DENSE – Single Review: “Reckoning”

I’ve been following British psychedelic garage/punk band DENSE pretty much since their beginnings nearly five years ago, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow and mature as artists. Based in Leeds, the wickedly talented trio – comprised of Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums) – live up to their moniker by combining thick, fuzz-coated grooves with progressive elements and fierce instrumentation to create music that’s electrifying, innovative and intense.

I’ve written about them numerous times over the past four and a half years, most recently in August 2020 when I reviewed their debut EP Abjection, which I described as “four combustible sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys are back with a new single “Reckoning“, which they refer to as “a desperately needed release of energy“. After listening to the track, I’d say that’s almost an understatement, as it’s a furious eruption of wailing distortion and sonic mayhem.

The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and they’ve somehow managed to capture that energy and inject it into their songs. As MC (who goes by @LeedsGigs_ on Twitter and writes about shows in and around Leeds) commented on my review of Abjection, “Seeing them live is a visceral experience and their music demands your attention. Charlie contorting primeval sounds from both mic and guitar through his pedal board, Dylan prowling the stage with adrenaline-fueled rockstar stances, riffing on a parody of every bedroom axeman, and Sam, limbs akimbo, thrashing his drumkit into quivering submission.”

According to their press release, “‘Reckoning’ is an abstract journey through anguish, capturing the frustrations of modern day life through utilisation of melodic dissonance alongside a focus on rhythm and groove-led songwriting, conveying what the lyrics represent. The track boasts a mix from Ross Orton, who has worked with the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Drenge, God Damn, Pulled
Apart by Horses and Working Men’s Club. This was the first track we wrote together in 12 months post-lockdown, and it feels like the track absorbed and channeled a lot of our pent-up energy and frustration that the three of us individually experienced during isolation
.”

That pent-up energy and frustration is manifested in an explosive barrage of super-gnarly guitars, grinding bass and bombastic percussion. Dylan drives the chaotic rhythm forward with a deep, chest-thumping bassline while Sam smashes his drumkit like a man possessed, the two of them somehow bringing order to the madness. Charlie unleashes the full fury of his double-barreled arsenal of gritty guitars and savage vocals, thrashing the airwaves with frantic, reverb-drenched psychedelic riffs, punctuated here and there by flourishes of screaming distortion, while sending shivers up and down our spines with his signature demonic wails and screams. The song is so intense, I’m left in a quivering heap by the end. It’s good to hear that DENSE have not lost one bit of their fearsome edge in the 12 months they’ve been quiet.

The guys pull no punches with their bitter lyrics that speak to a sense of hopelessness and despair, a reckoning with the terrible state of things:

When I get inside
I never feel dry
the rain it constantly pours
and I’ll ask for more

I feel a nervous pulse
men riding on horse
been dropped in the tank
shot, point blank

residing
I’m torn
providing
I’m born
declining
I’m torn
reclining
I’m born

I’m formed
we’re scorned
No future
And no past

and it sails,
to the core
sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core

Reliving
Past lives
and I’m always
Terrified

The ends are looking frayed
Cause it tore me
Fired under
No cause

residing
I’m torn
providing
I’m born
declining
I’m torn
reclining
I’m born

Reckon now?
Reckon now?
Re, Reckoning, Reckoning

I’m formed
we’re scorned
No future
And no past

and it sails,
to the core
sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core

DENSE will be launching “Reckoning” at a show tonight at the Castle Hotel in Manchester. They’ll perform again on the 13th at Royal Park Cellars in Leeds.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp 

DENSE – EP Review: “Abjection”

DENSE is a remarkably talented young psychedelic garage rock band from Leeds, England I’ve been following pretty much since their beginnings nearly four years ago. As their name suggests, they combine thick, fuzz-coated grooves with intricate, often explosive riffs and complex melodies to create music that’s exhilarating and intense. To best describe their distinctive sound, I’ve come up with the phrase ‘industrial surf-metal psychedelic garage rock’.  Making this incredible and innovative music are Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums), three intelligent guys who take their music seriously, yet are still fully in touch with their playful side.

