Saviour – A Lunar Rose (Review)

From its artwork alone, Saviour‘s album A Lunar Rose captures a mood of fantasy and escapism. As a collision of worlds, a solid head sits in an ocean and under a moonlit sky, adorned by wildflowers, trees, a nest, stairs, and more. Look closely and you’ll see a noose hanging from a tree, and you’ll also see the internal machinery inside this head.

This visual theme exists in the songs of the album too. “Haunting” is a good word to sum up opening track “Lunar”, which seems to carry a promise of there being something on the way. Already really beautiful by merely 25 seconds in, vocalist Shontay Snow’s arrival to the ears is like a rush of cool liquid pouring over one’s soul. Distantly heavy, “Lunar” comes with a sonic disconnect, and lyrically speaks from a perspective of someone lost, seeming to hope that those who they’ve left behind think fondly of them. Monotone guitar set to a persisting rhythm hit home via drums, the will to break through and be heard is palpable.

This desire to be heard comes across with a guitar melody that’s practically buried under layers of sound at times, and Shontay’s voice works brilliantly as something that floats like a ghost above the track. Gaining heaviness, Bryant Best’s voice is a whole other level in comparison to this; the grittiness of life in contrast to the person who exists on another plane.

The already familiar “Never Sleep” sets a sweet tone with its gentle melody and pared back guitar. Shontay’s voice is amazing, coming at the ears covered with a layer of static at first before becoming more open. The song comes across like an ode to someone special with lines like “The light beside my bed the night I wished I was dead”.  Vocal wavering makes it all seem like a disintegration though, with a connection crumbling. This is reinforced by strong instrumentation as well as Bryant’s frustration and fierceness in wondering what happened with the two. At the chorus, the two voices combined give depth to the experience and speak like two perspectives; ‘I love you but where did you go? And why?’.

Paring back, the piano melody is more obvious, as is the insistence that comes through with the repetition of lines like “I will never fall asleep”. They clearly seek understanding from the other person that they’ll never give up on them. Being there for them in their worst times, and meaning so much to them, they want to offer the same support for them. The sense of hurt that things have changed is well captured by Shontay’s background singing and Bryant expressing nostalgia. The song also captures the difficult position the protagonist is in; “Now I’m another lost kid searching for my exit”. Drawing sadness from me, it’s becoming apparent that the person has died or at the very least is distant and out of reach, and now tense and stuck, it’s hard to move forward and know how they’ll function in the future without them.

A high guitar sound is heart-wrenching in amongst this, and different elements of the song combine, all trying to work together, just like the person in question is striving to function. Stating “Even when you fucked me over” makes the unconditional love and care they have for their distant friend. “Never Sleep”‘s defeated vibe at its ending virtually says ‘I will never stop being someone that cares about you, regardless of what you do’. It’s unconditional and tireless, even though it’s apparent they’re weary.

Fully aware that I’ve talked a lot about just one song, I would like to acknowledge how much emotion Shontay is expressing on A Lunar Rose even at this early stage of the album. This was a criticism of mine for Let Me Leave when I reviewed it at the time, feeling just Bryant’s emotions through his voice on that album. There’s a definite change here, even if it’s just in how I’m receiving or hearing it.

Moving on, “Souvenir” is cold and dark from the start, with interwoven layers of sound all seeming to grab for attention at the same time. The song’s rhythms come across like rough waves of the ocean tumbling someone about. Thematically it’s also turbulent and cold, and hooks back into what was shared in “Lunar” with its connecting lyrics. I’m still not entirely sure what or who lunar rose is, but I’m interested in how it’s present across multiple tracks.

Shontay’s voice is a persisting mantra of “You will overcome”, and the gritted-teeth sound from Bryant is one of trying to endure and cling onto hope from the past. Hissing distaste toward another, he asks to be shown “all the dreams I had when I was younger”. There’s really lovely silky smooth kindness from Shontay (“Our time is precious, lunar rose”) that floates over Bryant’s pent up frustration. With the two voices then combined and a forward moving sense of push from the instrumentation, there’s so much going on at the chorus.

