Though I’ve seen Kentucky hardcore heroes Knocked Loose tear up stages before, and I’ve found myself getting amped up by the ridiculous brilliance of “Counting Worms” and the alarming and hectic “Deadringer”, I’ve admittedly never taken intimate time with Knocked Loose’s lyrics. With the release of A Different Shade of Blue, I decided to do just that while reviewing it.
The first time I ever saw Knocked Loose was when I had no idea who they were, and was pretty much clueless about the world of hardcore. It was at Corner Hotel in Melbourne in support of Stick To Your Guns, along with Reactions, and Relentless in 2016. I’d fallen deeply in love with every song of the Better Ash Than Dust EP, and that alone had me clinging onto the barrier to take in the whole show. Needless to say, that show was a crash course and a half.
While Reactions and Relentless were playing, I noticed a long haired guy standing side stage who was quietly and attentively watching every set. It stunned the shit out of me when this long haired guy later tore up the Corner Hotel stage with his barely contained well of energy fueling his screams and movement around the stage. This was my introduction to Bryan Garris and Knocked Loose. Side note, I couldn’t hear for three days after that show. It was the last time I ever forgot ear plugs.
There’s a vibe which seems to treat Knocked Loose a bit like a gimmick of a band. They’re the breakdown kings, the neck snappers, the “ARF ARF” band; amounting them to a peak representation of something wild, hectic, and heavy and not much else. It’s because of that vibe that while I liked them, I never took much time with them in terms of what was being shared in their songs. I’m into music because I’m a feelings collector more than I’m a spectacle collector (or even a bruise collector).
So it’s kind of fitting that A Different Shade of Blue‘s first track “Belleville” slams its way into the world with literal cries of “Make me feel”. And I’m instantly off and away and ready to see what Knocked Loose have to say. There’s a rawness to the vocals of frontman Bryan Garris that are somewhat intimidating, and in “Belleville”‘s case they come with instrumental punches and choppy seas of riffs as he sinks into darkness. More than a mosh anthem (and yet probably still that), “Belleville” heads south with ominous beats of finality, with Garris virtually spitting out desperate efforts to feel something instead of ending it all.
The riffs of the track take on an oppressive and unbreakable weight, with calls trying to burst through them. But it worsens as the pace picks up; where loss of grip from historical brokenness seems to compound and there’s nothing left to buffer the fall. Bassist Isaac Hale’s low vocals add to the almost demonic darkness here, which combined with the lyrical references to “The heavens” (and the echoing effect on the vocals when it’s said) and loss of wings hint toward a religious level of rejection.
A bass-centric melodic moment offers an ethereal space that comes across as being out of body, with raw surrender and fall. I adore this depth of information in this shift, where the protagonist/Garris is all but done for, until he stands in refusal: “Pain cannot finish if pain never starts.” As huge as this would go down in a mosh pit, it’s also a triumph in the sense of not being broken, of denying pain. Bass purrs return us to where we began like something of a loop, in wanting to feel, if even by hand of force.
With drums slamming like a headache, “Trapped in the Grasp of a Memory” is swirling and punishing; fitting for the mental pressure that’s being shared vocally. The circular riff that comes with relentless rhythms is nauseating. Hefty bass gallops with guitar squeals has my guts churning and I too “don’t think I can take this anymore”. It’s brilliantly done, this ‘translation’ from experience to music that we’re getting to witness.
Owning the damage done that’s contributed to the present overwhelm, the lyrics paint a vivid picture that is fluid and easy to understand. The self-destruction hits home with instrumental stuttering, and the musings of how much the same we are with our beauty stripped away. For a moment I’m getting into the grooving riff, before something easy and pleasant soon starts crawling up my skin and threatening to consume me. The blackened coating is morphing and suffocating, and I’m:
“Trapped in the grasp of a memory”
With Garris’ vocal fire seeming to have amplified then, the situation has worsened and led to disintegration from within. There’s nothing artificial about “I try so hard and nothing works” in its impressively honest delivery, nor in the following slow and dark stomps that reflect the destruction. Again for a moment everything is easy, but we return to the rose metaphor and the piercing of thorns – like the unwelcome arrival of something in your mind that you wish you could forget. Flaring and consuming, there’s nothing easy about this song’s end as it slithers from dissociated to angry.
That side stage attentiveness from Garris is also nothing artificial. His desire to back bands he believes in, regardless of their stature, is clearly apparent in adding virtual newcomers Caged Existence to the band’s European run, and now also in including vocalist Emma Boster from Dying Wish as a feature on “A Serpent’s Touch”. With Dying Wish having just 1,389 monthly listeners on Spotify presently, Garris shared with Kerrang that he was keen for more people to check them out, given that the entirety of Knocked Loose enjoyed their Dying Wish/Serration EP, which is “pretty rare” according to Garris.
