Kentucky’s Greyhaven had me hooked from first listen of “Ten Dogs – Red Heaven”. With this first single being slamming, intricate, and addictive, I needed to get my ears to more of this band. The four piece of Brent Mills, Johnny Muench, Nick Spencer, and Ethan Spray released Empty Black last month via Equal Vision Records.
Due to creative blocks, my review didn’t happen right away. The remarkable “Echo and Dust Pt. I” (third on Empty Black) was persistent though, and decided to take up residence in my head and wouldn’t stop until I succumbed to facing my creative stuckness and moving through it. Creatively freed up, I took a look track-by-track at what Greyhaven had created.
“Sweet Machine” is first on the album and with opening with what sounds like a computer fan or motor combined with an eerie voice, I was in horror movie tension mode; waiting for something awful to leap out at me. Alarming and unnerving, “Sweet Machine” begins chaotically, courtesy of thrashed beats, guitar complexity, and vocals that I’d describe as ‘accessible’; upfront and honest seeming, yet unsettlingly measured in sharing their story. Frantic cramming of syllables, guitars swerving out of control, erratic beats. Attention is grabbed throughout, in this track which has me feel like a puppet; blindly obedient to manipulative forces. My puppet head can’t move and I’m watching the world in front of me be set alight, and the fire is threatening to rage out of control. Subtle yet powerful is the lyric shift in the outro from ‘our world’ to ‘your world’; a sobering disconnect from what’s going on, despite chaos ensuing.
“I think I’ve had enough. Watching your world.”
Second track “Blemish” makes me feel like I’m losing my shit and railing against the restraints I’m in. Calmer moments in the chaos feel like rich memories I wish I was still part of. Overwhelming in its intensity, the track is eased by more flowing moments and thick anthemic choruses. “Blemish” is a jaw-dropping track, with relentless prowess by guitar, drums, and insanity-edged vocals. As I sit and take it all in, I’m struck by a sense of being in a rising swamp of sticky impossibility and agreeing to stupidity as a ‘solution’ in ever increasing desperation. Greyhaven seem to be pouring their creative energies into exploring the (very real) doomsday march of humanity.
I honestly can’t get enough of “Echo and Dust Pt. I”. Gentle stirrings of curiosity burst out widely into something impossibly brilliant. I kept wanting to hold this track back and savour each second of it, but it rolled on forward. Pummeling drums seemed to be a threat to existence itself, with a shaky grip on reality. I took “Echo and Dust Pt. I” as an exploration of the idea of incarnation. As in, souls in bodies, life and death, and was a touch surprised to read the guys of Greyhaven (in New Noise) describe it simply as “talking to someone who effectively just isn’t “there” anymore and you wind up being left with this feeling of talking to yourself. Sending your words out into a kind of void left unheard.” Regardless of the meaning, I fell in love with this piece of music which kept hitting me with further brilliance as it progressed, culminating in a gorgeous final ‘statement’ which could be frustration and enlightenment rolled into one. I fear I’ll run out of adjectives to capture what I’m absorbing here.
“I searched forever for an answer, don’t you understand“
Gritty and angular, “Mortality Rate” takes us thrashing down a dirty rabbit hole before landing in a brightly lit land of irony where the rewards of faith depend on appearances. Dark corruption takes centre stage here, where distasteful and uneasy observations make for a massive track. Riff hugeness and unrelenting rhythms are all part of another chapter of this trainwreck of life we want to look away from but cannot.
“Silence, silence. Yeah, I repent in style.”
“Ten Dogs – Red Heaven” is another chapter of real life horrors, where war (and the fallout of death) is all part of a sick business of patriotism and grotesque pride. This fifth track of Empty Black is vibrant and intriguing, pulling us into a story that has no happy ending. Building beats, soaring vocals, electric side-escapes, and unnerving lyrics. It flows from end to end as yet another impressive piece of music that aspires to set up camp within my subconscious.
“This part of me, it loves to breed, don’t it.”
The battle armour of Greyhaven falls down for “White Lighters”. Softened compassion aches with curiosity as a loved one is thought of. The gorgeous piece of music seeming to be in remembrance shows Greyhaven’s versatility and swings heavily from the heartstrings. Emotionally moving and expanding into something huge and beautiful, “White Lighters” is a stand out on the album.
“I’m not leaving your head, we’re just leaving the Earth,” she said.
In contrast, “Kappa (River Child)” has us back in chaotic territory, painted with unpredictable rhythms and wild paths that could possibly loop you back to where you started. Dripping and otherworldly at times, the track is a trip with no clear direction, yet still shows the unrelenting talent of the band.
“Day Is Gone” shows the very wide expression of sound that Greyhaven have, featuring explosive massiveness and grinding grooves, through to delicate soundscapes. A lyrical story echoes this unfolding heavenly exploration of dynamic. Greyhaven are also masters at gorgeous blown-out-wide choruses, and not holding anything back at times, whether that’s raw viciousness or beautiful remembering. An armed riff and aggressiveness are the cherry-on-top outro to another stellar track that threatens to sink its claws into my brain.
“If I could suspend time all together
Would you stay up here forever?”
I’m not entirely sure how to describe “Broadcast Network”, in particular the riff-coaster that takes us on an adventure unlike anything I’ve heard. Greyhaven’s sound of tight unpredictability is drawing and breath-holding from beginning to end. A healthy blend of “what on earth is coming next?” and “this is incredible!”. The overwhelming and colliding track finds its only solace in its close; a curious resolution to the noise with rustic spaciousness.
The continuation and resolution that comes in “Echo and Dust Pt. II” is the perfect album closer. Again seeming to explore existence, the track lyrically ties in with its previous chapter. More hopeful and expansive, it feels like a lighter take on the cycle of life. Harmonies and hugeness are up front and centre in this track, which feels more straight down the line than previous sonic adventures.
“And I dance with the thought of connection
I’ve found a place beyond these plastic stars
We’ll live forever in brand new posture here”
To sum up my experience with Empty Black, the ten tracks feel like an out-of-body observation of humanity. Greyhaven are watching from afar what we’re doing to ourselves and each other, whether it is us being controlled by outward forces or inflicted by the sharp edges of life such as grief. Greyhaven are a collective of talented musicians that collide with creative limits that I have run out of adjectives to describe. I never tired of their playful and sonically wrecking outros or sharp mid track manoeuvers. Breathtaking unpredictability as well as emotionally moving moments make Empty Black an impressive must-listen album, likely to easily find its way to my Album Of The Year list.
Unwavering and impressive creative brilliance, through a full spectrum of sound. Hard hitting, emotive, intriguing.
These tracks won't get out of my head.