October 14, 2022 Nothing More – Spirits (Album Review)
Nothing More have made their name from designing not only a visually captivating and energetic live show, but also from their intricate and philosophical writing and composition. As a band their commitment to exploration of the human condition and willingness to experiment with sound have helped them garner a devoted following. Composed of Jonny Hawkins (vocals) Mar Vollelunga (guitar, backing vocals), Daniel Oliver (bass), and Ben Anderson (drums), Nothing More have been stirring hearts and minds with their cerebral sonic symphonics since 2003 in one iteration or another.
The band received its breakout success with its eponymously titled album and the smash hit “This Is The Time(Ballast)” which climbed all the way to the number 2 spot on the Billboard Mainstream Music Chart. From there they continued to dominate airwaves and festivals with their cavalcade of infectious anthems and emotional hymns for the modern age like “Mr. MTV,” “Here’s To The Heartache,” “Go To War,” and Hawkins’ requiem for his sister, “Jenny.” Now the band is back with a new metaphysical and ethereal angle with Spirits, released October 14, 2022 via Better Noise Music. The new album, written during a time of lockdowns and uncertainty, faces head-on the issues of personal and spiritual re-alignment while challenging the lack of introspection that seems to plague much of modern society.
Right from the beginning in “Turn It Up (Stand In The Fire)” the listener is met with Hawkins’ rally for the debugging of society from the influence of social media and the Internet and the way it can infect one’s perception. Here is the first introduction of the gritty and crunchy chords courtesy of Vollelunga and Oliver layered with the hefty percussion of Anderson. All of which feeds easily into the next track, “Tired Of Winning” which was featured in the Horror/Action Thriller movie The Retaliators.
Breaking up the fierceness is “You Don’t Know What Love Means” with its slower, more somber intro that breaks into a propulsive and rhythmic pace that strikes a tonal balance between head banging compulsion and emotive, sway-inducing ambiance. It’s emotional and exhibits a reverence for emotional connection that is heartbreaking, defiant, and lovely all at once. “Don’t Look Back” is a sharp, excisional declaration of severance and self-preservation. “ I want nothing to do with you. I’ve wasted time trying to break through,” Hawkins laments in a piercing exclamation. The composition and layering of synth elements provides a mechanical tinkling and sharpness that keeps the ear attentive and keeps you hooked throughout. Paired with Anderson’s sharp percussive measures and Hawkins’ punch and gravelly vocals, makes this track a stand out amongst its peers on Spirits.
Later on, “Face It” is a heavy and thundering confrontation that by name and in exercise challenges the listener to face themselves and listen to their inner voice. It is an aggressive therapy session that dares you to lose all pretense and be your most authentic self. To face the world and yourself with a rawness and vulnerability that makes most people deeply uncomfortable. And that is the point. “Best Times” is a reflection on days past and the feeling of realizing how sometimes nostalgia is all we have and to remember to live in the moment. There is a joyful effervescence on this track that suits the mood of whimsical reflection and longing that radiates from every line and every chord. “Deja Vu” follows somberly and intentionally. The ambiance here is dusky and brooding while still maintaining some levity and a dark romance. It is entrancing and spirally and yet also moving.
Then there is “Dream With Me” which explores more of Hawkins dynamic vocal range and his more guttural expressions at times creating an eclectic journey of leaps and drops that expands as the song fades out. It is wild and erratic, but somehow befitting this strange journey. “Valhalla (Too Young To See)” is an ode to self realization and strikes at its core about the youthful aspirations that make us want to change the world and the adult realizations about how to actually go about doing it. Hawkins reminds us “Some minds just aren’t worth changing,” which could be taken to be a commentary on how some people will remain stuck in their ways and sometimes our energy is better spent elsewhere.
Bringing this journey to an end is the title-track “Spirits” with its anthemic and stirring invocation. Lyrically Hawkins refers to a transformation of sorts that takes place through the discovery and tackling of these spiritual roadblocks where “Something’s in the way/ Something has to change” and “Silence in the heart/Sickness in the brain.” Hawkins explores both the softness and power in his range here and the effect is both chilling and thrilling, exciting and pensive.
One thing Nothing More excels at is incorporating heavy riffs and electronic synth snappiness layered over complex societal issues. They have always been a band with a message and from album-to-album that message has changed based on where they were as musicians and human beings, but also based on where the world has been over the years and this album is no different. With its incredibly powerful utilization of Hawkins’ range, the detailed orchestration of each track for maximum effect and the poignancy of the messaging and intention throughout the album, Spirits makes its mark as one of Nothing More’s best works. So, for spirited ingenuity, contemplative intentionality, and cohesive, engaging orchestration, Cryptic Rock gives Spirits 4.5 out of 5 stars.