I recently learned about Canadian rock band The Ember Glows when they followed me on Twitter. Based in Montreal, the four-piece consists of Richard Bunze (lead guitar), Kevin Hills (bass), Martin Saint (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Dan Stefik (drums). Friends since their teens, all are seasoned and accomplished musicians who were previously members of Montreal bands Room Control, Repo, Scene Noir & Citylake. With a shared love of 60s psychedelic rock, late 70s post-punk, 80s new wave and 90s British indie, what started as a side-project for each of them eventually became everyone’s music priority, and The Ember Grows was officially born in 2019.
Influenced by an eclectic array of artists ranging from Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Nick Cave, The Cult, The Verve and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to The Mission, Interpol and The War On Drugs, their dynamic sound is characterized by strong hooks, richly-textured intertwining guitars, muscular driving rhythms and resonant vocals. They released their debut five-track EP Passerby in March 2021, then followed this past June with their outstanding single “SILENT LOVE”. On September 23rd, they dropped their second EP Where Spirits Play, which I’m reviewing today.
The EP features four songs, including “SILENT LOVE”, with lyrics written by vocalist Martin Saint, and music collectively written by the entire band. It was recorded at Closet Studios in Montreal by Daniel Karrasch and John Gurnsey, and produced by Karrasch. The beautiful photography and cover artwork was done by lead guitarist Richard Bunze.
Where Spirits Play opens with “TOMORROW’S THE DAY” a song about someone who recognizes they need to change some of their behaviors that are holding them back in life, but lack the will or drive to follow through, keeping them on an endless self-destructive cycle: “Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. You’re haunted by the words out of your inner voice. You might fool the gallery, but you always had a choice./ Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. Just like you said the day before. When you swore no more, no more, no.” The song blasts open with a barrage of super-grungy riffs, which are soon joined by jangly guitars, gritty bass and thunderous drums that don’t let up for the song’s four-minute duration. Though a bit flat in spots, Martin’s commanding and clear baritone vocals remind me of the late Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers.
“MIRROR” is an intense and stunning song, with biting lyrics that seem to speak to the never-ending death and destruction mankind has rained upon one another and the planet, unable or unwilling to stop: “Suburbs crawl where rivers once ran. A nation’s sins live on streets across the land. Our lost romance, as warriors sweat and dance, and break the mirror. And we crack… No country right or wrong. Clear your conscience in a protest song. Plant your flags upside down, where a stolen child’s ghost haunts the ground.” Richard and Martin’s intricately layered grungy, distorted and chiming guitars are spectacular, while Kevin and Dan’s flawless bass and drums keep the propulsive rhythm rampaging forward.
On “SILENT LOVE“, the guys combine a powerful driving Simple Minds-esque groove with lush instrumentation a la The War on Drugs to create a robust cinematic soundscape that’s truly exhilarating. Once again, the complex, intertwining guitar work and production qualities are impressive, and Martin’s impassioned vocals sound their best here. Essentially a love song, the lyrics are directed to a loved one who’s going through personal turmoil, assuring them he’ll be patient and supportive, and give them as much space and time as they need to heal: “Whenever you close your eyes, whether near of far, I will let you be. But I will stand guard when you wake up in tears. After dreams crossed your defenses I’ll be here to give you space and silence. Now there’s nothing left to do except wait for you. Now there’s nothing left to give except silent love. As you sit and gaze at the stars above.”
The longest track on the EP, “HIGH FEVER” is a guitar-lover’s delight, overflowing with a jaw-dropping maelstrom of jangly, grungy and wailing psychedelic guitars. Of course, the throbbing bassline, tumultuous percussion and screaming industrial synths are all pretty amazing too, adding to the song’s overall explosive impact. The song seems to be about being besotted with a woman, wondering whether you’re in love or just deeply infatuated with her beauty and sensuality: “Her eyes light every dream she rules, like two sparkling jewels. I’ll dive in her mystery and feel real arms around me. Is this love or is your fever running high, running high?“
To sum up, Where Spirits Play is a great little EP that packs quite a powerful punch in just four tracks. The members of The Ember Glows are all outstanding musicians, with the collective skills and experience to successfully coax the best possible sounds from their respective instruments. I love their music, and hope we’ll be hearing more from this talented band soon!