There’s something about the fall that just makes us want to listen to a gloomy tune. It could be that the burnt orange hues of the autumn season, while beautiful, officially act as the death knell for the summer season. We get caught up in the whimsy of a leaf falling from a tree, but this natural retreat away from life at its fullest bloom is, if you think about, kind of a bummer.
Alternately, the onset of fall brings us into Halloween, a gloriously ghoulish time where we’re confronting our own mortality one monster mask at a time. What better way to both razz and admire the Reaper than with a celebratory song?
Now, keep in mind, Slow Riot’s new, four-song Cathedral EP isn’t exactly an unholy offering for Samhain. There is, however, plenty of brooding being put on display by the Limerick-based line-up of bassist/vocalist Niall Clancy, guitarist Aaron Duff, and drummer Paul Cosgrave.
“Demons” starts the record off glum-but-gorgeous, and utilizes a low-rolling rumble of tom-toms, stark, staccato bursts of guitar, and downcast vocals to get its point across. “I’m caught in the rain and I feel so afraid,” Clancy says with a slate-grey baritone, an intro to a song dabbling in anguish, repeating patterns, and hopelessness. Whatever the greater problem is isn’t described in much detail, but issues of control are presented, with the singer confessing of his muted role in a relationship: “I have always been your mannequin.” At its best, the song feels like a solid mid-album track from the National, though Slow Riot don’t possess the biting, sardonic, self-effacing dark humour of Matt Berninger and co.
This morose mood is maintained for most of the EP, though second track “City of Culture” shakes up the soundscape with a bitter blast of icy post punk. It’s a decidedly nastier number, ratcheted up into the red with fiercely distorted bass damage and an oddly mechanical, 80s industrial-leaning snare drum sound. “You’re looking for a reaction,” Clancy cries at one point, this being his most voice-cracking performance on the effort. It feels a bit meta, with the track trying its best to break you. All the same, the song doesn’t go for the throat enough to shake listeners into submission, nor does its melody hook you in.
Most forgettable is “Adele,” an overly soggy, rote two-note arrangement that hammers in the band’s self-admitted affinity for Interpol. “I am your shadow, you know how much I need you,” Clancy sings. It gets a little louder as it plods along, but not for the benefit of the piece. Senseless and streamlined, it’s Cathedral lowest point, a song delivered without a hope or a prayer.
“Cooper’s Dream” plays the same card, but thankfully rebounds from the uninspired hollowness of the preceding track. It’s more well-rounded, but the shadow act’s closing number still hedges towards the already-branded, sigh-worthy despair of Interpol’s Carlos D. days.
It would seem Slow Riot have been bowing at the altar of a few post-punk and indie gods, but it may be a bit longer before the band possess enough of its own quirks to have people worshipping in their Cathedral.
Review by Gregory Adams