Steady and sawing, “A Serpent’s Touch” plays with tempos and purrs, and grinds its way into a melting pot of fury and honesty. Coming across like a “No more” statement to a ‘friend’, the driving track surveys the remaining rubble of connection; where time and compassion toward a friend were wasted gifts toward something of a snake. Again, Garris’ emotion is palpable, and the urgency and unwavering commitment to “cut the fucking cord” is made perfectly clear and amplified by the climbing instrumental intensity.
The last minute or so of “A Serpent’s Touch” has a stage set for finality; like a ritual of separation, which “weighs heavy on shoulders littered with dejection”. Emma’s feature is a fierce one, adding a sharpened voice of judgement urging for the venom to be bled out, and joining forces with Garris. Chugging and steady to its end, this is definitely one for the moshers.
Sad from the outset, “By the Grave” has a haunting yet triumphant introduction. This is a really interesting song thematically, where I can barely tell whether it’s a fictional musing from the grave or something heavily drenched in metaphor. I think my attempt to work this out affected my ability to get into this song, because when you have “You buried me too deep” along with “So bury me, forget it all”, it’s a bit like “Huh?”.
With my overanalysis aside, “By the Grave” assumes a grand presence before two-stepping itself into the intensity of being erased/rejected. Raw and dark, the track toys with a sense of alarm and the idea of existing firmly in the mind of another who’d rather forget you. It could even be another angle of “Trapped in the Grasp of a Memory”. Savage riffs add to the darkness, as do Hale’s vocals which echo the permanent haunting from beyond (metaphorical or not). It’s fat and stomping through to its end.
Starting to feel concerned I was getting in over my (feels- and meaning-oriented) head, I persisted with A Different Shade of Blue nonetheless. When fifth track “In the Walls” hit “In that world I’m someone different / Someone I could never be”, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Through Garris’ conviction and the wonderfully jarring guitar squeals, I’m fully and completely placed in a skewed reality created by Knocked Loose; like when you’re in a dream and you try to punch or scream and you can’t. Delightfully unsettling, “I did everything I could” falls into a deadset mother of a riff that’s goosebumpingly brilliant.
Something about this entire scene being laid out in “In the Walls” is (strangely?) beautifully touching and I feel emotionally moved. Seeming to hold fine threads of connection between itself and earlier songs of the album, it’s again tying into memory and of holding on and how that impacts. But here, it’s holding on to something beautiful/meaningful amid the storms, and protecting their memory in the most secretive of recesses. I kind of didn’t expect to observe such beauty in the midst of this album. Especially when it comes with wild and furious winds of distorted vocals, dissonant guitar and savage drum blasts.
With the last minute of “In the Walls”, the unexplained emotional response becomes explained, when an audio clip of a news reporter speaking about a violent crime is heard in a sombre setting. My ’emotionally moved’ is upgraded to tears.
I’d been curious about the album’s title and what inspired it. The ominous and unsettling “Guided by the Moon” includes the phrase, seeming for it to be rooted in the unfamiliar emotions of loss. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the shade of skin of someone without oxygen is also blue. The song seems to be lowered a gear in terms of intensity, but the vocals paint an electrical energy of their own overtop of something that’s steadily unfolding. Echoing and distant, the track captures otherworldly connections, where distant screams are buried under monotone speech.
I find myself enjoying the occasional accents of echoes and distortion in this observation of mortality, with its steady and droning nature combined with the intense vocals coming across like a futile battle against inevitable loss. Getting more colourful instrumentally and reinforcing my assumption, this “bone to pick with Death” hits a noise-thickened, squealing, and static peak. All I can think of is how very well done this is; these canvases of song painted so expertly to express a painful experience of life. I’m again finding myself moved which is a sign of a damn good song in my book.
“This is a different shade of blue”
The noise and skin-crawling atmosphere makes way for the breakneck pace of “Mistakes Like Fractures”. It’s a song familiar to my Spotify streaming, but I’d not yet taken time with the song in conjunction with the lyrics. I’m kind of falling in love with how Knocked Loose tell their stories – so visual in their wording and emotionally rich in their sound – so having both come at me is doubling my appreciation for what was already something I appreciated as a slamming tune.
“Mistakes Like Fractures” comes across as reinforcement of the religious undertones, where “the horns in the tall grass” seems like an obvious reference to the devil, and the ‘mistakes’ may be sins that mar one’s self, until the metaphorical fractures eventually lead to a break of an angelic soul. The seriousness of being contained for harm is reflected in the song instrumentally, where bass slides turn their insides outward, and dissonance oozes discomfort. God is looked toward for a helping hand and the fact that he “fell silent” with Garris’ pained cry for assistance hits brutally.
