Every once in a while there’s a release that stands out from the dark, shrieking cloud of music that exists under the banner of Screamo, and reminds us just why such a ridiculously named genre – indeed extreme and emotive music of any kind – exists in the first place.
‘Slow Burn’, the highly anticipated new album from scene favourites Old Gray, is just such a release, being one of the most powerfully wrenching and cathartic collections of songs produced this year, if not this decade. Into its twenty-minute runtime Old Gray manage to pack elements of screamo, spoken word, post-rock, and even some elements of black metal, to form something simultaneously true to what made their music so appealing in the first place, and more shockingly tormented and focussed than anything they’ve released before.
Outside of lead single ‘Everything is in Your Hands’, there’s little of the mournful clean singing from previous releases present on this record. That fact alone should be indicative of just how much more frenetic, violent, and punishingly emotive ‘Slow Burn’ really is. It’s as if all the angst, anger, fear and sadness that fuelled Old Gray up to this point has reached boiling point, culminating in something that alternates wildly from throat-ruining screams and crashing percussion to driven spoken word sections and melancholy, off-key piano interludes.
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Standout track ‘Like Blood From a Stone’, comprised primarily of a spoken word poem by performance artist William James, explores painfully and in great detail a heart-breaking story of a suicide attempt and the struggle to come back from such a brink. For the first half of the song we are given only James’ voice before the band creeps in behind his words with a slow build to a burst of aggressive sound. As the narrative reaches its conclusion, they cut out again to give full voice to the final lines, poignantly expressing the message of hope in recovery that lies at the heart of ‘Slow Burn’: “And the smoke tendrils, once midnight black & swirling above your head, break away, leaving nothing in your view except the sky. And it is so perfect. And it is so clear.”
With only four of eleven tracks lasting more than two minutes, ‘Slow Burn’ is an intense, concentrated listen, to the point where picking out individual songs becomes difficult; the whole thing bleeds together, almost as if it were never meant to be split up, but endured in a single, heart-rending burst. Though not quite five minutes long, the soaring instrumental ‘As on Earth as it was in Heaven’ that closes the album feels as though it lasts as long as every preceding song combined, so great is its sense of relief and hopefulness. Through this final sense of catharsis, Old Gray’s sophomore album presents itself as a microcosm of a healing process, at once a furious cry against the dark and a lesson in how to escape it.
This is what makes ‘Slow Burn’ so powerfully affecting. Dealing both lyrically and musically with themes of self-harm, suicide, depression and substance abuse, this album is as much a reflection on these things as it is a purging; an exorcism of all the black, torturous aspects of life fuelled by a drive and a need to go on. In this alone ‘Slow Burn’ stands as a stupendously important record, and perhaps Old Gray’s strongest release to date.
‘Slow Burn’ is available now through Flower Girl Records