“Souvenir” steps up into fierceness with a breakdown that’s almost like a farewell; feeling raw and buried before a surprise lightening of sound. I love the pairing of “And even if I come undone” and “You will overcome” and the shift into something more electronic. With the to-and-fro of different voices to this lighter beat, it’s almost trancy, allowing for me to melt into the song. Even this early on, I find myself surprised how much I’m enjoying the album so far.

“Enemies” is a really great song, which turns its high energy confrontationally toward someone just floating along instead of running at their dreams. It packs a punch of living life like you’re sleepwalking. Shontay’s voice arriving after the tension of voice and instrumentation comes across as lovely and compassionate.

I enjoy the “I’ve got enemies” section, understanding it to mean that someone has lost their fire because of their anxieties, enemies, and the entities that scare them. This flowing into “I don’t even want to know the answers” makes sense to me because being stuck and uncomfortable may be easier for them than facing the things that seem overwhelming. I love how the instrumentation is expressing this building pressure, with the layers of voice and the drum rhythms coming across like they’re just being tossed around. There’s no resolution to be found at the end of the song and we’re returned to a floatiness.

“Violet” is quite tense from the beginning, and comes across like someone telling a loved one to take a leap forward and leave them behind. The person left behind is revealed to be struggling and facing their own demons, to the point of even being suicidal. In a moment of ultimatum, “Violet” becomes incredibly and wowingly heavy and asks for faith and a reason to be alive.

After that moment, “Violet” becomes refreshingly buoyant and light, featuring Shontay’s voice and a pretty piano melody. It’s a lighter alternate reality compared to the heavy-heavy part before it, especially due to the electronic drum beat thing too. Clean and clear, I’m loving the nature metaphors that feature here (“Inside a valley. Under the ocean”).

The stunning track is a stand-out of the album, and captures a person at their lowest (“enslaved by the shade”) who is asking to be taken. The piano melody flicks at my heart every time it lifts, and desperation is clear in Bryant’s voice along with this light otherworldliness. I’m surprised how good “Violet” is, enjoying the journey it takes me on, landing somewhere buried under haze. In this setting, hearing Bryant scream “I swear my next attempt will be my last attempt motherfucker” hits hard. This is an impressive song,  and I’m enjoying how Saviour have created this scene, complete with echoey and eerie clanking sounds that fade in and out.

Similar to the end of “Violet” (as if it could be a continuation), “Passengers” has a hazy introduction before it blasts into action. This perfectly fits the opening line; “If I could just break through”. Coming at the listener with hectic pace and high energy, a high guitar wail works to make this emotionally impactful. The song offers reassurance toward someone (“You’re not the fuck up that you think you are”), and a clear desire to break through and have someone feel that they’re cared for and worthy.

The title seems to imply how the protagonist is feeling like a passenger in life, as opposed to being in the driver’s seat. The song shares honest admissions of being challenged by life and how they feel like they’re holding a loved one back. While feeling progressively desperate for this person to soar in life, this all becomes a common theme across A Lunar Rose.

“Passengers” is the first time I’ve noticed the bass standing out to my ears, which has me recognise the really natural flow by way of story and instrumentation to A Lunar Rose. Given how the band as a whole are on board with expressing the same sentiment, I find that my focus is on the story and not having my attention pulled to anything specific.

There’s a really pretty moment toward the end of “Passengers” where it’s pared back and just Shontay accompanied by atmospheric tones. Surrendered, centred, and present, it’s a memorable moment. Bryant’s voice is highly edited and both voices become buried in layers of static with muffled beats, before roaring out freely in an ‘It’s now or never!’ vibe. It also feels like a ‘Come on, what have you got?’ call, waiting for the next step/next action to happen, before landing in a breakdown.

“Calendars” was a song I found hard to hook into, even though there was a lot of raw emotion from Bryant. Cool and refreshing at first, a roaring heaviness hit hard with blunt force. A crystal clear moment with just Shontay and her searching tone of voice was wordlessly beautiful, especially with long-held notes having such clarity. In contrast, Bryant oozed anguish, and a ‘Look at what I’ve done’ sense of regret, feeling like everything has been ruined in this pressuring heaviness of sound.

