It’s that time again where Heavy Blog sets up the soapbox and lets me shout to the heavens about the best record label around – Holy Roar. Always ambitious and never ceasing to help shine a spotlight on brilliant underground music, I’ve almost been neglecting them in 2019. That’s my cross to bear and I shan’t wield it lightly while I scream from atop the figurative crate. Entry number ten into the hallowed Files belongs to Brighton sci-fi and post-metal fans We Never Learned To Live and their fresh-from-the-press LP The Sleepwalk Transmissions. Head over the jump for big ideas, big grooves, and some quintessentially British sounds.
Dipping the tips of their soul conduits into transhumanist science fiction, WNLTL embrace ideas that would make your average Daily Mail reader shit existential liberal tears. Concept albums are a million miles outside of my regular playground, but the ideas explored on The Sleepwalk Transmissions aren’t so high brow or expansive that a simple fellow like myself can’t follow. Individual laments of technology’s relationship with man (and vice versa) and the impermanence of our memories belong in the worlds of Philip K. Dick – a great track breakdown from the band confirms the author’s influence on the material – but are just as suitable in the context of crushing alternative metal; The worlds of man and machine intertwining through the lyrics of partnered tracks “Android Anaesthetist” and “Human Antenna”, tracks heavy with a mixture of analogue and digital textures.
Others might have failed in the synchronised delivery of message and material, but WNLTL most certainly have not. “Permafrost” and “Luma Non Luma”, as the opening track and lead single respectively provide a soft open into the world of rich, reverb-soaked grooves and chunky post-metal chord stabs that are always threatening to dip into dissonant territory. There are shades of Deftones, Thrice, and Will Haven throughout both, and later in the record during the plate-shifting heaviness of “Wounds Like Wires”, but the hints and flourishes of these band’s influence on WNLTL are just that, passing and temporary. The world-building that these Brightonians are capable of is awe-inspiring, pulling post-rock, shoegaze, and crashing hardcore together into a tangled web of man-made sounds using man-made machines. This might all seem quite lofty, heady even, but the blend of worlds is so seamless that you might wonder if some of the band are already post-metal machines.
Vocalist Seán Mahon acts as both frontman and storyteller, utilising a ludicrous range of techniques from breathy vocals to gut-wrenching screams in the style of traditionally heavy post-metallers Devil Sold His Soul. Mahon’s voice is given the space to shimmer and shine organically during the almost spoken word section of “Wounds Like Wires, his bare voice ensuring the human element of the subject matter is not lost. Fittingly there are bountiful moments of vocal layering and harmonising that take on a much more digital sound; we can still tell there’s a human making these noises but with the reverbs, delays, and distortions the vocal element of the band becomes something more than human.
It’s such an interesting balance when taking into account the subject matter of The Sleepwalk Transmissions. The sounds and tones aren’t human, but they’re being performed by humans behind instruments with digital interfaces… I dunno. Maybe I’ve lost myself in it a little bit. All I know is I fucking love belting out this lyric from “Android Anaesthetist” – “Is there anyone even out there?”. I don’t know sir, but I sure would like to know! It’s not all man vs machine though. ” Retreat Syndrome” and the gripping closer “Radio Silence” both feel as personal as any of your favourite heartbreak/melancholy moments from ‘post’ history, the uplifting nature of this kind of music given a chance to take hold and shake the grime from your pores.
We Never Learned To Live show clear signs of growth on their sophomore record, building and expanding on ideas without sacrificing any of their exuberant, pummeling metal. The Sleepwalk Transmissions will chart as one of my favourite releases this year that doesn’t harshly grind or savagely berate with beatdowns, all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope to hear some of this live. This is another stunning release from Holy Roar, one that I can see pulling fans of different bands on the label together. I don’t know if you could call it that optimistic a record, but it still made me smile a bunch before the existential dread set in. The band’s own blurb cracked one last smile on my slowly mechanising face: “Post-rock inspired cathartic misery.”