support of Royal Blood in Wellington tonight was heads and tails above it. The sound wasn’t even that great – TSB Arena is notorious for poor acoustics. The singing and guitar struggled to feature above the heavy low-end mix. Despite this, Dead Favours still managed to do themselves proud.

The crowd response was unbelievable. It was a big turn out for so early in the night – roughly 1700 people at that stage – and they were lapping it up, clapping along without prompting, cheering, and encouraging the band. I attend a lot of gigs and to see this kind of crowd support for a local opener is unheard of. Well done Dead Favours!

It’s hard to believe that Royal Blood have risen to this status on the back of just two albums. In fact, they’d already earned a lot of attention from their eponymous début, and latest album How Did We Get So Dark? only helped to cement their place in modern rock stardom. I was out-of-town when the duo last played Wellington three years ago, but they were already a much hyped-about band back then. The packed out venue tonight goes to show how popular they are. In fact, the crowd started up a chant “Royal Blood, Royal Blood!” after the first song, showing the strength of their collective enthusiasm.

“It’s a shock to come so far from where we live and see so many people here” singer Mike Kerr confessed, “We count ourselves lucky.”

I review a lot of solo projects on this blog, and the odd two-piece. But the fact remains that I’ll always be impressed with what just two talented musicians can pull off. I’d say the standard rock band has five roles: a singer, drums for the beat, bass for the low-end, and two guitars – one for rhythm and another for lead. And often you can get by with fewer players if they are talented enough, but creating a full sound from just two players is quite the feat.

Kerr employs a lot of technical wizardry to pull of the tones he creates with just a bass guitar in most of his songs. He’s like the swiss army kit singer, filling a range of duties, providing singing, banter, bass, guitar sounds, even playing a Rhodes organ at one stage.

Drummer Ben Thatcher is no slouch either. He came across as super casual, wearing a Slayer t-shirt and snapback cap, and spending as much time supping tequila from a red plastic cup as he did playing drums. He only spoke once during the set, coming forward to recite a poem, just to demand that we party with him when screams from the crowd interrupted his prose. But when he played you knew about it. A thunderous back beat, with deft playing that remained unbusy. He had interesting mannerisms. He threw his sticks high into the air as he played, just as he frequently threw his red cup off to the side between songs, only to fetch it and fill it, just to repeat after the next song.

The duo treated us to their arena rock with a hint of danger. A touch of blues, a sinister vibe, a noticeable swagger. Hard hitting, with crunchy riffs and clearly defined beats. They’ve clearly been at it for a long time. I noted that during the breakdown of “Lights Out” they managed to play as a tight unit, despite various tempo changes.

I could draw comparisons from other notable blues rock duos, but that’s just lazy. That said, I did see another two-piece, 21 Pilots play this same venue last year.

21 Pilots are great showmen. It’s all gimmicks and theatrics. They get away with playing as a two piece because they rely heavily on backing tracks. But hey, it makes for a great show. Royal Blood, however, are more straight up. No messing around with backing tracks, video screens, and odd stage costumes. They play hard, and they play well. And I respect them for it.

Royal Blood take notes from top-tier rock legends. The stark lighting show of vertical light bars and blinders could just fit in at a Nine Inch Nails gig. During “Little Monster” they paused, launched into a spellbinding drum solo, built the intensity, and came back to finish the song five minutes later. It’s the kind of move that Foo Fighters used to pull back in their prime.

Two backing singers came on for a handful of songs throughout the night, dressed in glittery black outfits. They were barely audible for most of it, but their haunting coos certainly enhanced “How Did We Get So Dark?”, from the album of the same name.

One of the key attractions is that Royal Blood make things things appear simple. Obviously it isn’t – getting those tones from a bass guitar isn’t normal at all – but it seems simple. Good riffs, fairly straightforward beats, stark lighting. It’s minimal, efficient – even down to the amount of people on stage. No-nonsense rock and roll. And it’s all damn good.

Joseph James

Live Review: Biffy Clyro at Spark Arena, Auckland

Biffy Clyro Spark Arena
Standard

Biffy Clyro

w/ Skinny Hobos

Spark Arena, Auckland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Last time I saw Skinny Hobos play was a mixed bag for me. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great show that they put on. It’s more that I had consumed a few too many beers that night and things ended far worse than I could have anticipated.

It was my last night out with friends before heading overseas for most of the remainder of the year. As you can imagine, I got slightly carried away – it being a farewell and all. One “friend” decided to take advantage of me in a drunken state, kidnapped me, and drove me halfway up the North Island, stranding me in Marton delirious and hungover the following morning. There are few times in my life that I’ve felt worse than that, sick, betrayed, and having to spend the day hitching back to Wellington in the state that I was.

Not that this should have any bearing on my thoughts on Skinny Hobos. I’ve enjoyed their show every time I’ve seen them and this time was no exception. I would have expected something punchier than the slow, meandering song they started with, but once they got into it they played great. You could tell that they were nervous – blurting out bizarre phrases between songs in attempts at banter – but the music spoke for itself. Jared Wrennall from Dead Favours came out to guest on a song, which worked well. I wish I had chosen to photograph this show because they looked fantastic under these lights. They have an album coming out shortly, along with a nationwide tour with His Master’s Voice, so expect to hear the name Skinny Hobos coming up a lot more.

