Album Review: Death Bells - 'Standing At The Edge Of The World'

3 October 2017 | 5:43 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

"Ah, making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel."

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Much like how having an obsession with The 1975 means that you'll more than likely enjoy U.K. newcomers Pale Waves, you may also come to adore Sydney's Death Bells if you hold bands such as The Cure and Joy Division in highly revered esteem. As listening to their rather solid debut LP - the recently released 'Standing At The Edge Of The World' - is like taking a dreamy trip back in time to the time of releases like 'Boys Don't Cry' or 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. And that is no bad thing, friends.

For on their new full-length, Death Bells present their burning love for staple post-punk acts with some great musical homages to the old guard and a fitting sonic aesthetic that nostalgically recalls the genre tropes and cleaner production of decades gone by. From the hazy melodies, moody song timbres, thick and fuzzy bass lines, layered chorus-affected guitars, 80's synths, simplistic but tight, booming and propelling percussion, the massive amounts of reverb injected into the album, baritone vocals that are dripping in delay that channel Ian Curtis; Death Bells make it crystal clear what their collective influences are via this resonating 10-track effort. However, while rarely, if ever straying from the template of bands that came long before them, this NSW quintet has moulded their various inspirations and much like Japan Suicide and Date At Midnight, they modernise the key elements of this genre to create some truly great songs in their own right; thankfully not ending up as just some new-age copycat band in the process. (Which could have almost been the case here).

For instance, there's the wonderfully bittersweet banger of 'Only You' - whose chorus has completely engrained itself into my head since the first listen - which is the best example of what Death Bells post-punk sound can achieve when dealt out with such an effective songwriting packaging. Elsewhere, 'Beneath The Flesh', and its major key guitar riffs and underlying 80's synths come together to create a beautiful, moving modern post-punk piece; one that's near-perfect seasonal listening for our current Spring weather no less. Directly following that very track, there's the back-and-forth staccato chords, faster-tempo and no-bullshit of 'Nothing Changes' - which I feel one could best describe as "upbeat melancholia" - acting as yet another strong standout. (One that kinda sounds like a long lost track from Sharks' stellar 'No Gods' LP, sans the baritone vocals. Jesus Christ, I miss that band so fucking much). Other notable moments include the gloomy second-track 'Alone, In An Empty Clearing', the noisy and distortion-riddled 'Coming Down' that echoes the best parts of The Jesus And Mary Chain and the short but bright and rhythmically driving opener 'Days', which sets up the album's remaining nine songs incredibly well.

Yet my one and only gripe with 'Standing At The Edge Of The World' is that while it's indeed a consistent record in terms of overall quality, emotional tone, and sonic nature, it is also a consistently same-sounding record throughout. To be fair, that is a tricky as fuck balance to get right, and in terms of the instrumentation and Death Bells go-to alternative/post-punk formula, this record rarely sees any kind of actual change-up.

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As an example, 'Roman Candles' and 'Something Above' features eerily similar guitar chords early on, and many of these ten song's structures and melodies are almost interchangeable with one another. Sure, there are moments where this album sees real dynamic shifts, like on 'Bury Your Light', which (suitably) marks one of the slowest, quietest, less extravagant moments of the whole LP or on 'Days' and 'Nothing Changes', two songs that really kick this LP's pace and mood up a notch. Yet there's never anything crazily dramatic that moves the record beyond the group's heavily-situated post-punk sound. In fact, it's with the longer-running finale of 'Undertow', and after a bleak under-current of booming drums, emotional guitar leads, and droning shimmery synths, that you hear soft live recordings of running water and birds cawing off in the distance halfway through to create a serene little middle-eight. Which then soon fades away in favour of a fittingly dark, synth-heavy 80's outro arrives to round out 'Standing At The Edge Of The World'; marking the one distinct, sonically different section of Death Bells debut LP.

Now, I'm not going to bludgeon Death Bells over their collective heads for sticking to their sonic guns throughout this new release. After all, this is still a worthy, solid and emotionally forthcoming record about the experiences of five young men from Sydney - song repetition withstanding. Yet the lack of any true variation right up until the very end sadly settles into the pores of this album and mars its overall strength slightly before it even arrives at its appropriately subtle conclusion. Still, you could do so much worse for this style. I mean, you could (for some reason) be listening to a band like Then Comes Silence. Christ, that band is dull!

Just because they don't make 'em how they used to doesn't mean that newer, younger artists cannot ingest and nail down the styles, tones and sounds of those that came before. And that's what Sydney's up and coming Death Bells do so very well on their consistently solid debut full-length, 'Standing At The Edge Of The World', repetitive songwriting and slight lack of variation included. Much like the ever-rising international retro synthwave scene, Death Bells are grand proof that the 80's in fact never died, and I mean that in the best way possible.

1. Days

2. Alone, In An Empty Clearing

3. Roman Candles

4. Only You

5. Something Above

6. Beneath The Flesh

7. Nothing Changes

8. Coming Down

9. Bury Your Light

10. Undertow

Pick up 'Standing At The Edge Of The World' here or stream it in full below.