A favorite of this blog, I’ve featured DENSE numerous times over the past three and a half years, most recently last December when I reviewed their dark and gritty single “Fever Dream” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys return with their debut EP Abjection, featuring four combustible little sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes. The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and in the creation of the EP, they wanted to capture that energy and translate it into their songs. Abjection was written and recorded by DENSE, produced and mixed by Adam Bairstow, and mastered by James Grover.

It’s been gratifying to follow these guys on their musical journey, and as they’ve matured, so too has their sound, songwriting and performance, with each release sounding better and better. Abjection is their best work yet, with the band further experimenting with progressive rock elements. In a recent interview with British webzine DRAB, the band explained “The instrumentals are incidentally written to sort of be ‘progressive’ with changing moods and vibes through each song to almost tell their own story. To pair with this, Charlie usually writes taking influence from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft (i.e. cramming a horror story into a single song), and this led to us landing on the main theme of the EP being a small collection of songs that are all essentially short stories about different forms of suffering, hence the title of the EP. Looking back on that, it makes us come across a lot more bleak and depressing than we like to think we are as people!

Opening track “Calcium” really showcases how well the three guys play as a tight unit, their respective instruments in perfect sync as they deliver a thunderous wall of psychedelic sound. Starting with Dylan’s deep, pulse-pounding bass line that serves as the song’s rapidly beating heart, Charlie layers scorching reverb-soaked riffs that rip through the airwaves while Sam aggressively smashes his drum kit. I can’t make out all the lyrics Charlie’s singing, but he screams with a ferocity that’s downright chilling. A little more than halfway through the song, we hear what sounds like jets flying as Sam starts shattering his drums with crushing beats that echo off the walls. At 2:45, Charlie lets loose with a savage volley of raging distortion, while Dylan’s relentless throbbing bass can be both heard and felt. It’s an exhilarating ride from start to finish.

As it’s title suggests, “Dread” is a dark and ominous track, with a heavy start-stop beat driven by a menacing bass line. Two thirds into the song, Charlie blows us away with an explosion of screaming distortion while Sam smashes his drums to bits. Charlie wails the lyrics that speak of depression and hopelessness: “Dark shadows surround me. So patient. So worthless. So nothing.” In that DRAB interview, he commented on his vocals: “I think as far as my vocal tone on the EP goes, I was trying to be more confident in my voice and not hide too much behind walls of reverb and delay which is a lot more comfortable for me. I never think of myself as a ‘singer’ or anyone of any significant talent vocal/lyric-wise so I wasn’t very comfortable in having my words sound clear and at the forefront. This time around I’ve decided to be a bit more vulnerable with what I wrote and how I’m performing it.”

Electric Chair” has a rousing punk rock vibe, with gnarly reverb-soaked guitars that border on surf at times. As always, Dylan and Sam blast out a hard-driving rhythm with their intricate heavy bass line and pummeling drum beats.

The final track “Cleanse/Despair” is a reworking of their song “Irreversible Knot” that they’d previously recorded a few years ago. After changing a few lyrics and elements that make it a sharper and more polished-sounding track, they felt it needed a new name. The song begins with Dylan’s deeply-strummed bass, then we’re hit by a thunderous barrage of fuzzy distorted guitars and wildly crashing cymbals. Charlie’s echoed vocals go from sultry drones to savage wails, while he shreds his guitar nearly to bits. Halfway through the track, things calm down so that we hear only Dylan’s bass, then with a scream from Charlie, a cacophony of reverb-soaked distortion comes crashing back like a rogue wave. A second lull occurs three quarters of the way through, with a final return of tumultuous discordant musical mayhem closing out this monumental track.

All three members of DENSE are supremely talented guys who continue to blow me away with their incredible musicianship. Charlie’s guitar work is exceptional, and I think Dylan is one of the finest bassists around today. And Sam’s a literal beast on the drums. Abjection is a fantastic little EP that makes quite an impact in its 14 minute run time, and if you like music that’s complex, thrilling and dark, you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp / Google Play

THE DIOMEDES – EP Review: “Rabbit”

The Diomedes Rabbit

As I continue to revisit artists I’ve previously featured on this blog, today I’m happy to discuss the exciting new EP Rabbit by alternative electronic rock duo The Diomedes. Based in London, England, The Diomedes is the studio project of friends Mark Champion (guitars and vocals) and David Myers (drums and synths). Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a review of their phenomenal debut album Traps. I was so impressed by it, I was inspired to write what I consider to be one of my finest reviews, and you can read it here.

