Named after one of the most dense places in the history of the planet, Kowloon Walled City have been undergoing a transformative process. The band's origin lies within the sludge domain, with the release of Gambling On The Richter Scale revealing the heavy, filled with dirt foundation of the band. Through their debut album there is a sense of demolition and aggression, as the heavy layers of guitars pummel down and the vocals scream through the debris. However, there was a significant switch in terms of style with their sophomore release, Container Ships, seeing the band move towards a more '90s oriented post-rock, post-hardcore environment. On top of this foundation they carry on with their newest offering, Grievances.
The influence of post-rock guitar outlines are standing out in Grievances. The delicate melodies in the beginning of the title track showcase the ethereal quality of Kowloon Walled City's music, something that in other instances can verge to dreamlike parts, as is the case with “Your Best Years.” At other moments though there is a distinct sense of melancholy that arises, as is the case with the second part of the opening track, with the solitary parts working in the band's favour and constructing a towering ambiance. However, their post-rock influence is not just about delicate and subtle parts, and there is a fair amount of a more twisted vision beneath the surface. “Backlit” is such an example, giving a more unbalanced and disturbing element to the album, as is the case with the more aggressive “Daughters and Sons,” as intoxication becomes severe.
Still, Kowloon Walled City travel even further into the more distorted dimensions of post-rock. The more dissonant elements make an appearance quite early on in “Your Best Years,” with the lead parts joining in. The lead work in this album is excellent, managing to find a balance between melody and discordance, something that prevails in “Backlit” with the parts crossing multiple times the line between the two, creating great contrast in the process. In “True Believer” that is further explored, while the more experimental viewpoint introduces a different perspective, as the piercing noises and roaring feedback are introduced.
All that does not mean that the band has forgotten and buried their affection for the sludge subgenre. The weight that these songs radiate is a direct result of that approach, granting also a great scenery on top of which the post-rock tendencies can operate with such great effect. The title track is a perfect example of such an occurrence, with the sludge past adding more weight to the song, creating a great basis, with the heavy riffs pummelling down, that the great melodies that the band unleashes can sit on. That solidifies the sovereignty of the band in creating a suffocating environment, from which there is no escape. There are moments when the band will take on a full heavy sound, crushing you in the process, as they do in “Backlit” and “White Walls,” but they can also unleash a more direct and furious assault, more in vein of the post-hardcore scene, in “The Grift” and “Daughters and Sons.”
With all that weight of course, it is essential to have the necessary pace. The groove that Kowloon Walled City explore in Grievances is key in achieving that result. Take the opening track for instance. The heavy riffs add to the weight of the song, but it is the slow pace that brings that sense of movement to the music, leaning a bit towards the doom/sludge domain, but not with the usual amount of dirt and distortion to it. The same approach is undertaken in the more sludge-oid moments of the album, in the case of “Backlit” and especially “White Walls,” where the great groove retains a big, expansive sound that comes with an intoxicating vibe as a result. Then, when things are required more urgency and grit, Kowloon Walled City do not disappoint. The fast paced tracks of the album manage to bring that sense of viciousness, as happens with “The Grift” for instance.
All that add up to one undeniable conclusion: the gigantic sound of this record. The band's craft in terms of space is their most important quality. It does originate mainly from the weight and pace of the tracks, as well as the melodic lines that are placed in the structure of the music, but there are a few more aspects that aid in that sonic illusion. The depth of the bass is an important part of this, taking up a lot of space in the soundscapes that the band is constructing. The other is the vocal, both in terms of performance but also placement in the mix. The performance seems a bit more retro, which as a result makes them appear a touch thin, surrounded by the music. But it is also the placement, in this case they are well centred, that makes the music appear even more towering in their presence. Considering also that Scott Evans (vocalist/guitarist) stated that they do not use that many effects as a band, and that is something that they try to respect in their recording process and their recordings, makes the whole result even more so impressive.
It has been a great ride so far into the career of Kowloon Walled City. The band seems to have found its path, spiralling through the domains of sludge, post-hardcore and post-rock, acquiring elements that in the process make their sound richer and expand their sonic visions further.
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