deathcrash’s ‘Less’: On the Outer Hebrides and our Inner Worlds.
On the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides sits Black Bay Studios. Once a crab factory, it is now the most remote recording studio in the UK. With manager Joe Taylor and longtime collaborator and artist Kaye Song in tow, the four members of deathcrash undertook a 36-hour journey of Epic proportions to record their second album, ‘Less’ – a masterpiece balanced on the knife-edge of perfection.
‘Less’ appears just a year after the band’s critically acclaimed and soaring debut album, ‘Return’. While it shares much of the visceral intensity, delicate tension, and cathartic release of the first, it is skeletally bare in comparison. Their mission statement was minimalism. There had been no plan to make another album, just the desire to do something aesthetically different – pared down, stripped back, raw.
Make no mistake, though more exposed and vulnerable than the first, it is no less explosive. The sparse clarity of the instrumentals and the jagged, quivering vocals of Tiernan Banks make for slow, meditative, and maddeningly taut melodies that constantly threaten to, and occasionally do, explode in your face. In its efforts to contain, it is more ubiquitous than ‘Return’; it seeps into tissue and memory, etching itself into your own experience by capturing a universality that is as widely relatable as it is deeply personal.
This confrontation with the self is what lends the album an Epic quality. It is difficult not to map the unforgiving wilderness of the Outer Hebrides, where the album was recorded, to the uncharted and frightening aspects of the inner self. Their work is a product of, as much as a response to a desolate environment and punishing internal dialogue. Classical Epic poetry recounts a cyclical journey, either physical or mental, of a hero who later returns home significantly transformed by the challenges faced. The group did both. While collaborator and artist Song traversed the remote island with a modular sculpture capturing images for the album’s artwork, the musicians’ quest was done internally from within the renovated crab factory.
Extending the epic comparison to form, the album’s first track, ‘Pirouette,’ makes it clear that the band are in no rush. Like epic action, there are seemingly no limits of time, and only 5 minutes into a 7 minute track does the steady building of twinkling guitars and tentative drums give way to Banks’s hushed and strained vocals. Bass, drums, and guitar are individual characters in conversation, speaking to each other through the hesitant and achingly raw vocals. By the next two tracks, the voice comes to the fore and grows confident, supported by a guitar that coaxes it through gusts of layered sound. Sudden, frustrated guttural screams are painfully human; they capture the struggle of being alive and the occasional failure to cope with that intensity. Moments of eruption alternate with tight precision. Hi hat heartbeats barely conceal a darker undercurrent which takes over in ‘And Now I am Lit.’ Foreboding reverbs and heavy bass threaten a seismic release which eventually reaches a head in ‘Distance Song.’ Following this climax, the vulnerability of the beginning is replaced by more mature but unsettling melodies; the sound, like the hero, is changed by experience. Heavy reverb reigns at the opening of the last song, ‘Dead, Crashed,’ but like a dark cloud that eventually passes after a storm, lightness reappears exposing a changed landscape. This transformation is not celebrated or met with jubilant chords – having taken you to the edge of the world, the album simply ends.
deathcrash celebrate the release of their album at the ICA on 30th March. Find tickets here.
The new issue of So Young is out now. You can purchase in print here or read the digital edition below.