Steady and flatlining was how “Calendars” came across to me. Though this was another factor which had the song not grab me, I did feel like this was deliberate. It had me think about the monotony of life where days can pass, waiting for something to happen. I did wonder about earlier songs of the album and whether this related to waiting for their loved one, if the two are in different worlds from each other, but wasn’t entirely sure.

Seeming like an album twin to “Violet”, “Rose” is beautiful. An initial piano/synth melody sets the mood and Shontay sings out into the abyss, hoping that it has an impact, like ‘Is there anyone out there?’. The song sparked goosebumps for me while listening to it, and every time Shontay’s voice comes in, there’s a feeling of fresh rain washing over me.

When Bryant joins in, he calls frustratedly for a remedy. “Rose” carries a theme similar to what we’ve heard in other songs: ‘I helped you, and now I’m struggling, so please help me’. Over the duration of the song, call to “meet me” becomes “leave me”, and the lyrics again refer to a lunar rose, this time in decay. While not strictly or blatantly conceptual, the songs seem to contain threads connected to the album’s overarching theme.

After “Rose”, “The City” feels really grounded and gritty, and has a haunting melody running in the background. Seeking healing and reaching out for help, the same theme continues, wanting for a return to how things used to be.

Similar to “Calendars”, it’s heavy in life’s monotony both instrumentally and lyrically. Quite tense and entangled feeling with the verses in particular. As “The City” goes on, it’s more and more determined to coax memories from someone, like ‘Remember how good it used to be?’ and this remembering being a remedy of sorts to their brokenness. This is enhanced by the drums giving this feel of anxiously awaiting the understanding, hoping that the other person sees things how the protagonist does.

The bridge seems to peak in desperation, where there’s a realisation of the protagonist needing to take responsibility for themselves even if the other person doesn’t remember, or isn’t on board. Though there’s this change, the chorus works in its repetition because it could be toward themselves instead of the other person; seeking their own efforts to recover.

Final track “Pixelated” very quickly strikes the ears with a piercing and pointed guitar. This may be too much because it’s hard to focus on anything else. Buried in static, Bryant seems to be wondering about someone’s identity, recognising change, and recalibrating himself.

It’s a bit unclear for me, because it’s about farewelling someone or letting them go but it feels kind of light and chilled. This could be seen as the aftermath of “The City” where they decide to stand on their own two feet, but there’s still lines like “until I find my way back to you”, so I wasn’t sure how to take it. Regardless, there’s reflection upon the fearlessness of their past, and it’s instrumentally well done in creating a climactic point of the story which sounds great and hits beautifully home.

Reflecting on A Lunar Rose as a whole, there was a really lovely almost romantic quality to this album, which was hit home with heaviness. Though it wasn’t entirely clear to me what/who lunar rose was, the themes of struggling and healing, being helped versus harmed by people in our lives (and moving on from situations that do the latter) were clear. These themes did seem to repeat though, and I’m not sure a full ten tracks were needed to capture what they intended. I would have liked to have seen the theme fleshed out more over the space of the album, but maybe this has been done and just went over my head.

My attention was frequently upon the vocalists across the album, perhaps indicating a need for more interest instrumentally. I appreciated the piano moments that showed up (such as “Violet”), and the occasional dipping into something more electronic (such as “Souvenir”), as well as attempts to thread a theme through an album. More of those moments would likely have injected some energy into what was being shared in a piece-by-piece way across the album.

To me, if Lunar Rose was a person, she’d tower loomingly above us, and clearly have big shoes to fill in bringing her to full immersive sonic life. I’m not entirely sure if we got there over the space of the ten tracks, even though some of her darkness, mystery, and reflective moonglow was felt. Definitely ambitious, A Lunar Rose is nonetheless a solid effort from Saviour.

Saviour - A Lunar Rose
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Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it. [Loved the read? Shout Kel a latte.]

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