The Virginmarys | Divides | Rating: 9.5/11 |
After, let’s say, three listens to The Virginmarys’ sophomore album, Divides, what becomes clear as crystal is the fact that Ally Dickaty (vox/guitar), Danny Dolan (drums), and Matt Rose (bass) have grasped the art of harnessing one’s emotional capacity for anarchy. Their 2013 debut, King of Conflict, laid a solid bit of track upon which to chug along and progress and progress, they did. By the way, you probably shouldn’t play this record while driving on open roads. Just an FYI.
More than simply a title, Divides is the thematic picture painted by the Macclesfield, England trio. That which divides (and sometimes conquers) we hapless members of society/the human race: injustice, poverty, disillusionment, class, the media and its fucked up agenda, and the overall current state of existence in their U.K. homeland, all while leaving a little space for the beauty and redeeming power of love to allow the luxury of hope that the divisions may heal. Why so open and honest, Dickaty? Why the hell not? Belt about the truth that you know and hearts and minds will probably follow. That’s a fair assessment of the punk rock ethos.
Divides stands up like a true British rock/punk rock record: no apologies, high octane and raging against the machine and its ills, real or perceived. Good God, but this record is loud and meant for listeners who appreciate a band brashly leaning into their material and creating an outright agitated headspace. There’s really no other option. As the album’s first single, the battle cry “Into Dust” was a heady harbinger of Divides’ assets: tighter structured songs, elevated dialogue, hooks and pop melodies to spare, and a bigger sonic scope for a mere three-piece. The echo chambered percussion of Dolan And Rose and vocal reverb kicking off opener “Push The Pedal” is a seductive, yet ominous combination. With Dickaty’s delivery volleying between low key lulling and an open throat screech (but nowhere near the heights reached later on), it’s an exercise in tension and release, which sets the table for the 11 songs to follow.
The fact is here we have a full-length album (10 songs or more) without a single filler track in the mix: not in tone, temperament, instrumentation or intent. The media condemnation in “Kill The Messenger” is visceral while the almost methodical thrust and modulated lyrical delivery of “For You My Love” has an oddly soulful current running underneath. The songs flow into and through one another and even when things downshift (not too often but it does happen) there’s no loss in momentum. “I Wanna Take You Home” (featuring Dolan’s devastatingly on point drum fills and Dickaty’s parallel guitar runs) may be the best song that Stone Temple Pilots never wrote, complete with a filthy thought or two. That it should be followed by “Walk In My Shoes” shouldn’t work, but it does damned well: it’s a curious precipice to dangle us on but we’re effectively moved to where they want us by their will. Among the 12 songs, “Walking…” may be the most surprising of the bunch due to the fact that its backbone arrangement is so lofty that, if given a nudge or two in the right direction, it could probably shift towards the orchestral even as Dickaty shreds his guttural vocal cords railing against class distinction. Here’s hoping there were extra bottles of Clear Voice or Farley’s Entertainer’s Secret on hand during its recording.
That aforementioned hope and love surfaces with a startling frankness in the devotion to not suffering alone, “Moths To A Flame.” Dickaty asserts, “When we both feel this pain we’re one and the same,” and in doing so, he places himself squarely level with his brothers and sisters in the dark: you’ve been there, he’s been there, we’re there together. Yet another momentous emotional shift plays out and it’s worthy of respect. As a complete rock body of work, Divides is dynamically robust in its raw, primal purity and unabashed angst yet never sacrifices the craft of writing a damned strong, thought-full song. So now a bar has officially been set and good luck to all upcoming 2016 rock releases in reaching, let alone surpassing, what Divides achieves. In the live arena, I suspect this album is going to leave a mark – mainly in the form of bruises – but The Virginmarys aren’t pulling any punches and they’re a better band for it.