Drown This City‘s announcement of signing with UNFD came along with the news of the band releasing Alpha // Survivor EP. From the artwork and first single “In Your Image” onward, I was curious about how the concept of duality would be expressed by the EP, fully aware of the fact that seemingly contradicting parts can coexist alongside each other. In vocalist Alex Reade’s words “You can be the most powerful creator in one moment, and the weakest broken soul in the next, it’s just a choice, and the battle is only ever within yourself and with your thoughts”. Alex also referred to “an ongoing quest for self-discovery and empowerment” and the idea of embracing one’s own power, even if it’s unpopular or lonely. I was keen to see what these ideas would sound like when brought to life via the EP by Alex, Matthew Bean (vocals/bass), Josh Renjen (guitar), Laurence Appleby (guitar), and Anthony Pallas (drums).
Alpha // Survivor‘s opening track “Don’t Forget To” is a 36 second instrumental piece where distant and barely audible voice and instrumentation explode into life. The ominous tones seem to be a foreshadowing of what’s on the way, but I wasn’t entirely sure why this track couldn’t have bonded with the second track, “Stay Broken”, as a longer introduction.
Things decidedly kick in with “Stay Broken”, and the EP’s title are the first words uttered. Metalcore guitar intricacy coupled with rapid-fire rhythms set a scene of urgency, as the song reveals itself. Vocals that shift from roars to compassionate clean singing have “Stay Broken” lyrically read like an open letter to another, or perhaps (with the theme of duality) have two sides combine. Hitting highest heights and striking sharp underlines with roars, it felt like a combination of compassion and fight, and this conflict seemed to be most clearly presented by guitar.
Strength abounds on “Stay Broken”, where it becomes apparent (to me, at least) that the ‘Alpha Survivor’ has clawed to where she is, and takes the bitter pills she’s given with a smile on her face, instead of revealing the weakness of distaste. As if to reflect this strength, Alex’s voice grows fangs and claws with the line of “We will inherit the earth”.
In trying to get my head around the ‘story’ the song (and the EP as a whole) is sharing, my focus frequently goes to the vocals. It came across like there was acceptance of certain elements dying, and how both will rise up with a weight shared. Though “Stay Broken” feels musically more complex and tense as the song comes to its end, the lyrical message is made clear with “Alpha, realise your power”.
Drown This City’s freshly released music video for lead single “In Your Image” is a welcome additional piece to the puzzle of trying to understand what’s being shared. Duality is presented by Alex trying to break through to herself, literally screaming to be heard. As I had shared when the single released, gritty roars for attention call through instrumental layers of intricacy and thumping tension is laid plain by drums. Momentarily through the track, clarity of sound, voice, and mind shine through, urging to “take this crown as it crumbles” and rise into one’s potential.
While there’s grand lyrical statements and an audible sense of power and strength, I still find myself confused by way of what was being shared. Some lines landed with an internal ‘huh?’ for me, which was a little jarring. Some lyrics stood as prayers, some as commands, some as pleas, some as dismissing frustration. There’s a desperation to be heard at the chorus, a call for a metaphorical torch to be passed, in a quest for one’s survival.
I wondered if “In Your Image” was intending to rouse the ‘victim’ and urge them to find their own power. The musically bombarding and savage song uses searching synth tones, stuttering rhythms, and slamming drums. The whole thing could be taken as a wake up call which intends to grab someone (the self?) by the scruff and shove them. With an ending urgency to match the insistence, the song’s ultimatum of an ending is very fitting!
“Will you fight? Will you stand tall?”
As fourth song “Null” begins, its lighter instrumentation vibes like runaway thoughts. With more layers gradually added to it, a statement of “I am the seeker” is revealed. With vocal effort seeming to be shared between Alex and Matthew, I appreciated the back-and-forth flow of questions and statements.
Though it was instrumentally full and busy, “Null” unfortunately didn’t really grab me as a song. I found the lighter melody that’s noticeable at the verses to be distracting, and there was a lot going on that didn’t feel cohesive. I was keen to understand the song’s inspiration, more than be swept up and away into sky high vocals and instrumental busyness. I feel like the music should be an extension of the message being shared, yet I couldn’t find it.
It felt like there were really important sentiments being shared in “Null” but it didn’t seem like they were unfolded at all. I wondered what the title referred to, and whether it had to do with losing yourself in another. With literal screaming and cavernous deep heaviness in the name of what feels like a warped relationship dynamic, I wanted this to resonate within me more than it did.
I felt similarly when it came to “Love Makes Cowards Of Us All” by way of song meaning, and really wanting to immerse into it. It seemed to refer to aggressive intentions to release past hurts, as well as a more gentle and compassionate intention of release.
With this aside, I found the track to be more interesting and drawing instrumentally than “Null”. Its punishing drums and emotional anguish came across as someone haunted by the remnants of memory of a relationship. Internal torture oozed with tense instrumentation and tandem vocals, feeling both remorse and a determination to break free.
I was extremely curious if “Void” was intended as a pigeon pair with “Null”, based on title alone. As the song started, I appreciated this last song of the EP’s bittersweet homecoming vibe, but there was again seeming to be too much going on. Perhaps this had to do with expressing overwhelm – fitting what seemed to be the message of the song – as well as the anguish of “when your dreams turn out to be worse than your nightmares”, and the sheer gut-punch of living the same patterns on repeat.
Hearing vocals lost in echoes and being struck with fierce instrumentation, I loved how the song landed with “I just wanna let it out”. “Void” ends Alpha // Survivor on a high in reinforcing the power the protagonist has (all of us have!) over our lives and experience, refusing to let others take the reins.
It’s hard to know how to sum this EP up. It’s hard to have some really strong and powerful sounds come at you, while not necessarily being impacted by them on a personal level. Due to the similarity with this and how I feel about The Beautiful Monument‘s I’m The Reaper album (and also my conversation with Gravemind‘s Dylan Gillies-Parsons about the recent prevalence of pretty raw and real topics in the genre), I’m wondering if metal/metalcore is reaching a saturation point of sorts. Beyond sounding strong and heavy and impressive, there’s a need to feel something, and something real, and perhaps an invitation for musicians to let some of the masks drop and reveal more of themselves so that it hits unflinchingly home. Northlane‘s two most recent singles are good examples of this in action, and Dream State are another band that come to mind as an example. For me there was a lot of open and closed with this EP… but maybe that is the point of the intended duality?
I wanted to understand more than I did of what was being shared thematically in Alpha // Survivor. I loved the idea of duality, and of our different sides being together while also seemingly at odds with each other, but I’m wondering if the sharing of this idea may have watered down the message in a sense. A lyrical ‘conversation’ between sides of the self or even two people can be tough to understand (even when you have the lyrics in hand), and some more subtle messages from one perspective to another can be missed. I’m not sure that the sense of empowerment truly hit home with this EP, despite the band feeling musically skilled and sounding very very strong at times, not to mention Alex’s remarkable voice. I would love for the learnings of empowerment and expression to mean that future music for Drown This City fearlessly reveals even more of who they are, landing the songs memorably and palpably home with unity.
I wanted to feel all of this and lose myself in the internal conflict and self-empowerment, but I did not. I craved for the songs to hit home with what was being shared - enough to leave a memorable imprint.