Up front, I’ve never really felt like I ‘got’ Loathe. I collided with their sound, so to speak, when they appeared on a split EP with SharpTone Records label mates Holding Absence (one of my favourites). I came to love “White Hot” in particular and appreciated all that went into this vibrant melting pot of sound and energy. Curiosity didn’t take me much further though, aside from some casual listens to tracks of The Cold Sun.
With that tiny exposure alone, Loathe came across to me as a band that couldn’t be pigeon-holed by way of sound. I couldn’t envision a straight line from beginning to end of a song and know how it would progress along the way. With some bands, (I say this with no disrespect) I know what a song of theirs will sound like to a degree, or at least have a ballpark of expectation. Loathe didn’t seem to have that, and I hadn’t taken the time to get up close and personal with their sound.
I wanted to know whether this unpredictable approach to music was a creative choice and they were using sound as art/storytelling, or whether it was just like random experimentation and it wasn’t that deep at all. Maybe it even came down to them just having a penchant for unpredictable song structure and sound. Taking time with fourteen tracks of their second album in close quarters seemed like a good way to attempt to understand. I was moved with the beautiful “Two Way Mirror”, and I think I audibly gasped when I read the album title I Let It In And It Took Everything; falling for the words and the way they portrayed a destructive vulnerability. So with that, I REALLY wanted to understand Loathe.
“Theme” is the first of the fourteen songs; a minute and a half that I had assumed was to set the mood going in. It reminded me a lot of Void Of Vision‘s “Overture” from Hyperdaze, but with a heartier helping of patience and presence. As an ethereal and slowing down moment, it also gave me a mental image of something bigger than myself existing, and feeling curious about it. But the appearance of the sound of rain and a closing door in the final moments of the track was confusing, taking me from a majestic otherworldly kind of moment and into something more pedestrian.
With one eye upon the album title, I wondered was the great thing at a metaphorical doorway? Was it ‘let in’? What was ‘it’?
It’s not quite a (typical) mood-setter as expected when the song following it is nothing like it. “Aggressive Evolution” takes the door that we heard, and thrusts us suddenly into a state of confusion and bombardment. I’m enjoying the Lotus Eater-esque chaos in this bounding and striking song. In terms of meaning, I’ve read these lyrics over and over and I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on, whether references are going over my head or there’s things yet unknown to me – that may not ever be known.
I love the swept away chorus and its hope for an uncertain future (and the sparks of light shown in the video to match it). I also love the lyrical idea shared of a cradled mind shaking excitedly about connection, while sliding voice, trepidatious beats, and bass come wound up with wavering tones and eerie melodies.
As “Aggressive Evolution” comes toward its end, we’re pulled from a mood of nervous anticipation into heat-blasted tension – well captured by the lyrics and sound – before a nerve-jangling and malicious ending seems more toxic than giddily hopeful. The instrumentation comes across as glass-shatteringly destructive. The experience of the song is like it says on the box; an aggressive evolution, and I love the congruence of sound and theme.
“Broken Vision Rhythm” keeps the tension high from the song before it and dives straight into a punchy pace and moreish riffs and rhythms. The vocal appearance of Harry Rule (of God Complex) adds even more tightly wound frustration than had been delivered prior.
Typically hyper-focused on lyrics and the story of songs, I instead find myself fixated on how much the instrumentation is ‘saying’ in “Broken Vision Rhythm”, and how perfectly it sets a scene/feeling of events coming to a key point. Wailing guitar and falling effects on voice make for an eerie confrontation of sorts toward the song’s end.
I am still extremely curious about the story here though, as it seems the protagonist is meeting their maker, and seeing a cycle of life as a machine that consumes everything before people are “shut down” and taken “back to the start”. Whether this is a fictional world or intriguing metaphors for life experiences, I’m interested to know. The tension of fight is stripped away with the ending “Cleanse my soul and let the pain subside” and fists soften and open.
In this cleansed state, it’s a slow motion fall into “Two-Way Mirror”, which is an absolutely spellbinding and entrancing song. With vocalist Kadeem France singing in contrast to his typical vocal style, and there being a distinct absence from erratic shifts or sections, it’s probably the most straight-laced and also unexpected piece of music from Loathe. To me it feels like hopeful curiosity.
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” is the magic phrase wrapped up in this beautiful full-bodied song for me; a question worth asking and answering, that requires a leap into a new state of mind, perhaps free of doubt and worry as it mentions in the music video.
Even though I savour the grandness of the song and appreciate the mood that it has created, I’m wanting to understand its meaning, specifically the idea of “Looking through the eyes of a life lived twice” in this “Two-Way Mirror” experience.
