Consisting of Ralph Brown (Hara Kiri) and Jake Kershaw (Earthbound), Without Belief have the help of some friends on their The Parting Gift release. The EP sees the duo explore the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), as well as collaborate with others who’ve experienced grief of their own. Released last week, I was keen to explore the EP and its creative take on grief in the form of a review.
To get it out of the way, can I just say that I wasn’t a fan of the EP’s artwork at all. Seeming intended to evoke something otherworldly – perhaps the energy that our loved ones leave, even without their physical form being here? – it lacked substance for me. A quick Google search for “two hands with light coming from them” found the cover as-is as a stock image, minus a blue filter. Something genuinely connected with the departed loved ones (the cover art for Aburden‘s The Last Goodbye is a good example of this) would have potentially offered up a stronger sentiment as a first impression.
Not content with judging a proverbial book by its cover, I dove into the music. The first track “Intro” crunches like a tape recording, with melodic instrumentation having me wonder if it’s intended to reflect a personal capture of a moment in time. The background noise and imperfections continue, while distant screaming seeps through the ethereal soundscape.
It was hard to know how to take “Intro”, specifically how to know what I was meant to be feeling. It seemed too clean and pretty to be something heart-wrenching, and too split between grit and clarity of sound to understand what scene is being set with the EP opener. A gentle beat feels thoughtful nonetheless, with the frayed vocals gradually unraveling.
“Denial” then crash lands with vibrant guitar before kicking off into a rapid pace that leans into a wall of sound. Solid and punching, this second track leaps and lands. In contrast, Lizi Blanco’s arrival is fluid and sinking, and the harmonies work well adding to a haunting and reflective vibe. The denial stage of grief is expressed in a ‘I can still feel you here’ way by both Lizi and Ralph’s parts, and the looping guitar of the chorus hits the listener on the head; like mentally gripping on to an idea, and refusing to allow anything else in.
“Keep telling me that this is real, I would rather lie than face the truth”
More panicked as it goes, the fire of “There is life still here when you’re not” reveals the desperation and perhaps the protection to the heart that the denial offers. The pummeling drum break leading into the breakdown didn’t quite hit emotionally as it potentially could for me, specifically via the vocals. I don’t hear the hauntedness nor the desperation there. But the section that follows, with a hushed and flowingly whispered section from Lizi, adds an element of mental unease that works well.
Clean and neatly tied up at the end with a last chorus, I was left feeling like more could be possible. Andddd I was also left feeling a little uncomfortable at critiquing someone’s expression of grief. 🤦♀️ Who am I to say what’s right and what’s wrong? Or to what degree things should be revealed or not? Grief is undeniably personal, and subjective, but I guess with that perspective, reviews are too, so I persisted in sharing my personal and subjective take, for better or for worse.
Third track “Anger” features Above The Fallen‘s Mitch Rawlings. The song fittingly takes on an intimidating presence, with the first verse setting a stage of fury. Fiery and enraged, the song is a ‘yes’ for me, even as it sinks into an eerie whispered section which reminds me a little of Dealer‘s “Pretty Stupid”. The riff is moreish, as is a sinking and haunting dissonant fall. Electric and hectic, you can practically see the limbs being thrown to this. It’s piercing and fierce to the end.
Tom Armstrong of Earthbound joins in on “Bargaining”; a phase of grief that had me intrigued as to where they’d take the idea. A driving pace does well to match the vibe of running out of time, but the vocal style falls a bit flat for me, like there’s struggle or strain of voice that isn’t purely for effect. Punishing and djenty, the reality of absence hits sonically home.
Suddenly lighter, the pleading calls of upward and lighter instrumentation surround the fear-laden vocals, before a tumultuous chorus lands. This succinctly captures regret, and a wavering and desperate voice captures the recognition of the very many “never again will I..”‘s that come with the loss of a loved one.
The to-and-fro of being pulled between refusal and realisation is expressed well by combining colourful instrumentation with blunter cuts. Coming to a head at the breakdown, “Bargaining” digs down into rhythmic monotony, seeming to be hunting for something else that can’t come. I’m moved by the running undercurrent here which is deftly presented by nimble guitar.
Most impactful for me is the literal bargaining section of the song, where “Take my body, give me pain” lands with cross-ear impact and tight rhythmic stuttering. Coming across tangled and stuck, it’s only the chorus’ pleading that pull it all into something higher. The song’s ending is sick.
David De La Hoz (of Belle Haven and Wither) has mastered the art of emotionally ruining me through practically every song I’ve heard his voice on, and “Depression” is no different. The instrumentally pared back reflection of better times is instantly throat-lump inducing, with his recollection of sunshine and a “calming gentle laugh”. Fuck it, I’m crying as I write this, and I blame David and also this bass that’s strumming my heartstrings like it’s nothing. The depression stage of grief is revealed with the description of the weight of death; a heaviness that’s carried by those left behind. The background scream of “I still want to go with you” just cuts deeply.
The chorus doesn’t quite hold a candle to that emotion unfortunately, even though it’s continuing the same lyrical thread. It seems far more matter-of-fact and neutral to my ears. Open-minded though, I wondered whether a numbed “one way trip” to “the bottom of the bottle” resonates with that neutralness though. Undecided, I ended up getting mentally lost in the idea of someone leaping to reach the star in the sky (their loved one) and drifting in the darkness of space because of that impossibility. And I realise I’m just adding to the hurtiness [that is a word] of this. The bleeding high guitar (ie. the stars) in spaciousness (ie. blackness of space) that follows adds further to this ouch.
As the song continues and David shares his experiences, my heart might as well be made of paper and scrunched up into a ball and stomped on. What’s interesting is that the more I listen to this, the more I embrace the neutral chorus as sitting somewhere between the sparkle of affectionate memories and the void of never seeing them again. And later in the song the same chorus even seems hopeful. Is this sorcery? Is this my imagination?
Thoroughly enjoying “Depression”, a guitar solo strives to make sense of it all, and it’s great to hear David’s screamed vocal in here, easily tag-teaming with Ralph. With the arrival of “Can you hear me?” I’m fucking crying again. It’s official; this is a beautiful song that feels truly genuine in the realm of loss.
Lastly on The Parting Gift is “Acceptance”, which comes clean and clear in its lighter melody. Then when it’s tumultuous of instrumentation and sharing a curious and colourful riff, I feel split in two. This feeling comes across in the lyrical capture of not being okay, while also being determined to make it through the challenge of grief. This is expressed in downward heaviness, and I feel a greater sense of congruence with the arrival of piano in its lightness and freshness.
Similar to “Bargaining”, I’m again not a fan of the early vocals of the track, and I felt uncertain about lines like “We will meet you again one day and you would not have aged, my friend” being delivered aggressively with a gentle melody running behind it. With this in mind, I appreciated the shift to singing, and the capture of selflessness emotionally ruined me (“You did it for us, not you”), as did the melding of two vocal styles. It was then satisfying to have a more frayed outpouring of acceptance in amongst the punishing pressure and pace. Returning to singing makes for a very sweet ending.
There’s some definite wins on The Parting Gift, and some impressive surprises. I respect the ambitious concept and also love the idea of a music release being a collective outlet for hearts that have beat through a similar difficult experience of life. The standouts of the EP were “Depression” as a whole, as well as the choruses of “Denial” and “Bargaining” which will serve for some memorability.
While musically strong, some moments seemed to miss the mark a little, making for an up and down journey.
Multiple voices and songs and emotions impressively linked together through the absence of a loved one. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore my own grief with the EP, as well as bear witness to what this collective of creatives wanted to share.