It’s always great to see a band make massive strides between records, to see them up their game, hone their art and really lock into their sound, and such is the case with Danish hard rockers FOREVER STILL. It barely takes the first two tracks on their new concept album, Tied Down, to show how FOREVER STILL have improved by leaps and bounds in every way from their fairly underwhelming Breaking Free EP, with better production, instrumentation, catchier melodies and much a stronger grip on their own sonic identity.
The shades of EVANESCENCE that were strong on Breaking Free are still here, but its what EVANCESCENCE would have been if produced by Christopher Nolan: what would have been gothic melodrama is turned into something more gritty, emotionally resonant, and incredibly dark.
It’s hard to give this album a track-by-track review, because it is so much about the journey of its protagonist, in which the two musicians of FOREVER STILL, vocalist Maya Shining and multi-instrumentalist Mikkel Haastrap, display a real emotional investment, creating an intensely personal and introspective odyssey that, as their website puts it, “grapples with a glut of personal issues stemming from depression, anxiety and worthlessness, through to perseverance and recovery”. Shining and Haastrap clearly prioritise the message of each song (and the album as a whole) over showing off their abilities, resulting in songs that are brusque but impactful. Every song is carefully and precisely constructed, and it’s apparent that serious thought having gone into the placement of every hook, riff and melody. They also know when they’ve said what they need to say on each track and move on swiftly. It’s great to see this kind of compositional self-awareness and maturity from such a young band. The album is also appealingly compact into a very digestible 34 minutes, easily inviting multiple spins. And this is highly recommended because this is an album that rewards the listener with new discoveries on each listen. But the short run times don’t stop either musician from making their presence felt.
One of the albums biggest strengths is Shining’s voice. It cracks, wavers and simply overflows with emotion, and at times breaks into a piercing scream like she can barley control herself. Like Virgil to the listener’s Dante, Shining guides us through the psychological Inferno crafted in Haastrap’s intricate, atmospheric soundscapes. In the beginning, she’s a slave to her demons, a whirlwind of rage and pain. As the album progresses, she communicates utter despair, self-loathing, loneliness, desperation, loss, numbness and painful introspection, all the while underlined with heart-breaking vulnerability and a fierce determination to battle through it all that just draws the listener in. Particularly, her performance on Miss Madness, a heart-rending ballad that follows the narrator’s breakdown and suicide attempt, is simply phenomenal. Another standout is Your Light, where Shining displays a touching mix of pity for her hopelessly toxic partner’s weakness and determination to move on that feels utterly real. By the time she arrives at the closing title track, there is still darkness there (the road to full recovery is a long one) but there is a sense of hope and fresh perspective that was not there before. It feels like a release, and one that is genuinely deserved.
As brilliant as Shining’s vocals are, Haastrap also shines with some outstanding instrumental support. The sound mixing is vaguely reminiscent of KATATONIA, in that the instruments are nicely blended together into more of a single sonic force rather than a distinct group of instruments. Nevertheless, each instrument used gets a standout moment throughout the album: the guitar work is very diverse, and there are some fantastic riffs on all the songs, whilst the drumming, particularly on Awake the Fire, is superb and never feels intrusive. The album is also laced with haunting piano, electronics and audio samples that are utilised sparingly but to fantastic and occasionally devastating effect. The only problem is that the dominance of the vocals causes some fantastic moments to initially slip under the radar.
In summary, Tied Down is a swift, impactful album of heartfelt, introspective, grungy gothic rock from a band whose blossoming abilities and musical craftsmanship promise great things in the future.
Tied Down is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.
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