I arrive at Anticline‘s Urgency EP with the strength of their singles sitting like the spicy aftermath of a powerful mint. I’m interested to see what the EP reveals, and it doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I turned down a request to review their 2018 EP Hesitancy. Something just wasn’t quite there for me. Whether it’s that I’ve warmed up to Anticline after seeing their on-stage professionalism and passion since then, or that the two singles released so far have been impressively solid, I had high hopes for what I’d find in Urgency.
The EP artwork presents uniquely in pastel – unusual imagery for this typically dark heavy music scene – with menacing canine teeth juxtaposed to a human face. I wondered how this multicoloured painting tied in to what was being shared in the EP, and whether it tied the songs together or was merely a cool painting that they opted for as the cover.
“Headspinning Bias”‘ pace and drive is the perfect place to start the Urgency ‘show’, given it showcases a fullness of sound and excitement of energy. Zig-zagging and flaring, the listener is pulled progressively downward into a dissonant experience, pushed forward by rhythmic waves and unwavering distaste.
The song’s midway point seems purpose-built for the parting of the mosh waters and a hefty throwdown. “Headspinning Bias”‘s sections and shifts of pace and mood are enthralling, and it vibes like an unfolding story. Thematically I understand it as someone realising another’s true nature and the impact this has had upon them. It’s a strong and hype-building track, satisfyingly topped off with a deep and low vocal attack at its end. [A more detailed take on this song can be found here.]
The second track (“Paroxysm (Everything Came Pouring Out)”) is just as huge, and the listener is thrust immediately into the chaotic eye of a sonic storm. Pushed about by waves of riffs, it’s initially hard to find anything resembling stability. With a pace barely able to be kept up with, the song lurches forward, with hectic drumming mirroring a racing pulse. The idea of a paroxysm or an attack of sorts seems to match this, and panic is palpable in voice as well as heightened vibe.. a sense of urgency, one might say. (It’s me, I might say that.)
The clarity of production is important to note here (shout out to Jamie Marinos), with every thud of the drums reverberating through me, and every micro pause along the way feeling like earth itself has stopped turning. Stormy, the riff-infested waters of “Paroxysm (Everything Came Pouring Out)” churn menacingly, darkly maneouvering us toward a midpoint that’s more nu metal than straight-laced metalcore. Distorted and smoothly landing rhythmic punches, I’m here for this.
As the song lifts the distortion and arrives back in hardcore land, it’s clear to me that it’s an exploration of sorts; where scenes are being painted as the song progresses. I suddenly remember that when I spoke to the band about “Headspinning Bias”, that they had described the process of creating music in this way, intending to use words and themes to “paint vague ideas in the listener’s mind”, explaining that “It’s like colour on canvas forming abstract shapes, punctuated with ultra-direct and aggressive moments to keep the vibe going, tie things together and (hopefully) give people something to yell back at us.”
And suddenly the artwork makes more sense in its use of paint and abstract imagery, and also does this patchwork nature of song structure. Anticline listeners aren’t supposed to find consistency in their songs – they’re needing to lean into the moods and scenes that are being presented by the band. When vocalist Dylan Volk enunciates “I am not fit to endure this fucking fear” while a guitar squeals and the drums rumble, it’s a mood of a breaking point, one which shatters normalcy.
I can’t listen to “In the Open” without it feeling a little comically self-deprecating based on the music video. But the song is a dark march of reality, perhaps commentary on life as a musician. As with the song before it, “In the Open” yanks the listener forward, much like a dog on a lead suddenly taking off after a cat with a sprint. In this breakneck wildness, the drums hit like a headache (a headache that you love to have), and internal butterflies become agitated to the point of anxiousness.
If you can call it a chorus, the repetition of “Weak, I’m living out a fucking hollow existence” seems far too enjoyable instrumentally for the darkness of what’s being shared in the lyrics. I could also say the same for the slow climb in the verse after it that culminates into a satisfying as fuck breakdown moment. I’m kept entertained and buzzing throughout the track, through to its sinking end. Entertainment in the moment aside, I do have a millisecond of wondering about memorability and the long term sticking factor of these songs while at the midway mark of Urgency..
“Bent Pace” paints something unexpected with its clarity of instrumentation, like a question mark in the quiet. But despite the clarity, it’s an uneasy mood. The repeated line of being finally “gifted with strength” is audible, where solid riffs and steady pace presents as unwavering.
“You can hear me, right?” is virtually sung in its delivery, and it’s somewhat eerie how every facet of the band has collected to express the same sentiment. The strength is shown to present an unwavering desire to move ahead without others (or at least without the limited beliefs of others) preventing them from doing so. There’s a satisfaction in seeing the concept of urgency in the EP title show up in an “it’s now or never” idea when it comes to progress (“If it doesn’t fucking happen now then it won’t”). A chaotic and defiant last word lands with piercing squeals and instrumental punches.
Justice For The Damned‘s vocalist Bobak Rafiee features on “Pitch Black”, which is a optimistic note from the start, given I hear some similarity to “Headspinning Bias”‘s riff early on. I’m again impressed by the production and how full of sound Urgency is. A riff chases its own tail while panicked self-hatred oozes out lyrically. Drums pull focus, as does the slow burn ache via guitar. Let’s take a moment to recognise the use of the word “milieu” in the lyrics and how, despite directness and how factual the lyrics are, there’s a poetic quality to them.
A jaw-dropping shift around the midway point takes solid bleakness and morphs it into a oppressive fog, very much fitting to the line “I see no light, putrid lakes of tar”. It’s never a dull moment when it comes to song structure and the means of Anticline telling their story via song.
The riff sameness gets to me on “Pitch Black” when we again return to a looped feeling moment, but I soften when I hear/read the line “When your choices don’t change things, it all loses worth”. I wonder if this never-changing hopelessness may be precisely what Anticline were going for, and what they were deliberately painting with sound. The Bobak feature moment is as dark and ‘holy shit!’ heavy as one might expect, as an all-surrounding moment is deftly presented by the instrumentation.
Seeming to save the best for last, “Futurum Obscurus” lands with that delectable rounded heaviness that they’ve presented throughout Urgency. I can’t work out if it’s a conversation with another person or themselves, but it details a shedding off the past and its ideals. Steady and pleading, the track’s cavernous moments reveal a heavy defeat.
Most appealing to me is how the blunt intensity shifts at the midway point of the track into something searching and melodic. I’m a fan. Sung in a way that has it drift and envelope the listener, the sentiment of letting yourself “go to seed” seems like a pretty way of talking about cycles (or death even). Its repetition overlaid the anguished vocal lows is stunning, feeling like a full circle moment that’s perfect for the end of the EP.
Here in the aftermath, I understand the urgency referred to in the title as being something that has seeped into the veins of these songs. The urgency to escape, or take harmful action, or to leave others behind. Urgency feels like an aching void at one’s chest, like a hole that’s been blown through one’s reality is still smoking in its freshness.
While I wholeheartedly respect the approach that Anticline have in their process of making songs, I feel like it’ll make for a challenging task to have the individual tracks carry memorability. But as a listen to Urgency in its entirety, the sense of sameness at times was well and truly erased by the landing of ‘Holy shit!’ moments of impressiveness. Urgency is solid and comes with a buzzing electric current of potential.
Though pace shifts and unexpected sections give flavour to what could otherwise be seen as 'samey', I'm keen to see whether these tracks have staying power long into the future.
Top notch production on these creative explorations of moods and ideas. Many satisfying surprises along the way.