Since forming in 2011 in Los Angeles, Beware of Darkness has become a fixture in alternative rock circles, opening for acts such as Stone Temple Pilots, Bush, and Deftones, and appearing at the 2012 and 2013 SXSW Festivals. 2013 saw the group building on the success of their 2012 EP Howl with a spot on the Uproar Festival lineup this summer supporting the release of their first full-length album Orthodox in May, 2013.
At Uproar, the band’s performance was heavy, with undertones in their sound that echoed the psychedelic era– lots of feedback and reverb. I liked the performance but wasn’t completely bowled over until they performed a cover of the Beatles’ “Yer Blues,” which I described as a ballsy move that totally paid off. By the time they closed their set with “Howl,” I was sold entirely. They’re a trio– Kyle Nicolaides on vocals and guitar, Daniel Curcio on bass, and Tony Cupito on drums– but the size of their sound belies the size of the group. In live performance, they’re loud and large. On Orthodox, they take the sound to a near-symphonic place.
Calling music “alternative” reminds me of the thing people often say about pornography: “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.” The alternative moniker encompasses so many types of music– from soft poppy melodies to electronic sounds– that the term alternative often overshadows rock, and at their core, Beware of Darkness is a rock band. Their overall sound is something like British Invasion by way of the Sunset Strip. The influences of the late 1960s are clearly apparent on Orthodox– Led Zeppelin and the Beatles figure prominently– but you’ll also hear guitar riffs and heavy drumming that characterize later eras. The result is complex, enough variation between tracks to keep things interesting but enough inherent style to maintain focus. It’s a fascinating trip.
1) Howl: Plenty of distortion on guitar provides a psychedelic blues-rock feel, balanced with a healthy dose of anarchy.
2) Sweet Girl: The alternative ( I still can’t define it but I know it when I hear it) sound is much more apparent on this track, blending a funky hook in a low register with resonant guitar. There’s a hint of early rock’s rebellious noise, the vocals remind me of “Wild Thing” (The Troggs’ version, not Sam Kinison’s).
3) Ghost Town: Here the sound goes much darker, with bass, strings, and kick drum. The vocals are like a chant that drives home the eerie tone of the lyrics.
4) Amen Amen: There’s a gospel-styled keyboard from Nicolaides running through (a small nod to the song title, I presume), prominent in the opening bars and under the verses. The choruses open up to big vocals and a howling guitar at the bridge.
5) All Who Remain: The construction on this track seems simple, but the rhythm section takes center, which provides appealing grounding for the vocals. The guitar becomes that much more powerful when it finally joins the mix.
6) Heart Attack: A punk-influenced feel comes to the fore on this track with a faster tempo, modest chord structure, and howling vocals. The lyrics also say fuck a lot.
7) Morning Tea: Minor chords on piano, nihilist lyrics– I think my mother died today, or was it yesterday? It’s hard to say– quiet tone on the lyrics. It’s a dark place to hear.
8) End of the World: Cheerful tone in the chords, but the minor key on piano, and the angry lyrics create an unsettling mix.
9) Life on Earth?: This is probably a good place to mention that the album is actually organized into four “sides.” Tracks 1-3 fall under the title Ignorance, followed by Loss (4-6), Depression (7-9), and Enlightenment (10-12). This makes more sense tonally than lyrically to my ear, as I think tracks 7-10 show a thematic progression of their own, kind of like a concept album within the album.
10) My Planet is Dead– The tempo picks up here and the anger comes through in more noise (noise is good). The chorus is catchy, as is the guitar riff that accompanies it, but the parts don’t fully hang together as effectively as they do on the earlier tracks.
11) Salvation is Here– See above. Again, the parts are strong, but they don’t come together in a whole in as satisfying a manner as they do on the first five tracks.
12) Hummingbird– At Uproar I talked briefly with Kyle Nicolaides about our mutual Beatles love. When I first heard this track– so clearly inspired by “Blackbird”– I thought perhaps he was taking it a bit too far, but the final bars establish the bright line between derivation and tribute.
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