For Rabbit, which was recorded at Narcissus Studios in North West London, the guys teamed up with John Catlin (who’s produced albums for the likes of Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Foals and The Killers) and Drew Smith. The influence of NIN is strongly evident, as all three tracks are intense, gnarly and loud, with rather bleak lyrics that speak to feeling used, unloved or losing one’s mind. It’s music that raises the adrenaline, and I felt my heart race every time I listened to the songs.

The title track “Rabbit” sets the overall tone for the EP, with a barrage of Mark’s gravelly riffs and David’s tumultuous percussion that build and build to an ear-splitting crescendo. Along the way, piercing industrial synths add to the sonic cyclone that evokes images of swirling down a rabbit hole. Mark practically shrieks the lyrics that seem to address the feelings of someone under siege by everyone and everything, and the only thing worth living for – that which will plunge him down the rabbit hole – is the love he needs and desires from a certain woman.

I’m taking punches
Pressures building stack up the bricks
I’m feeling hammers
Sculpting a hole in what was me
Tear me up
Tear me up into bits
Tear me up, up, up into pieces
The only thing I need they can’t take from me

Eyes that turn my world
Something that’s worth fighting for
So they can tear me up
I’m taking shots, blows
Bruised to my core
But I only need her glance to fall down the hole

The Diomedes really show what they’re capable of with “Con Debris”, a magnificent slice of melodically complex, industrial noise rock. Things start off gently with some jangly guitar chords and reverb, then the song explodes into a thunderous maelstrom of grungy riffs, swirling synths and hammering drums. Mark’s intricate guitar work and David’s powerful drumming are impressive, and I love Mark’s resonant, quirky vocals and strong British accent as he sings the lyrics:

Come in from the cold
Rest your feet, warm your bones
Build a fire, take my chair
Put my kettle on
Make yourself at home

We’ll pretend like we’re old friends until you’re OK
Until you move on again
Because I think that you just need a little help and a day or two won’t hurt
In any case, you’ll help yourself to everything I’ve left
It’ll always be this way

With nary a second to catch our breath, we’re instantly bombarded with sounds of pummeling drums and very grimy guitars announcing the arrival of the hard-hitting “Bring Out Your Dead”. The guys deliver roiling riffs of fuzzy, distorted guitars, blustery percussion and pulsating industrial synths, punctuated by occasional melodic flourishes, all making for an electrifying listen. The song seems to address the eternal struggle to maintain one’s sanity in this crazy thing called life:

And in the end crazy makes sense
So just kiss goodbye to shattering up inside
All heart and soul and head
All you’ve left is bring out your dead

While short in length, Rabbit packs an enormous punch in its 12 1/2 minutes. Mark and David are creative and talented songwriters and musicians, and their work continues to impress me. If you like alternative electronic rock that’s intense and out of the ordinary, you will enjoy this EP.

To learn more about The Diomedes, check out their website.
Connect with them on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Subscribe to their YouTube channel 
Stream their music on Soundcloud and  Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

PHANTOM SUNS – Album Review: “Caldera”

Phantom Suns album

Based in the bucolic New England city of Burlington, Vermont, Phantom Suns is an indie band who play alternative rock heavily influenced by grunge elements, with traces of metal and progressive rock to create their distinctive raw sound. The band consists of Seth Gunderson (guitar & vocals), Chris Knauer (bass & backing vocals) and Chris Mathieu (drums, percussion & backing vocals). Ryan Cohen previously played bass but was recently replaced by Chris Knauer, however, Cohen will continue to provide production and engineering assistance to the band. 

