A review of Thresholds
the debut album by Severance
by Ed Shorrock for Absolution
Reviewing a debut album is a daunting task for a reviewer as much as it is a worry for a band. It is made all the more challenging when the first release for the album ‘proper’ is so strong – New Cult – which was unleashed in November 2016. That said, we always had a strong idea about what this four piece from Monterrey, Mexico, was going to be about with the 2015 releases of two tracks from the album – The Day That The Sun Never Sets and The Hallway. The single ‘The Curse on You’ served to reinforce that expectation.
I am indebted to the band and close friends for their assistance with this review. A review without research or time and effort spent on exploring lyrics and ideas is half the review it should be.
So what to make of this debut album? First things first. In the English speaking world we take it for granted that everyone else is going to sing English when it is not the band’s mother tongue. Not only do they have to put the instrumentals together but they have to think and write as much as a native speaker as they can to conform to expectations. That is a task I do not envy, especially when it comes to dealing with the darker, more obscure topics that bands of this genre tackle. I get the easy, but highly enjoyable job. Severance and their vocalist, Rul Delirio, have managed to pull this off with some style.
The overall style is definitely in the gothic rock bracket but I used the word ‘bracket’ deliberately. Severance, it seems to me, have a pretty straightforward approach to the music – simple, memorable riffs, unfussy production, gutsy vocals and large dash of spirituality, emotional reflection and mythology in the lyrics which makes for a delightfully dark brew.
The album has a classic structure to it with an introductory instrumental track ‘At The Doorway’. It has a foreboding feel to it, almost as if there were footsteps approaching an entrance to a gateway which lies ahead. Built on simple, staccato riffs which rise to crescendos, accompanied by heavily distorted notes and feedback, which then back off and gradually die away altogether, this opening is finished off with the shimmer of a cymbal. This sets up the expectation for the rest of the album and, more specifically, the next song, The Escapist.
It is no coincidence that The Escapist follows At The Doorway. Its lyrics ‘Across the skies beyond the earth / This soil reveals the truth and more’ are based on the Incan stories of the Gate of the Gods – a dimensional doorway carved in rock near Lake Titicaca in Peru. When the Spanish Conquistadors looted Incan treasures, one priest from the Temple of the Seven Rays fled with a sacred golden disk known as “the key of the gods of the seven rays”. He discovered the gate which was being watched over by shaman priests and, after a short ritual during which blue light came from inside the tunnel, the disk was taken inside by the shaman priest and never seen again – “My skin is glowing, my matter is changing”.
The track is led by a chunky bass line which is ever-present with delicate guitar work using the clean, reverberating tones we recognise from others, but interspersed with heavier solos towards the end. The song is one of the lighter ones and bounces lightly on its notes. Of particular note is the Spanish inflections given to the lyrics – far from detracting from it, it enhances the whole feeling when listening to it.
Continuing with the theme of mythology and also occult influences is the outstanding New Cult. It starts off with one of those riffs which we want to hear all the time – simple but devastating, leading into verse. There is no doubting in my mind that the chorus in this song ‘Young blood this is new cult / New breed know your old god / Young blood this is new word / Show your love’ is one of the most memorable – a strong, vivid and powerful set of words belted out by Rul, which is built up to by a verse and pre-chorus which gather intensity as the song progresses. If truth be told, I can also almost picture the audience, hands aloft, singing along to the chorus. The bottom line with this track? Earworm with the opening riff and the chorus.
As the title might suggest it deals with the human race’s need to worship gods, however false they might be, in order to deal with the ‘…scars and years each of your sins…this is the end of these times of need.’ While the themes may have originated in Lovecraft’s earlier work ‘Dagon’, to be developed in his more famous work ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, the inspiration can clearly be seen. Funny how the human race always seems never to be content with its own existence and looks to others for redemption when the answers lie in its own hands…..
These three tracks probably lean the most heavily on mystical concepts, with New Cult being the introductory song to a set of three classic gothic rock tracks.
No sooner has New Cult finished than we are bounced into The Curse On You. Another bass line led track which has echoes of the bass line from Lucretia My Reflection from Floodland – but only echoes. Chiming in a few bars later is a divinely soft guitar which carries the melody like a wave before the track opens up with the sinister lyric ‘Have you seen yourself on a plate for the gods?’ before finishing the verse and moving on to a trademark raucous chorus ‘try screaming, try crying to reach for the light’.
