(Andy Synn provides another well-deserved exception to our usual rules with the new album from SOM)
What with it being a new year, I suppose now is as good a time as any for a little history lesson.
Long story short, back when Islander (and his two collaborators, whose names have long-since been stricken from the records in some sort of pseudo-Stalinist purge) first started this site the name was intended as something of a two-fingered salute to all those bands who, whether pushed into it by their management or simply because they were desperate to be popular, jumped on the “harsh verse, clean chorus” bandwagon.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people – including our beloved overlord – were pretty pissed off that so many bands were willing to sacrifice their integrity and identity just to fit in with current trends… and so NoCleanSinging was born.
Of course, the name has always been somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and there’s no actual rules about what sorts of vocals that we’re actually allowed (or forbidden) to include… heck, if you take a minute to look at just some of the bands we’ve covered over the years – Chrome Waves, Katatonia, Klone… Brutus, Borknagar, Boss Keloid… Protest The Hero, A Swarm of the Sun, Junius… – you might even conclude that we actually love clean singing. At least when it’s done well.
And it’s the latter name from that list which leads us into the album I want to talk about today, as while SOM is made up of several ex-Junius members (along with musicians from Caspian and Constants) and shares several sonic similarities with that group, their second album, The Shape of Everything, finds the band stepping out of that particular shadow and fully coming into their own.
Compared to their debut, The Fall (which you can read more about here), the band’s second album is an altogether more cohesive, more collected, and more confident piece of work, and arguably one of the best releases of the year so far.
It doesn’t so much reinvent what they’ve done before – nor does it need to – as it does refine and reinforce what made the group’s music so good in the first place.
As such, the differences and improvements between the two records are subtle, but notable.
There’s an extra jolt of electricity to the performances, for example, and a few more volts in the guitars, which make for an overall more immediate and enervating experience (especially on attention-grabbing opener “Moment”).
Similarly, the breathy, dreamlike vocals haven’t changed all that much… they’ve simply gotten better. Better at hooking your ear. Better at conveying a sense of authentic emotion. Better at sharing space with the music around them.
And, speaking of the music itself, there’s a real weight and heft to the riffs in songs like “Center”, “Clocks”, and climactic closer “Son of Winter” which, while it doesn’t necessarily equate to “heaviness” (at least, not in the sense that we generally use that word here), gives the music a palpable sonic presence, while the chiming melodic lead work and shimmering synths interlaced throughout the album shine even more brightly than ever.
Not only that, but the rhythm section of Duncan Rich (drums) and Justin Forrest (bass) also seem to have stepped their game up, and their contributions are a big reason why The Shape of Things feels like a much bigger, and more bombastic, album than its predecessor.
That being said, the quintet haven’t sacrificed their more introspective and atmospheric side by any means, nor have they lost their ability to pen some shamelessly poppy hooks either (both “Animals” and the instantly-infectious, Devin Townsend-esque “Wrong” could, and perhaps should, be massive radio hits, given the right exposure), it’s just that all the different threads which make up the band’s identity are so much more tightly woven together this time around that it’s impossible to separate them from the greater whole.
Make no mistake about it, this is a dangerous album. Not because it’s particularly “heavy” or “extreme”, but because it’s so irresistibly hypnotic that once it gets its hooks into you you won’t want to stop playing it, again and again. So it’s a good thing that it only seems to get better with every listen!