Review Summary: At once a phenomenally affecting blend of disparate influences and a testament to the still-uncharted possibilities of lo-fi.
It’s both surprising and understandable that, since 2008, so few musicians have taken significant influence from Have a Nice Life’s Deathconsciousness
. On the one hand, the lo-fi production that Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga employed was simple (essentially just taking black metal production techniques and putting them in a non-metal context), cheap, and easy for any musician to replicate, especially since the band listed their equipment in the liner notes; yet these techniques had a jaw-dropping effect, making an album that was recorded in an apartment sound like it was reverberating off the walls of a massive auditorium. On the other hand, Deathconsciousness
was also massive in many other respects, an 85-minute behemoth of an album that combined so many disparate genres as to be near-unclassifiable and was accompanied by a 70-page booklet diving into its complex, heady, mysterious concept. If you’re a new band looking to Deathconsciousness
for inspiration, just where the hell do you take that?
Perhaps Have a Nice Life first had to release The Unnatural World
and scale back their intellectual excesses, but it seems that other bands are finally figuring out how to take elements of Have a Nice Life’s lo-fi sound and build them into something new. I first noticed this development with last year’s Pendulum
by Alter, which used similar production techniques to enhance its brand of grimy, somber shoegaze. And now French band The Dead Mantra has taken the baton for their sophomore effort, Saudade Forever
, Saudade Forever
claims a striking variety of generic influences, but its unique blend of genres bares sharper teeth and leaner legs than its spiritual predecessor. The title track propels itself through tumultuous post-hardcore crescendos, starting at a deliberate pace and then erupting into a steadily vigorous stampede. “Luxury Shopping” centers around an electronic drone that grows to an ear-splitting cacophony as the vocalist roars in static fuzz. The Dead Mantra sometimes pulls back the reins and deliver something more subdued, as with the post-punk groove of “Lately” and the glacial, gloomy closer “Window,” yet they manage to do so without losing the album’s taut energy.
The Dead Mantra also excels at transforming and embellishing the genres that form their sound in fresh and exciting ways. This skill is perhaps best exemplified in standout track “The Ropes.” The chorus of “The Ropes” is simple yet effective shoegaze, solemn and densely layered for maximum emotional impact. The verses, however, are something else entirely, built on a sparse foundation of a crooked drum beat and an unusually crisp bass riff. The contrast between the two is immediately striking, and makes the track as a whole infectious and memorable. Saudade Forever
is full of these idiosyncratic gems.
What pulls it all together, makes the album feel cohesive despite jumping between genres and influences, is the production, that paradoxically immense lo-fi sound that Have a Nice Life pioneered. It has much the same effect here as it did on Deathconsciousness
, except that Saudade Forever
is less than half as long. So, rather than making an already gigantic, cerebral epic feel even bigger, the production on this album transforms thirty-seven minutes of disparate sounds into a vast yet intimate journey. Beyond just a phenomenally affecting blend of influences, Saudade Forever
is a testament to the still-uncharted possibilities of lo-fi.