I know some of you, dear readers, feel a pang of annoyance every time we review an album that is barely metal or not at all. “Why are you reviewing this?” you ask. “This is Angry Metal Guy, not Perturbed Rock Person!” And you’re right, of course, but there’s several good reasons to review these cases anyway. One of the band members may be a prominent metal figure, like that John Garcia country album or the recent indie-pop Steven Wilson. In other cases, it may be close enough to metal to be interesting to you lot, or the music exhibits some of its characteristics (Chelsea Wolfe.) And sometimes there’s a simple case of mislabeling the genre, which isn’t always discovered until the reviewer has committed to the review. The Living, a collective of young upstarts from San Francisco, fit into two of these categories simultaneously: although labeled progressive metal, their sound exhibits more characteristics of prog rock, grunge and shoegaze, while regularly dipping into post-metal density to emphasize the emotional backbone. The biggest reason for me to write this review though: these guys are pretty damn good and they’re worth hearing regardless of genre discussions.
The amount of influences on The Living is enormous. The bass lines have a minor note of Gothic groove that tastes like The Cure, particularly on ”Delay,” “Deceiver” and “No Love Gets Away,” and the morose fog of Soundgarden pervades the atmosphere. When the fog turns thick and the emotions grow heavy, a wall of shimmering and buzzing guitars is pulled up from the swamps of Isis, though the music always remains predominantly melodic, injecting squealing emotive solos or the fragile yet piercing plucks and tremolo storms of Explosions in the Sky. The combination of these elements create a mood like a younger brother to Impure Wilhelmina. Above it all, Derek Barnes showcases his vocals, a youthful but powerful baritone with a huge emotional presence. He anchors the music with gravitas and an earnestness that makes the music that much more convincing.
The songwriting is relatively straightforward, foregoing complex patterns in favor of solid hooks and addictive riffs. The tail of the album, the 7+ minute tracks “Corpse Pose” and “Headless Pillow,” are the most progressive of the list, using extended instrumental sections that build upon the emotional core, and the latter especially proves a climactic piece of dramatic writing. The second half does cycle its riff slightly too long, a quality it shares with the extended bridge of “No Love Gets Away,” and sometimes I do wish for a little more power and punch across the album. But on the whole, these are minor complaints that don’t do much to impact the overall quality of The Living.
The production leaves little to complain about either. The sound is clear and well-developed, the mix carefully considered and the dynamic range more than reasonable. Its strongest quality is the feeling of intimacy the album breathes; it sounds like it’s been recorded in a cozy but lonely room, a place that held happy memories once, but no longer. Details like a minor reverb on the vocals and the dynamics between quiet emptiness and powerful waves of sound show the care that went into the album, especially for a self-produced debut.
The Living have taken a myriad of influences and created a powerful statement, melding them into an amalgam of emotional resonance and solid songwriting. It’s remarkable how so many sources of inspiration can come together in such an original and very personal style. Despite a few dips, the excellent hooks and a good feel for dynamics create the illusion of a more experienced band, and if they keep developing their sound they may just become one of the major modern rock acts in the Bay Area.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Websites: thelivingsf.bandcamp.com | thelivingbandofficial.com | facebook.com/thelivingbandofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 22nd, 2017