One of the nice things (and there are many. Some we can discuss, others we cannot. We’ve signed disclaimers. In blood) about writing for The Black Flag is that you can follow the careers of artists. You can watch the ebb and flow of an artist’s successes and failures like watching the frothing tide of the sea, fighting an eternal battle with the land. I’ll be honest, I wrote that line and even I don’t understand it. Still, the point is a valid one and so after having interviewed them (insert link) in June of last year, I was pleased to see the debut album of the Sheffield based, 5 piece band, Dead Sons be slid across my desk with a note attached to a) stop eating the office’s supply of doughnuts and b) to review it.
Before getting into reviewing the album, let me just tell you something dear reader. Dead Sons are – apparently – classified in the Desert Rock genre. I see you are shaking your head, for you – like I – have no idea what this means. What happens if I tell you this can also be called Stoner rock? Aha! I strike a cord and dim light bulb brightens! Anyone still none the wiser, here is a nice little definition for you: contains elements of psychedelic, blues, heavy metal and other genres such as hardcore as well as distinctive repetitive drum beats. The reason I am telling you this is that it is important to keep this in mind throughout the review, its going to swing and sway between descriptions like a model on a catwalk. You’re excited aren’t you? C’mon then….
The album, ‘The Hollers and the Hymns’, is set release on February 18th and so everything you read here is a sneak peak – we are good to you – into this much anticipated release. At 41 minutes for the 14 tracks, it barely has a welcome to outstay – rather it runs in, drinks a cuppa whilst eating all your digestives before leaving muddy foot prints on your doormat as it makes its escape. It is a whirlwind of activity, right from the opening.
‘Ghost Train’ – album opener – starts with heavy, fuzzy guitar tempered with distorted keyboard to lead into a thudding, solid drum beat and the vocals. It’s not long before the track breaks down to what sounds like, almost, a battle between the drums and guitars as it starts, stops and starts again. Lyrically it’s a difficult one to follow but in between nodding your head and banging your foot, as if it’s on the pedal of the bass drum itself, I am not sure that really matters this early on in the album. I have to say though, after listening to the album and then going back to this track, I am not sure it is the strongest of openers and certainly isn’t my favourite track on the album.
Track two, ‘Shotgun Women’, starts in a similar vein to ‘Ghost train’ but where it differs is that it maintains a constant drum beat throughout – it’s a track you want to listen to as you walk to a knife fight with a rival gang, if that’s your thing, it gives you instant swagger. Lyrically and vocally, its much clearer and you just start to hear the hint of the Sheffield accent as lead singer Thomas Rowley starts to flex his vocal talents.
The first four tracks are all around the 2 and half minute mark so this should give you some idea at how quickly they come at you. A song that Dead Sons fans will know is ‘Hangman’, track number five, as it was released on 5th November 2012 as a single. From the interview with the band readers will know it’s a favourite of theirs to play and it’s easy to see why. A guitar lead introduction that is almost reminiscent of something that T-Rex (that’s a compliment by the way) might have put out back in their 70’s glam rock heyday leads into the second longest track on the album at 3.31mins. There are some beautiful interchanges between the drums and the guitars again, the sound of each swinging between your ears as it builds to a crescendo. What I, personally, like is that at no point does Rowley find it necessary to move from the smooth singing voice which he employs throughout the album to something more…shouty. It allows you to follow the music and the lyrics as one entity – able to move focus at your own behest.
The next track, ‘Temptation Pool’, is the first time the band pause for breath with a slightly slower number. Weirdly, listening to this piano infused track – with the ‘ratatat’ of cymbals in the background’, I can’t help but picture a desert so maybe Desert Rock was an apt description of the genre after all!
Normal service is resumed with the ‘Room 54’ as the guitar wails into your ears before setting off a distinct pace – use this track to run away from the afore mentioned gang knife fight! It reminds me of The Strokes, just with the effects on the vocals and the leading lyrics into the choruses – there is the merest ‘whiff’ of something ‘Strokey’ about it.
Keyboards are used to good effect with ‘Junk Room’, featuring in the introduction and then throughout the rest of the track. Not for the first time, this track would not have sounded out of place in a different era – with the psychedelic flavour only further enhanced by the organs and keyboards employed. This theme continues into track number 9 – ‘Quest for Fire’ – with some excellent chanting of…..um….noises….(used again in track 11, ‘The last man standing from nine’………..which could be a reference to that knife fight!) from the band. This is my favourite track on the album I think, because it combines everything which I think is good about the band – clever lyrics, good musicianship which is happy to combine various paces into one song but all woven to create an overall belting little song. It’s not just a blur of sound or some form of ‘mash up’ which anyone with a guitar and distortion box can do. I know it’s not their heaviest of fastest track but if I had to recommend just listening to one song to show someone what this band is all about – this is the one I would pick.
At 41 minutes this album is a blitz of sounds and styles but at no point do you start to question the identity of the band – you don’t ever feel as though they lost their way with this album and they had a clear direction in their minds when writing it. That is a great attribute for any band to have. It’s a debut album that concisely and precisely sums up the band and, once it’s released, it’s certainly one to get your hands on. Listening to it the desert is optional.