Label: Blood and Ink
Release Date: 5/6/2014
Reviewer: Ty DeLong
- The Compass
- Calling Down Fire (To Keep Warm)
- Orphan Hymn
- The End of This Story and The Beginning of All The Others
I’ll start out by saying that I wasn’t acquainted with the band Comrades until a few weeks ago. It was at that point that I heard the lead single from Safekeeper and was blown away. I wasn’t sure how a band of this caliber had flown under my radar thus far (apparently a name change along the way), but they were right up my alley. Blistering guitar leads cut through walls of post-rock sound, exhibiting not just passion, but technicality as well. Exploring some of their back-catalog and getting a chance to experience the full Safekeeper album, however, revealed a side of the band that I did not anticipate.
Based on the single, “Calling Down Fire (To Keep Warm),” I was expecting somewhat standard post-rock, even if infused with uncharacteristic shredding. I was quite surprised, then, when the opening of the album featured a solo piano and female vocals sung by band member Laura. She intros, “There’s a burning in our hearts / For a place to call our own,” opining the longing we all have for a resting place. At first I wasn’t sure how to take these lyrical sections which pop up throughout the album, but the more I listened, the more I see how they weave a common thread.
The intro does not last long, as it soon blooms to full-band instrumentation. Momentum is built gradually until noodling leads punctuate a heavy breakdown. I’ve found that riff stuck in my head several times over the past few days, even mindlessly tapping out the odd timings on my leg. Such moments wowed me most on the album, as they display a passion and technicality sometimes absent in the ambience of instrumental music. The song carries on with bouts of large guitars, and even screaming vocals at one point before piano and melodic “whoas” return to finish out. Overall, “Endless” is exemplary of how Comrades is determined not to follow any formula, regardless of what genre labels people would like to apply.
The next couple of tracks, “Roving” and “Compass” are more in line with traditional post-rock, as they feature rock band instrumentation with fewer lyrics. The end riff of the former very strongly reminds me of older My Epic guitar parts, which is an excellent homage to claim in my book. The latter once again contains words, this time delivered as gang vocals. “We are wanderers / Wanderers all / We don’t know where we’re going / Don’t know where we’re from,” continuing the theme initially introduced. The section ends with a solid scream and hard-hitting breakdown interlaced with yells, which seems to pull back the curtain on some of the band’s post-hardcore influences, another plus in my opinion.
“Pax” is the most divergent offering on the record. Rhythm is provided via what sounds like thumping on a reverb-soaked guitar before complimentary leads weave an intricate thread over a moving, but subdued bass line. Clocking in at just over a minute, some may consider it a filler track, but it could just as easily be seen as an aural break between two of the heaviest numbers.
Smack in the center of the album comes “Calling Down Fire (To Keep Warm),” the song which first sparked my interest. The ominous opening most strongly invokes darker, edgier bands such as Russian Circles, but that swell doesn’t last long before crushing instrumental punches and oddly-timed noodling get the listener’s head bobbing. The quick, furious track ends suddenly, which even evoked a sense of shock in me the first time I heard it. This once again displays how Comrades don’t try to fit a mold. While post-rock tracks may typically stretch well beyond six minutes, the longest on Safekeeper is a respectable five minutes and twenty seconds with the average being well under four minutes.
Alto vocal lines once again return to open “Orphan Hymn,” which would almost feel at home in a worship setting. “Hallelu / We don’t know who to sing to / Hallelu / We don’t know who.” The refrain continues through much of the track, repeating as the instrumental backing builds to a truly post-hardcore movement reminiscent of Thrice. To me, “Orphan Hymn” seemed to be the most complete song, even as it mashes together several seemingly disjoint parts. The harmonious refrain at the end was another which I found myself absent-mindedly singing long after listening.
“Haven” is another stripped-down track which seems to serve more as a transition than a standalone piece. It leads to the quiet bass picking and guitar swells which begin “Severance.” Said track features somewhat standard fare of echoey guitars and crunchy bass, which is not to say that it isn’t good or interesting. I must give a nod to the drummer for mixing it up quite a bit during the quieter portion, hitting seemingly every part of the kit at points.
A rumbling bass wave continuously flows into the closer, “The End Of This Story And The Beginning Of All The Others.” Spoken word sheds light on the conclusion of the longings previously expressed; a lengthy monologue closes by proclaiming, “It is not simply a matter of Heaven or Hell / It is not only the end, but the beginning that matters.” The following four minutes of music display dark swells, staccato piano, gritty bass tone, and a triumphal shift before a low-fi voice states over the waning strains, “After all this [wandering] / I’ll be glad to be home.”
Overall: If you’re looking for a purist post-rock experience, Safekeeper may not be for you. Comrades stretches the boundaries of a genre often devoid of vocals, and in the process paints a subtle backdrop for the powerful music they perform. Still, well-executed musicianship and a willingness to try new things make this an album worth checking out, especially for those with post-rock leanings who can’t muster the attention for the ten-minute epics that often come with the territory. Personally, Comrades has certainly earned me as a new fan with Safekeeper.
RIYL: Red Sparrowes, Russian Circles, O’ Brother
Safekeeper is available on Bandcamp ($4.99 as of release day!) and on CD/Vinyl in the Blood and Ink Records Store