By Dead Confederate
It's easy to see why Dead Confederate selected 'The Rat' as the lead-off single to their debut album. Besides being beautiful, bleak, haunting and heartfelt in equal measures, it's also one of the more concise offerings on an album that has an occasional tendency to be overlong.
The verses of 'The Rat' see Dead Confederate really indulge their penchant for the sinister. A slow-burning creep of guitars underpins the track, with only a handful of glimmering chords shedding some light into 'The Rat's gloomy world. The choruses, however, are a completely different matter, as 'The Rat' is swept into a surprisingly polished swirl of arena-ready sound, and frontman Hardy Morris chases after those big, ballad-esque notes. While the ominous verses may have suggested something nastier, the chorus is of such a high calibre that fans of heavier, darker music won't feel cheated in the slightest.
This sinister-verse-followed-by-stadium-sized-chorus is a theme that reoccurs throughout the album, namely on 'Heavy Petting' and 'Goner.'
Despite Morris' tendency to add an irritating drawl to certain lines, 'Heavy Petting' is a brooding juggernaut that grumbles and growls, before finally opening into an expansive soundscape where the riffs spiral ever higher and Morris reels out lighters-in-the-air vocals. The chorus of 'Goner' is of equally anthem-sized proportions, as the vocals and riffs climb to an impassioned summit, before slumping back into a verse where weary drums drag themselves across a barren landscape of wailing riffs, dewy chords and tentative vocals. Two songs of rare, uniquely grim beauty, in a format that really suits Dead Confederate.
Another technique that Dead Confederate favour, is abandoning the big choruses and saving that anthem-sized blowout for the song's closing minutes.'It Was A Rose' and 'Yer Circus' subscribe to this format. 'It Was A Rose' is awash with gothic allure, as Morris' hazy vocals and languid guitar lines coil slowly around one another. Factor in subtle, marching-drums and a mind-numbingly repetitive chord arrangement, and you have a truly trance-inducing tune. And then, Dead Confederate bring out the big vocal hooks, arcing guitar lines, foot-stamping drums and screechy string arrangements in a roof-raising finale.
'Yer Circus' ends in a similarly desperate storm of sound and harassed vocals, but what comes before it, is Dead Confederate's usual luxurious grimness, with an added element of woozy alt-pop. Morris' vocals are particularly scuzzy and undulating, coaxing us deeper into 'Yer Circus's pleasantly disorientated fug. Two seductive, gothic rock songs that pull out all the stops in the final sixty seconds.
'Start Me Laughing' is something completely different. Morris adopts an energetic, angular yelp, and the music switches to an unusual combination of heavy metal riffing and springy drumbeats. The result is a heavy, enthusiastically-bounding metal song, spiked with Morris' bristling vocals. The occasional deeper, darker riff transforms 'Start Me Laughing' into a more taunt, powerful beast that recalls Dead Confederate's more brooding moments, but for the most part this is a heavy metal howl with an intriguing bounce. A wholly welcome shot of energy.
However, trying something different doesn't always work, as the stoner-rock of 'All The Angels' proves. There's probably a decent song in there somewhere, but it's almost completely obscured by static, distortion and rather painful, squealy sound effects. The first thirty seconds are blessed with a clear, sharp production, but 'All The Angels' gradually dissolves into crackle and hiss as the song progresses, ultimately becoming impossible to listen to. Avoid.
The twenty minute double-header of 'The News Underneath' and 'Flesh Coloured Canvas' are songs to split opinion. Two atmosphere-soaked epics, if you give these songs your undivided attention they aren't a joyless trudge, as a casual listen might suggest. In 'The News Underneath' strings wail mournfully before shivering away into distant, unknown corners, while Morris takes his time with each whispered, groaned or quiveringly-delivered word. 'Flesh Coloured Canvas' is another gorgeously delicate slow-burner, but it's debatable whether even the most dedicated of Dead Confederate fans will want to sit through another twelve minutes of softly-softly atmospherics. Putting these two songs at separate ends of the album, or perhaps dropping one entirely, would have been a wise move. If you give both these tracks your full attention, they're a rewarding listen, but sitting through them both, especially placed back-to-back on the tracklisting, is a bit of a mission.
Album-closer 'Wrecking Ball' is a song of two halves. The first half is the album's most tentative and heartfelt moment, as Morris traces a shiver-inducing vocal line through whispers of guitar and starry sound effects. Again, your full attention is required, but not quite for the mammoth twenty minutes 'The News Underneath' and 'Flesh Coloured Canvas' require. And there's a pay off, as the second half is a drama-drenched apocalypse of bucking riffs and rumbling drums that lurch and crash into a pinnacle of woozy guitar rhythms and Morris wailing like his life depends on it.
With its softly-softly first half and dramatic finale, 'Wrecking Ball' is the fitting finale to an album that always tempers the atmospheric and the subtle, with arena-sized blowouts. 'Wrecking Ball' is one of the few albums that manages to make the unusual and thought-provoking, perfectly accessible. If you enjoyed 'The Rat' then make a point of getting a copy of this - you won't be disappointed.