1999 was a year of planting seeds. In 1999, MySpace officially launched, Napster became a reality, and Britney Spears launched her debut album. The second wave of Star Wars movies began, and The Matrix was released. Lance Armstrong won his first Tour De France. Far into the depths of unknown musical releases, a small band named dredg from Los Gatos, California released their first full length album, driving away from their rap rock past to a raw, edgy sound. Leitmotif shows a band not searching for commercial success and staying true to what they believe, making music that they feel inspired to make at that very time in their lives.
Gavin Hayes- Vocals and Guitar
Mark Engles- Guitar
Drew Roulette- Bass
Dino Campanella- Drums and Piano
Shannon Harris: Vocals on Traversing in the Arctic Cold, We Search for the Spirit of Yuta
Leitmotif finds dredg just finding their true inspiration into music. Their defining concepts of change and beauty form together in this album. The band issued this statement about their album: "We decided to call this release 'Leitmotif' because we wrote our music based upon the adventures of a wise man who traveled around the world to become a pure soul." The music contains edgy guitars mixed with vibrant bass and powerful drums. On this album, dredg shows a sound that they would soon abandon almost entirely on their next release, El Cielo. Gavin Hayes makes his final appearance as a guitar player, later stepping to mainly a vocalist and playing the occasional lap steel guitar. Still, this album plants seeds for their growth and this album alone got them signed to Interscope Records, who have given them more than enough freedom to create the music they feel is right and had no influence whatsoever on the band's progression or sound.
The album opens strongly with Symbol Song. The song opens with a faint noise that slowly crescendos for about 30 seconds. Distorted bass, guitar, and drum accents enter. The guitar plays the main melodic theme, as the bass only accents the beginning of the riff. The drums become progressively more distinguished before launching into a full beat at 1:20. The riff varies a bit to allow Gavin to sing his first vocals of the album. After the verse, the song enters a catchy enough chorus, but still nothing cheesy. The song follows a typical rock song format, ABABCAB. The C section isn't so much of a bridge as it is the verse without lyrics. However, the riffing is great and definitely a surprise for dredg fans who hear El Cielo or Catch Without Arms before Leitmotif. The song directly flows into the second track, Movement 1: @45N, 180W. This location is only the Pacific Ocean, and the only thing worth noticing about the area is that 180W is the International Date Line. The track is just over a minute and just a continuation and variation of the main riff from Symbol Song.
Lechium continues the strong opening to the album. Lechium builds slowly, starting with a sparse guitar riff and the bass plucking quickly on the same note. Dino makes some cymbal crashes here and there before launching into a 6/8 feel rock beat, switching between a snare-driven variant and a cymbal-driven variant. Mark plays some great lead guitar, given a chance to shine with Gavin playing rhythm underneath him. The song switches to a heavy section at about 1:45. With that section, dredg creates music that is actually...headbangable? Yikes. The section is short lived, as the song comes back down for the verse of Gavin singing. The song has a climatic chorus that showcases dredg's mastery of the 6/8 feel. After another verse and chorus, everything drops out but the drums and Gavin "ahhing" a melody. Guitar enters with a riff, and then Mark adds a lead harmony overtop. Then the song climaxes at its heaviest moment, with Gavin screaming, another surprise to El Cielo fans. The song launches back into the chorus and then an instrumental outro similar to the intro.
After a few forgettable tracks, a song recognized with dredg fans as the slogan of dredg, Penguins in the Desert, unleashes its fury. A simple yet powerful guitar riff opens the song restrained, and then bass and drums enter allowing it to rock. Gavin screams once again, screaming "So you said, so you said it right." He switches from screaming to clean vocals often on the track. This song shows dredg beginning to play around with song formats, introducing the chorus first and not showing the entire idea that they have for the chorus right away. After about a minute and a half, everything drops out except Mark playing around with his delay effects. Bass enters playing the chord tones and Dino plays quietly and sparsely. Gavin enters with vocals, kept in the background for the most part, allowing the whole band to be one sound instead of a vocal-centric band. The guitar riff changes and Gavin ahhs another melody. Dino brings energy progressively back to the song. Gavin stretches for his upper range, something he had not yet mastered on this album, but soon enough will be the best part of his range. The riff becomes broken up at the end of the song, and then finishes with delayed guitar similar to the main riff to lead into the next track, Movement IV: RR. The song showcases the delayed guitar and a deep, rich bass playing a bassline that accompanies the delayed guitar. The riffs change frequently, but often revert back to the original quickly. The song is completely instrumental, albeit some oohing in the background from Gavin. Faint violin can be heard in the outro of the song, along with Mark playing very quietly.
Leitmotif, while very unlike dredg in its raw and unrefined sound, is a fantastic album with great promise that would eventually be capitalized on. It would be interesting to see dredg return to this sound and refine it further, as their experience in touring and music has vastly grown in the past 7 years.
Penguins in the Desert