Even without any kind of acknowledgement of the song’s themes/meaning, the fittingly huge track lands an impressive punch. There’s hefty stepping moments and the riff around 1:15 is endearingly enjoyable. I dig its variations and returns as the track continues, along with the searing sharp lines hovering above. It all drills down to a misty atmosphere of rising up and a satisfying turning point marked by Garris’ assertion that he took the path(s) that he did. It’s an earthshattering moment of brilliance from all elements of Knocked Loose, as well as determinedly taking back the reins instead of being metaphorically chained and helpless.
It’s amazing what one little ‘ting!’ of a cymbal can do sometimes, and “Forget Your Name” is an example of this in its hefty introduction. The bouncier rhythms of this eighth track’s introduction belies the darkness to come. Punishing heaviness comes with this piece of music that serves to eradicate a “tainted soul”, with a violent shove.
References to a blood connection make it clear that it relates to a relative of the protagonist, and the serious and looming multi-layered atmosphere gives an almost theatrical vibe to what’s being shared about the facade-holding traitor. Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die appears then, using a steady stream of metaphors to reflect the deliberate choice to disconnect. His searing screams are a perfect fit for this moment, and brilliantly match Garris’ own tones of desperation.
“Everything will change”
The start of “Road 23” is a surprise, where a Kathy Bates quote from the movie Misery is used before the song begins in earnest. Literally alarming and shouting to wake people up with its use of rhythm and lyrics, the song is an attention grabber. I adore the punctuated rhythms and the dreamy bass tone as it thuds.
Pushing on in hectic pace, “Road 23” most intriguingly to me seemed to thematically tie into other songs on the album; specifically referring to grief and loss, the taking of wings, and spending “my time in hell”. Musically raw, this song carries the vibe of a frantic hunt for meaning and purpose. The turbulence and fire evens out to a relatively steady ending, even with its right-eared riffs.
We’re on the homeward stretch with “…And Still I Wander South”, which has me wonder what’s left to learn from A Different Shade of Blue. Continuing the message from “Road 23” of permanent change, the vibe is one of horror reflected by vocals on edge with villainous riffs. It might be my imagination, but Garris’ frustration seems even greater on this track and I’m wondering where it may eventually break.
I’m struck by how there’s a prayer for wings, and how it now seems that the songs of A Different Shade of Blue are truly interconnected. A despairing melody runs through this song, and seems to (to my ears) appear in different variations depending on the mood of what’s being shared. I appreciate how it shows up in spacious solace while Garris savagely blasts with percussive emphasis, and seeps into demonic territory bolstered by low screams. It’s moments like this, and the long reverberating tones at the end of the track, that make it clear this is so much more than a ‘mosh album’ to me. And if those ending tones reflect certain death, then “Denied By Fate” is the wrenching of one back to life.
Wild and vibrant, the penultimate track skips along with zest of a second chance mixed with fury. Again tying into the rejection from God and heaven that we’ve seen elements of before, the track comes across as telling the story of a failed suicide attempt. Its barely graspable layers of vocals fittingly reflect the choice to “Exhale life / Remove the weight”. The song unfolds into something steady and unflinching, like a path of possibility has been closed.
Far more melodic at its introduction than where we began, “Misguided Son” is just as thematically dark as any other piece on the album; referring to a damaged connection between father and son. With the use of two different voices seemingly in conversation, the chugging dark heaviness and sharpened high electricity are at battle with another. Lyrical rhythms are impressively reinforced instrumentally and concern is reflected by flaring accents.
There’s nothing pretty or hopeful here, unless you count the refusal to be judged or controlled as a win (and I do). The album ends on a sharpened note, with its final line leaving an imprint: “I would rather die than be like you”.
To say I’m blown away would be an understatement. There’s so much more nuance and meaning that Knocked Loose have to offer being being good to mosh to. Even early into A Different Shade of Blue, I found myself loving how every member of the band was ‘saying’ the same thing with their instruments, making for every single point shared through the album to hit powerfully home. Each song shifted of sound with shifts of mind, having me curious about the process of how the band create their music (as well as want to congratulate whoever pens the lyrics).
Though there were some open spaces of instrumentation that didn’t come coupled with any kind of meaning/feeling, I thoroughly enjoyed the consistency of themes throughout the album. The concept of mortality was virtually taken apart with its pieces examined before being put together, as was the idea of being a follower (for lack of a better term) of a school of religion. In amongst all of this was the persisting views of memory offering refuge, safety, but also being spaces of punishment and haunting. There was a full spectrum exploration of all of these ideas.
Though I don’t have a strong familiarity with the band’s musical history before now, I thoroughly enjoyed A Different Shade of Blue and have a newfound appreciation for Knocked Loose as musicians fully invested in telling a story with every facet of their sound.
As a very minor blip: Some instrumental sections felt more tacked on than having a purpose for being there, giving a bit of a 'samey' factor. Knocked Loose shine when every facet is 'singing' the same tune, which they did many times!
One of the most honest and congruent albums I've had the pleasure of taking time with.