This song displays many of the song-writing and lyrical skills of the band for me, plus it is not overproduced. It has clean lines so that you get the feeling that hearing Severance live will be as good, if not better than on CD or download. The absence of reliance on production to make a band’s sound is a good indication that they will be able to carry it off on stage.
Need You Back picks up the tempo with a fast, fuzzy bass before settling down to a more regular pace. It is a classic rock track – a tale of love lost, an attempt to recover it but ultimately futile – ‘you came back but is not you anymore / the devil play his game, I can’t touch you…’. The depths of despair come in the chorus where the return of a loved one is needed so much that Rul depicts himself as a Wiccaman (based on Wiccan concepts) invoking magic to bring it about…‘I’m calling like a Wiccaman’. By this stage we have come to expect melody, guitar work and drums working in harmony. Those choruses…..
The intensity of the previous three tracks is doused by a gentler mid-album instrumental, Believers. It is similar in style to ‘At The Doorway’, in its use of a single guitar as a backbone but this time we have the sound of waves lapping against the shoreline as a backdrop. It is almost as if it is an answer to the line we heard in Need You Back – ‘Meanwhile you’re dragging into the fatal wave’ and that the Believers are being washed up on the beach in readiness for the next instalment.
There is no respite. We are pitched into a full frontal punk-influenced number, Asphyxia. Instead of the gentle timbre of Rul’s voice at the outset that we expect, which is only opened up to full throttle in the rousing choruses of the earlier numbers, we get a harsher, more menacing tone. The punk credentials are underlined by the fact that this song runs for just over two and a half minutes – full of aggression, attacking guitar and punching bass. The title, Asphyxia, points to a tightly crafted piece which leaves little room for the mind to wander, let alone the listener to breathe. It may just be my take on the lyrics but ‘Asphyxia / A door you are / Such a little piece of my world / To the dark corners of my mind / The key you are’ is not a literal reference but more to the fact that when faced with an oppressive and seemingly unyielding situation, it is only then that the true values and dark secrets of the mind are revealed. We are being invited to push the boundaries, get out of our comfort zone and see who we really are – even though we don’t really know.
Back on more familiar territory with The Day That The Sun Never Sets. Another wonderfully simple introduction – Severance specialise in these. A further element which strikes me about this album is the drums. Everyone listens to the vocals and guitar, even the bass sometimes, but drums seem to be taken as a given. Wrong! They add so much to the overall feel of an album and Marco has a deft touch when it comes to hi-hat work in particular I find. This track is no exception, transitioning between verse and chorus seamlessly. My favourite section in this track is towards the end after the two main verses and choruses where the song is reduced to a simple drum beat and muted guitar chords in a familiar minor downward progression, concluding with an almost cathartic outburst of ‘The day that the sun…..’.
The Hallway is set up with driving guitars which then subside to allow a more reflective passage. In my ear the lyrics could be speaking to a very personal situation, of a troubled life – I find this to be one of the more disturbing tracks lyrically. The way the lines ‘little Jesus what you got for me / gimme a prayer or gimme salvation / on a night like this’ are delivered sound like a cry for help from the anguish which is present in the hallway of the mind. It is as if the mind is an echo chamber dealing with anguish – ‘Sick of tiny voices calling / calling on my back’ – but then turns to an outward expression of desire as if the pain is being channelled in to a different emotion and translated into physical form – ‘what that you got for me / will you keep it for yourself….Forever’.
The music underpinning these words is also quite jarring, as if to say that there is a sense of disbelief about the words being spoken. They then lead into a customary strong chorus which also rounds off the song.
The last track on the album (before the remix of The Day That The Sun Never Sets) is Shell my Skin. A reflective song without the trademark power choruses it clearly deals with personal emotions and relationships – could the reference to ‘shell’ be a twist on shedding skin? The lyrics point towards the self-doubt in dealing with difficult situations, but which ultimately result in individuals who learn from their experiences – ‘I’ve watched the mountains change’. The music is a perfect accompaniment to the emotions – the right balance of guitar, bass and percussion pausing and accelerating in exactly the right places.
So what do we make of Severance’s debut album in the round? I have high hopes for this quartet. In a day and age when the gothic rock scene seems dominated by older acts, for the usual understandable reasons, it is extremely exciting to hear new sounds which are faithful to their roots but are not a carbon copy. They have understood the basic building blocks and added their own twist.
Enough rabbiting on from me, have a listen yourself.