I’ll admit up-front that I’m not the biggest fan of grunge rock, and didn’t care for it when it became popular in the early 1990s. I generally prefer rock music that’s highly melodic, with fuller, more polished arrangements, and just couldn’t get into the dissonant, sludgy and rather depressing sound of grunge. In time, however, I came to recognize and appreciate its groundbreaking influence in reshaping the sound of rock, and music in general, and learned to like some of it. I also get why its honest lyrics and darker themes addressing social issues like alienation, disillusionment, substance abuse and depression, along with its lack of flash, pretense and overt sentimentality, made grunge so popular and accessible, especially to young people who more closely identified with the messages expressed in the songs. Like rap, grunge music reflected what many of them were feeling.

That said, it was with a bit of trepidation that I agreed to review Phantom Suns’ album Caldera after their drummer Chris Mathieu reached out to me. Though I am EclecticMusicLover, and try to always keep an open mind about all kinds and styles of music, I feared I may not be the right person to judge their music. But I gave the album several listens and am happy to report that not only do I really like it, I’m also blown away by their skilled songwriting and musicianship. And as much as I like their raw, gritty sound, it’s their intelligent and compelling song lyrics, written by Gunderson, that most impressed me. I’m glad they included them with the songs on their Bandcamp page, and I encourage my readers to check them out.

Caldera was released in November 2018, and follows the band’s 2014 debut EP Parhelia. The album features 12 tracks, the first of which, “Forget“, starts off slowly with a moody strummed guitar, then erupts into a barrage of gnarly riffs, buzzing bass and hammering drums. Gunderson’s raw vocals match the grittiness of the music as he advises us to not overthink things: “Searching for the key to unlock all your potential when you don’t know what you think. But what you think you know is only your opinion. Soon as I make up my mind, I’ll be all set. Maybe start chipping away at all this debt. Stop regretting things that haven’t happened yet ’cause you never know.

It’s a good song, but the guys really hit their stride on the hard-driving, melodically complex “Lazuli“. The track storms out of the gate with dark, sludgy riffs loaded with raw power and grit. Two-thirds of the way through, a furiously distorted guitar solo announces an abrupt change in the melody. With his grimy guitar ablaze, Gunderson snarls “You don’t have a clue but you fake it so well.

One of the standout tracks for me is “Disposable“, both in terms of it’s more melodic, progressive rock vibe, and it’s scathing lyrics attacking man’s greedy, wasteful ways that imperil our future: “Watch your castle crumble all around you. Just because you want more than you can handle. Disposable culture. Blatant disregard for the future. You’re disposable.” The video they made for the track is fantastic too, a psychedelic trip of colorful imagery superimposed over footage of the band performing the song that nicely complements the rough textures of the instrumentals.

As I continued diving deeper into Caldera, some of the tracks sound similar to one another, which is to be expected on an album with 12 tracks. Nevertheless, there are many more gems to be found here. I really dig the metaphor of “Knotweed“, symbolizing someone the singer just can’t rid himself of: “You just keep sprouting up. You return even though I dug you right up by the roots. Invasive foliage. I wage an all-out war. You’ve clearly overstepped the boundary. Can’t eradicate you. You’re so damn resilient.” And the heavy chugging guitar riffs, fuzzy bassline and boisterous drums are as dirty as the soil from which the knotweed’s been pulled. “Probably Wrong” ventures into rock’n’roll territory, with moments where Gunderson’s raging guitar and Mathieu’s frantic drumbeats propel the song into the sonic stratosphere.

Another standout is the face-melting “Trial By Stone“, an homage to Jim Henson’s classic film The Dark Crystal. As is befitting the film, the song is heavy and dark, with dense, gritty riffs teeming with distortion and reverb, deep, crushing bass and thunderous drums. Gunderson’s guitar work is fucking incredible, and Mathieu is a veritable beast on his drum kit. Gunderson’s vocals are chilling as he sneers “A dying world. A dying race imprisoned within themselves.” The video superimposes scenes from The Dark Crystal over footage of the band performing the song.

Perpetual Motion Holder“, “Hush Money” and “Brontoscorpio” deliver more gnarly riffs, fuzzy basslines and speaker-blowing drums. “It Won’t Stop” is a serious head-banger, opening with Gunderson shrieking words I can’t quite make out, followed by an explosion of raging guitars, heavy buzzing bass and furious drums. Gunderson all but screams the lyrics advising us to just accept our fates: “Your best bet is to just accept it. A warm welcome as it explodes. There’s no hope of getting out of the way. The kind of fury that can never be tamed. It will envelop, it will engulf, entirely. No! It won’t stop!