I understand that The Cold Sun included a narrative that spanned over the album, and am now more seriously wondering if this is the case here. I decide to go back to the start, take in the “something’s coming” feeling of curiousness of “Theme”, the connection of “Aggressive Evolution” that refers to two worlds colliding as well as shadows dying twice, the shutdown of a person that happened in “Broken Vision Rhythm” at the hand of an all-seeing Master, and fleetingly seeing another in their own eyes in “Two-Way Mirror”… This has to be conceptual, no?
The instrumental “451 Days” captures a heaviness of mood with its ethereal waves of sound. Shifting and swelling, I’m moving between a floatiness that’s energising in a way, while also wondering what those 451 days relate to. Buried in this track is a quote from an interview with Nina Simone. I thought at first that she was speaking about what it’s like to be in love, and the experiential meaning that love has, but she’s speaking about freedom and how, to her, it is the absence of fear. This beautifully ties in with what’s shared in “Two Way Mirror”.
“New Faces In The Dark” is so messy at its start, where sounds drift and can’t find their place in the beat. It’s as if I’m in a room with permeable walls and trying to understand it and myself. Getting into heavier Loathe territory again, the delectable drum tones and driving riffs craft an energised sense of being surrounded. A distorted voice is threatening, and the riff and echoing spaces along the way make for an unpredictable world we’re in along with Loathe.
With a calmer and clearer voice/vibe at the chorus, it makes me feel like this is narrating what’s happening. I’m curious about the ‘she’, and whether this connects with earlier ‘she’s. It makes sense that one that was shut down is now a “Cold soul that’s seeking warmth”. In the desperate thirstiness of searching, this is coming across as fearsome and boundariless.
With the chorus it feels like another voice is asking toward powers that be for her to find her ‘new face’. In this unusual journey, the creepiest and most daunting moment is crafted so well, with its echoing bangs and coldness. Through to the song’s end, it’s as if the beast is feeding on its prey, with blasting drums, wild guitars, and roaring vocals forming bombarding discomfort.
I wondered if the lyric “It starts again” at the end marks a second life for the ‘she’, or if our protagonist been taken over by a lost soul. Again I’m not entirely sure what’s metaphor or what’s story. I think it was around this point of the album I stopped trying to understand and just went with whatever feelings arose in the process.
“Red Room” in contrast to the song before is settled, but its slips and barely there sounds are most certainly unsettling. It sounds like something is breathing, stirring, and forming, before tumbling rhythms and fear-drenched vocals appear. I don’t have the lyrics to this, so am going purely by feel, and find this somewhat horrifying. Floods of static and noise combine in a hair-raising storm, with rhythmic distant bumps/singing remaining.
Returning to something a little more straight-laced again with “Screaming”, it’s balanced and relaxed of vibe, with sung vocals and a light vibrance to it. There’s an easy groove to this song, with dreamy singing riding above it all gently.
Tearing a fabric in this groovy dream state is a roaring and stomping moment, before returning to where it was. This kind of swing between gentle curiosity and terrorised fear continues from all aspects of the sound/band. Voluminous riffs and the impressive drum backbone keep interest firmly, but it’s their absence in a pared back moment of singing that is something extra special with its light intimacy. The song is glorious instrumentally and the vocals surfing through to the end of the song just seem to pull everything together. “Screaming” is a favourite of mine due to how it has me feel over its almost 6 minute journey.
If you got comfortable, “Is It Really You” is a reminder that you can’t predict anything here. Lovely and atmospheric, the retro synth-heavy start comes across like a softened and warm reunion. If the tracks are connected by theme, this would make sense in the ongoing story.
Expanding then, it’s more rock based in sound with a dreamy melody that underlies. The clashing pastels of 80s-esque pulsing and skipping is so completely unexpected from Loathe. If people thought “Two Way Mirror” was weird for the band, they’re in for another surprise with “Is It Really You”. It’s a stunning song with sweet curiosity before floaty highs arrive. I fell swiftly in love with this beauty of a song and its heartwarming sense of connection, especially with the chorus.
The ever-changing moods and thoughts are palpable throughout “Is It Really You”, where heart-bursting joy is swapped for doubt and insecurity, with whispers and grinding riffs pressuring and squishing instead of letting the buoyancy of love do its thing. An acoustic guitar moment at the end then shifts into chords reminiscent of other songs on the album. It would make sense to me to have “Two Way Mirror” playing immediately after this song.
“Gored” returns us to heavy land, with a sound that is much more like expected Loathe heaviness. Angular riffs and static feature here, as well as distant screams that come across as buried whispers before gaining volume. Bounding riffs and punching beats follow this assertive and strong song as it progresses.
