Marching Church are no strangers to confrontational, brash lyrics and melodies, yet one cannot help but think that ‘Telling it like it is’ conveys a false first impression. Indeed, you can hear the occasional reminder of the title’s grittiness in lyrics such as ‘Fist-fucked by destiny’ which lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt clumsily shouts on one of the album’s more popular songs, Heart of Life. However, the band’s fourth album isn’t one that crashes through the walls with youthful energy, blunt one liners and dirty guitar riffs. ‘Telling it like it is’ acts more as a vessel for the band’s experimental exploration, story-telling, and raw, emotional aggression, all pulled off with tones reminiscent of the religious importance and implications of the band’s name, garnering them frequent comparisons to artists such as Nick Cave.
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Although potentially restricting, these comparisons are understandable as there is an undeniable brooding undercurrent running through the whole album. It can especially be seen on the albums opening track, ‘Let it come down’ which layers guitar, jarring violin (similar to Mica Levi’s soundtrack for the film, Under the Skin), and dark backing vocals, playing with melodic restraint, and the breaking away from this restraint, yet somehow still retaining a sense of musical harmony.
On one of the arguably stand out songs of this record, Heart of Life, the guitar begins its itching and skittering that sustains to the album’s end. In a break from the albums moodiness, ‘the various rhythms and tempos’ of the drums in ‘Heart of Life’ create an instantly more (but still unlikely to be…) danceable song, somehow successfully accompanied by Rønnenfelt’s blaring vocals which seem permanently one step behind themselves. This vocal characteristic carries through the majority of the album adding to its general brooding atmosphere. On ‘Lion’s Den’, however, the consistent harrowing vocals change suddenly to falsetto, which is pretty unheard of from Rønnenfelt even in his more renowned band, iceage. Hopefully that’ll be no longer, as his almost transcendent, eerie voice, strains pretty brilliantly on top of the grooving bass, gothic piano, and skittering and scratching guitar, making its success especially surprising since this seems to be a new vocal experiment on the band’s part.
By ‘2016’, it seems as though the band felt a bit constrained by their broody, experimental route and so decide to break out with fast paced guitar riffs, alternating drum rhythms and with the repetitiveness of the urgent line ‘I think I need to, I’ve got to got to got to get out’ Altogether making this a song you can thrash about to, even if you have to simmer down for its occasional quiet dynamics, its pace always pick up by the time Rønnenfelt is yelling ‘2016’ in the irresistible chorus. Occasionally, however, Marching Church’s style of recording, which seems often to be jam sessions, can appear all too unrefined, and in less of a hard-core punk way, than a monotonous, generic and unpolished way. This can be seen on songs such as ‘Inner City Pigeon’, which, despite playing out jarring rhythms and an engaging narrative, left the feeling that it should have been ecorded just once more, or had certain melodic and rhythmic areas refined.
This criticism is certainly one of a minority few and does not entirely distract from the album’s overall brooding glory, engaging experimental nature, and the sense that this is a turning point in Marching Church’s production, one that is bound to make fans curious to see what their future works will display in light of this significant and exciting progression.