The energy in the crowd was humming as we waited for Biffy. It was a mixed audience, with many parents bringing their children to the spectacle. A handful of punters had Scottish flags draped around their shoulders, and the bar was offering Tennents beer to keep with the Scottish theme.

This was my first time at this venue since they switch branding from Vector Arena to Spark Arena. And to be honest, I don’t notice any changes. I’ve certainly never been to a bad gig here. What is different, however, is that the arena is substantially bigger than Powerstation, where I saw Biffy Clyro play last time they came to NZ.

At first it was slightly disappointing to see that they hadn’t sold enough tickets to fill the arena. The stage had been brought forward, cutting the venue in half. A large black curtain blocking off the space behind the stage to make the arena feel more intimate. It’s a shame that such a high-caliber band is still yet to gain a decent footing in New Zealand. That said, the venue felt ideal once the show was underway.

Most bands I’ve seen play this arena have had big screens and impressive stage sets. Well Biffy had great lighting, but that was it. No gimmicks. This was all about the musicians.

An interesting choral tune played as the band walked onstage, all five standing motionless and bathed in blue light as the tension built.

They launched their set with “Wolves of Winter”, the aggressive lead single from latest album Ellipsis. Oh man, oh man. That is how you start a show. The three Scotsmen played tight, heavy, and full of vigor.

They then followed up with “Living Is A Problem…”, from Puzzle, and “57”, from their first album, Blackened Sky. Talk about starting strong

“Living Is A Problem” has the band showing off their musical abilities, with jagged staccato stabs that come at random intervals. The kind of playing that sticks out like a sore thumb if someone is off their game. I still marvel at how they can pull it off. Not only that, but Simon also paused, began singing  Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend”, before they all dove back into the song without missing a beat.

I’m glad that they did pull songs from their back catalogue. This is only the second time Biffy Clyro have reached our shores, so it’s nice that we got to hear older songs that we’ve missed out on in the past. We got the euphoric ballads like “Mountains”, the dancey numbers like “Who’s Got A Match?”, and the batshit insane early era stuff like “There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake”. They draw from a variety of influences, resulting in anthemic, technical music that I find irresistible. Virtually all of their songs are nonsensical lyric-wise, but that didn’t stop me from lending my voice to all of them as they played.

That said, most of the set list derived from the recent album Ellipsis. It’s understandable that they’re playing songs from the album that they are promoting, but I’m thankful that we got to hear a wider selection.

It was a class show that you’d expect from a band who have attained the status that Biffy have. They didn’t have the fancy screens and lasers, but they still had all the kit. I counted at least 6 bass guitars. That seems slightly excessive to me, but it is telling about how professional the band are – that they have that many extras on standby.

Simon Neil [guitar] showed us exactly why he’s such a stellar frontman, delivering his vocals with intense passion, whether cooing on acoustic guitar, or screaming bloody murder on the heavier tracks. I was surprised to note how much the twins Ben [drums] and James Johnston [bass] sung as well, adding brilliant subtle harmonies to many songs. It seems obvious that twins would be awesome at harmonies, but I’ve never noticed how much they sing before now. Their playing is already busy enough as is.

The trio are known for playing topless – and I can see why: it looks bloody hot up on stage. There was a steady dribble of sweat pouring off Simon’s microphone stand all through the night.

Joining the Ayrshire trio were two touring musicians, Mike Vennart [guitar] and Richard Ingram [keys] – formerly of the prog band Oceansize – adding elements that flesh out the sound in a way that a three-piece couldn’t.

They finished the night with two songs that demonstrate their diverse talents: the tender acoustic track “Machines” – one of the biggest singalongs of the night; and the triumphant anthem “Stingin’ Belle” – resplendent with synth-bagpipes during an ever-climaxing outro.

I have nothing to complain about. I got to see my favourite band play last night. They more than delivered, and it was a treat to hear some older numbers. It’s a shame that they overestimated the size of the venue they needed, but all in all the show with nothing short of perfect. I’m surprised that I still have a voice.

Mon the Biff!

Joseph James

Biffy CLyro Auckland set list

A young fan proudly showing his new shirt and set list

Album Review: Coma Recovery – Apotheosis

Coma Recovery - Apotheosis cover
Standard

Apotheosis sounds dense. Thick and heavy, saturated in sound. Think about the intense textures of Rosetta and The Ever Living and you may imagine something that sounds like New Mexico act Coma Recovery’s latest offering.

There’s another music blog I follow called Drowned In Sound, and I feel that term fits when describing this music. It’s full-bodied and consuming, swallowing you whole.

On first track “Nox Medicus” relentless bass and sloshy drums create a groove. Although there is a crushing density to the music, it feels uplifting due to soaring synths and vocals.

The next two tracks follow suite: epic songs full of feeling and grittiness.

I’ve read through the lyrics for all three songs, and to be honest this leaves me no more enlightened than before when it comes to interpreting content matter. Some mystic stuff, creation, spirits… Who knows? I’ve never been one to pay much attention to lyrics anyway. The singing is good though.

There’s not much more for me to say. Just listen to it. It’s worth a listen.

Apotheosis is huge and vital. Put on your headphones and prepare to get engulfed.

Coma RecoveryComa Recovery links:

Bandcamp: http://deepelmdigital.com/album/apotheosis

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/comarecovery/