EP Review: Alchemilla – The Divide

Alchemilla

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Alchemilla – The Divide

The Backstory

Alchemilla is one of my favorite local bands, and I still haven’t made it out to a live gig yet. Their time slots are just too plum, I suppose. They play late sets in close to Boston, while I tend to prefer early sets in the outer western suburbs. One of these days I’ll make the trek, but the stars have not yet aligned, so I’ve just been enjoying the band’s recorded music.

EP Review of Alchemilla: The Divide

Wall-of-sound hard rock with melodic undertones. That’s Alchemilla. Heavy music that screams hard rock credibility, so you start listening to the music for its “sound,” but with songs whose earworm qualities slowly reveal themselves so you eventually rave about the band’s tunefulness. And, indeed, the group’s newest release, its The Divide EP, is a solid continuation of its previous release, the Hearts EP I reviewed in the Blog more than a year ago.

Alchemilla - The Divide

image courtesy of Alchemilla

By comparison to the overwhelming heaviness of Hearts, The Divide is perhaps a smidgen lighter, though you’d never guess if this was your first exposure. The music will still melt your face, but there’s possibly a bit more open space in the sound wall, a slight sound evolution that gives the new music a little freshness. It’s a great record-to-record progression, similar enough to leave longtime Alchemilla fans thrilled, but just different enough to provide a fresh, unique collection of songs that occupy their own space in the band’s timeline; it’s the sort of progression one would hope for from a favorite heavy rock band.

“Fatal” kicks things off with crunchy hard rock guitar and enough space for Kat Bondi’s tuneful vocal roar to be noticed between the instruments, announcing (with authority) the greater presence of classic rock spices in the band’s trademark wall-of-sound stew this go-round.

Alchemilla

photo by Alchemilla; photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Not that Alchemilla’s forceful drumming can be ignored, as it steps up to drive the tempo even harder on the next track “Big Star,” combining with a crunchier guitar sound to crank up the volume a bit.

Energetic tunefulness comes next, as “Pass Blind” introduces itself as Alchemilla’s crank-it-while-driving-on-the-open-road number. Just when it seems the song won’t leave time to breathe, though, it unveils an almost ’70s black-lit-room softly heavy, well-placed guitar bridge that carries the tune most of the way to its conclusion before briefly regaining its faster tempo. It goes together well but still surprises me a little with each listen; though it makes sense as it’s happening, in my memory it almost feels like two songs.

Alchemilla

photo by Joshua Pickering; photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Then, ah, here comes the tempo respite. Title track “The Divide” plods along, its pace a bit more reminiscent of many songs on Hearts, providing continuity to Alchemilla’s musical journey. Tunefully plodding, with its vocal roar and psychedelic classic rock-flavored bridge. In the end, it’s one of my favorite songs on this disc, though depending on my mood, my top choice can be any of the six. Back to “The Divide,” though, there’s enough space and a relaxed enough tempo (finally) to allow the listener the think and appreciate… not just this song, but the EP so far.

The softer side of Alchemilla continues to rule the record a bit longer, with the almost psychedelically heavily mellow “Flooded Lands,” offering a vegetative respite enveloped by sound, perhaps lounging on a bean bag chair in front of a lava lamp and black light Zeppelin and Rush posters, before the collection closes again with another energetic rocker, “Got to Choose.” The album-ender slyly tricks the listener with a mellow enough opening, almost flowing from the previous track, before cranking up the tempo a little more than a minute in. By the end of the song, “Got to Choose” is almost frenetic. Fully awake and alert, it leaves the listener ready to start the journey over again.

In the end, hard-rockin’ or mellow, Alchemilla’s music is listenable, tuneful, heavy rock that only improves with multiple listens. And, indeed, encourages multiple listens. Compared to Hearts, The Divide is another helping of the same delicious rock ‘n roll steak, perhaps with a few different spices.

Looking Ahead

I don’t see anything on Alchemilla’s concert calendar right now, but you can bet I’ll be watching for a show I can get to. (And you’ll know when I do… because you’ll see the review.)

Album Review: Alchemilla – Hearts

Alchemilla – Hearts

Alchemilla

photo courtesy of Alchemilla

The Backstory

I discovered Alchemilla‘s 4-song EP, Hearts, through the disc’s producer, who’s an old music industry friend of mine. He was raving about the band, and my old music biz contacts are often great sources for discovering talented new bands, so I took a listen to the advance promo video for Hearts and was intrigued; then, when available, the EP blew me away. Since discovering the band about a year ago, I have tried on a few occasions to catch a live performance but have always had schedule conflicts. One day I’m sure you’ll see a live review of one of Alchemilla’s shows in this blog. For now, however, I’ll give a quick review of this four-track EP.

EP Review of Alchemilla: Hearts

Alchemilla

image courtesy of Alchemilla

Loud. Distorted. Heavy. Real rock music. First song “Live Life Over” kicks off the disc with distorted power chords and a near-wall of sound meant to serve notice that this album will rock you. Hard. Then Kat Burke’s vocals kick in, slicing through the noise with confident strength, demanding attention with each extended vowel; always controlled, never wavering. Commanding “we will not grow old,” this song certainly doesn’t. In addition to well-constructed guitar bridges that form a solid song structure, the necessary (and necessarily blistering) hard rock guitar solo serves as appropriately measured punctuation. It’s clear from the first track on Hearts that Alchemilla will be a raw, rough, energetic live band, which is why I’m still trying to get to a gig. It’s also a clue that the listener is about to hear four well-constructed songs.

Title track “Hearts” follows, and it’s a bit more atmospheric though still 100% hard rock. The vocals are sung distinctly syllablically, with the measured vocal approach matching the plodding power of the ever-growing wall of guitar and vocals that sneak in over the course of the track. Again, as with the first track, the guitar solo hits the spot, though it’s toward the end of “Hearts,” leading into the powerfully fading final vocals.

Alchemilla

photo courtesy of Alchemilla

Vocalist Burke hits some hauntingly almost-awkward (but no, she nails ’em; that’s the intent) high notes on track three, “In My Head.” This is the least wall-of-sound song of the four, or perhaps it only seems so because of the less dense beginning and ending. It certainly is the catchiest of the four, as I more often catch myself singing “there’s someone in my head…” than any other lyric on the EP.

Final track “One Way” kicks off with distorted guitar and power vocals, somewhat like the EP-opener but with a bit more finesse. Alchemilla works in some soaring vocals, driving rhythm, and solid vocal-driven bridges for a solid conclusion to its EP.

Overall, this EP plods, but I mean that in a good way. It has a slow, heavy pace. Like a steamroller. Like a really cool hard rock steamroller. One that belongs in your hard rock music collection and in your earbuds making your ears bleed and your head bang. From a band whose gig seems like it’s probably a must-see. But, of course, when I say this is cement-truck-heavy, well-constructed hard rock, you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen for yourself.