The song seems to speak of a dark character that’s all-consuming and unable to be fought off; a boss level baddie. Whether this is a metaphor for our own darkness or a fictional figure in a story being shared, it’s brilliantly expressed in sound. “Gored” dissonantly runs through my veins and induces panic with its pace and cavernous sound. Immersed in the song and its sound, I’m succumbing to this beast and falling downward into its bowels.
With yet another beautiful title choice, “Heavy Is The Head That Falls With The Weight Of A Thousand Thoughts” continues a similar unrelenting pace. Punishing beats and blackened vocals hit like a headache in their rawness and pressure that’s also sonically delectable.
Looped chugs and bending riffs come along with a sense of push that echoes the title. Along with Loathe, we’re wading through an echoing and dark landscape, and the song comes across as ‘sticky’ and fierce. It’s punishing from the inside out and gives a feel of being entrapped in this state. The sound of a cassette rewinding and relatively monotonous heaviness captures this unchanging state of mind.
Yet again I want to know the lyrics, but regardless “Heavy Is The Head..”‘s savage vocals are incredible, coming with different voices, adding to the pressure that literally has me feel like I need to escape its clutches. As the song comes to its end, percussion and the trailing out of sound speaks like finality, and the ethereal vocals are eerie in how contrasting they are to what was heard before. A sweetness via acoustic guitar melody is all that’s left.
On the home stretch of the album, “A Sad Cartoon” feels amazing from its introduction alone, before coming at the ears with a thickness of rock that I personally have a nostalgic familiarity with. Flowing and dreamy vocals with a heart-warming atmosphere and curious melody have this rising and expanding song curl and wind its way around a beating heart and prise it open for exposure. I’m in love with the layers of voice intertwining and the ‘breaks’ in “A Sad Cartoon” that return to the fat guitars.
It’s tough to word the weightless drifting that occurs within me in a subdued moment that’s endearing (in a Rome Hero Foxes kind of way). A marked inhalation is palpable as being a pre-cursor for a surrender into a zig-zagging head first dive. Moved, this is one of many times this album has swept me up in its emotion. I don’t have the lyrics but I’m in love with the beckoning calls to see from another’s eyes, and I’m falling deeply in love with this song and its ease at cradling my heart.
When the reprise of this song continues in the next track, I defiantly do not want to let this album go. If you were to ask “What if unconditional love had a sound?” or “What if the energetic impact of gentle touches could be heard?”, the answer would be this otherworldly reprise.
The final/title track comes rich and jangling, seeming like it’s overlaid with sepia and has layers of distance that almost buries the vocals. While taking in this satisfying and impressive track, I’m left wondering how to put it into words. Turning more obviously dark, “I Let It In And It Took Everything” shares an electric mood with barely graspable rhythms. It paints a final scene that’s terrorsome and dense. As I sit with this gradually and slowly rising track, a monotonous and rounded rhythm punches out deliberately like it’s a code. Rising and reaching, repeated lyrics to a slowed beat combine with synth and more voices. The cumulative effect is stunning. My god.
There’s something incredibly special about this album, and having ‘met’ Loathe through it, I understand them as highly skilled creatives who excel at painting scenes with sound. Their multi-dimensional songs come across as spaces to be explored, as opposed to more blatant and highly signposted songs that kind of tell you what to do and where to look (if that makes sense). Loathe craft the set and introduce the characters, and it’s up to the listener to take it as they will. I do like this, but I feel like knowing more detail about the Loathe ‘universe’ would allow for greater enjoyment of the album. Maybe this is something that develops over time and letting the scenes sink in for understanding.
Over the space of I Let It In And It Took Everything, Loathe have shared velvet textures juxtaposed to metal, and they’ve inspired meditative states and also engulfing moments akin to roaring destructive blazes. And yet there’s nothing that I’d consider as jarring at all. There’s a cohesion, something that I can’t quite put my finger on, that threads a connection throughout the album, whether the specific song is erratic or measured in sound, and whether it’d be at home in a horror movie or a romantic film. There’s a natural rhythm of shifts along the album, moving from thought to thought, or mood to mood, that struck me like the easy opposition of inhaling and exhaling.
This isn’t an album that arrogantly demands you take it in, but the very obvious complete dive into their craft that Loathe have done inspires a listener to be as whole-heartedly invested as they are. It is a pleasure to immerse in their world.
Whether it’s their creative muse or something else entirely that the album title refers to, it’s obvious to me that this band are embodying the concept of freedom of “451 Days” and taking a fearless approach to making music. The result is stunning.
A broad and flowing masterpiece of sound that's tough to encapsulate in few words. An impressive collection of immersive moments.
The turbulent 50 minutes of the album is exhausting, even though it has its breathing moments along the way.