The album closes on a high note with the mostly instrumental “Olympus Mons“, an epic track that offers definitive proof that these guys are supremely talented musicians. The track starts off with a somber guitar riff, then a simple drumbeat kicks in as the guys sing in harmony: “One of these days I’ll write some words.” With that, a very gritty, reverb-drenched riff ensues before calming back down for the second harmonic vocal: “I was so bummed out. Another Olympus Mons.” The gritty guitar and bass return, only this time distorted into a maelstrom of tortured riffs, accompanied by an abundance of crashing cymbals that add to the drama. Eventually, a wailing guitar solo is layered over the stormy distortion, blowing our minds and speakers before it all spirals downward into oblivion at the close. Wow, what a masterpiece this song is, and a fitting conclusion to this superb album by Phantom Suns. If you’re a fan of grunge-infused alternative rock, then you will enjoy Caldera.

Phantom Suns has a show coming up on on April 19 at Monkey House in Winooski, VT.

Connect with Phantom Suns on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify 
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

ATOM DRIVER – EP Review: “Here They Come, the Hornets”

Atom Driver2

Atom Driver (not to be confused with actor Adam Driver) is a band I’ve been following for quite a while, and it’s high time I featured them on this blog. The Brunswick, New Jersey-based trio play post-hardcore noise rock that’s loud, frantic and fun, and I defy anyone to keep still while listening to their music. Formed in 2016, the band consists of Mark Segal on guitar and vocals, Justin Ingstrup on bass, and Mike Polilli on drums. All three are seasoned musicians, having previously played with a number of New Jersey bands. In their own words, Atom Driver was “culled from the wreckage of three local faves: Buzzkill, Boss Jim Gettys and Good Clean Fun.”

They like to produce EPs with five tracks, and released two in 2017 – Slackjaw and In the West – both of which are absolute bangers. Two weeks ago (late January 2019) they returned with another kick-ass EP Here They Come, the Hornets, serving up 13 minutes of noise rock mayhem for our listening pleasure. They get right down to business with the hard-rocking “Give Up the Ghost“. Segal delivers thrashing riffs that rip through the airwaves, while Ingstrup lays down a solid foundation with his crushing bass lines and Polilli pounds the crap out of his drum kit. Segal practically screams the refrain “Waiting to exhale. It’s time that you give up the ghost!”

We’re scarcely able to catch our breath before they’re back at us with chugging riffs of gnarly guitars, buzzing bass and an avalanche of crashing cymbals on “Vultures“. These guys are beasts on their respective instruments, giving new meaning to the term ‘noise rock’ as they launch into “Damn Mr. Pluto“, a grungy punk rock-ish head banger. Segal’s furious riffs are jaw-dropping as he shreds his guitar nearly to the breaking point – this man can play guitar! Ingstrup’s funky bass riffs are hot as hell, and Polilli beats his drums like a wild man. I can’t quite make out the lyrics Segal is singing, but who cares really, as it all sounds fantastic.

It seems the guys are gonna slow things down a bit with the fourth track “We Are Whalers“. It starts off with a quiet little acoustic guitar riff, leading us to guess that perhaps we’re in for a gentle ballad, but at 0:14 seconds, the song explodes into a barrage of raging guitars and speaker-blowing percussion that continue for the rest of the track. It’s a delicious slice of exhilarating rock’n’roll confection, with strong punk elements. They close the EP on a tumultuous note with the bombastic “A Bunch of 5’s“, providing ample proof these guys are here to rock!

Here They Come, the Hornets is a terrific little EP that packs a helluva punch in its 13 minutes. If you’re a fan of guitar-driven and high-energy rock, you will like this EP. As for me, I love Atom Driver’s music, and hope they keep making more of it for us to rock out to.

Those of you in the New Jersey area can catch them at this upcoming show:

Thursday, Feb 28    Roxy And Dukes   Dunellen, NJ

Connect with Atom Driver on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify Google Play
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes