Reviewed by Mandy Stefanakis, July 1st, 2015
This week I viewed favoured images from the Hubble telescope. I tried to get my head around the scale of just one galaxy, not the entire universe, but couldn’t. Then I watched a TED talk where the neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran talked about our brains. He described how this ugly piece of jelly-like matter can fit into the palm of a hand. It has as many connections as the known universe. One brain. Whole universe. I can’t get my head around that either. If there is a higher being s/he has an excellent sense of irony.
Post-Hardcore music is, well, as extreme as these contemplations. It asks big questions and sometimes gets its head around the answers. But often it doesn’t because it tends to view the world in polar terms. Its genetic inheritance is from sources as varied as metal, rap and the sparse and often simple genre, punk. There is nothing simplistic about Post-Hardcore. From punk, think Johnny Rotten’s non-melodic yelling on God Save the Queen. There have been different incarnations of this form of lyric conveyance in contemporary music, from rap, to screamo (a sub-genre of emo) to the growl. Growling is the larynx-challenging choice of Post-Hardcore bands in that it provides a counterpoint to the much higher pitched ‘clean’ vocals that carry the melodic lines. The levels in-between are filled with technically proficient guitar work on both bass and lead, also the province of metal bands and the drummers are essential to this high-octane sound. They are also obviously fit in their performance of highly intense and complex rhythmic passages.
Storm the Sky hail (sorry) from Melbourne and Permanence is their debut album after a successful EP release in 2013. The band is big for its genre with six members. In addition to both unclean and clean vocals, there are two guitarists, a bass player and drummer. Synth orchestra and other digital instruments are also used distinctively and effectively on this album. It has been beautifully produced and mixed by Cameron Mizelli.
That higher being previously mentioned is the point of focus on this existential album. Well actually, it’s identity. Working around the complexities of mortality and interactions with others the band come to the conclusion that if one is only on planet earth for a finite time, then it is important to make a positive mark, a positive contribution and to, well, live. Thus, ‘this is how I choose to identify myself’. They take lyrical aim at those, backed by the certainty of a higher being, who desperately reek havoc on others to achieve what they claim to be God’s word. Perhaps those who seek this path also seek personal identity, just within the warm embrace of the certainty a god and like-minded social network can provide (and damn the consequences). Storm the Sky make it clear that they cannot accept any kind of higher being who would back the perpetration of such acts of violence. And yet their more personal connections are at best, conflicted. ‘I can’t live without you – on my terms.’ People can be so determined to save the world that they sometimes forget the flowers in the backyard need watering. It is perhaps worth reflecting again on Ramachandran holding the universe in his hand.
For me the best songs on the album are those not at odds with themselves lyrically. Oh Sister is a particular standout. It is homage to the role of a sibling in the upbringing of the boys in the family and wonderfully honest in its gratitude to her. Synth orchestra introduces what you think will be a ballad, but um, no, one imagines this petite young lady looking after and up to a bunch of rather large and voracious blokes because in come the unclean vocals with an abrasive, but nonetheless heartfelt message of utter admiration. ‘Because of you we’ve become so strong.’ What is lovely about this track is that all the vocals are combined and layered with great droning against a pure melody and counter-melody. The build-up is intense and rewarding.
Alive has less lyrical clarity except that the dark arts – night and fire for example, huge themes in Post-Hardcore music – are explored resplendently in this rich opening track. The bass line is warm and so, so deep and there is harmonic fill of synth and guitar layering all the way up to the melodic vocals which are harmonically doubled with unclean vocals adding a little angst to the mix here. The judgement of when to pare back and when to ‘bring it on’ is beautifully gauged on this track and throughout the album.
Same Grave uses the unclean vocals to optimum effect as a kind of weapon against the nocuous impact of those who would have their way with fellow humans to meet their own unjustifiable ends. ‘But still you wait to see the other side … when heaven is right in front of your eyes.’ The unclean vocals are counterpointed as they are throughout by the pure, high voice carrying the melodies and this is the point. It is this extreme vista, largely black and white that is explored musically.
If I Go is the real ballad of the album and, you know, simply about love exiting stage left. It’s in 3s. The guitar playing is particularly lovely in its metallic resonance and again the addition of synth effects is beautifully sculpted, as are the vocal harmonies.
The final track, Oh My God leaves the album on a really upbeat note and its chord progressions include a thoughtful mix of major and minor tonalities so that you are provided with the feeling that getting to tomorrow is not always easy, but worth the effort. This track epitomises Post-Hardcore musical and lyrical intensity and makes doing the weekly shopping feel like a pretty humble pursuit. However the sound provides an all-encompassing place in which to immerse oneself. It is incredibly affective.
Permanence is an impressive first album from Storm the Sky, their name epitomising their genre, with a massive sound and incredible honesty within the issues explored. The use of textural effects, dynamics and layering are all masterfully achieved, as is the technical proficiency of the band members. There is a great sense of unity across the album and the production is stunning.
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