November 13, 2018 The Virginmarys – Northern Sun Sessions (Album Review)
Making noise since 2009, The Virginmarys are a Rock duo from Macclesfield, England with a penchant for heavy riffs and socially conscious lyrics. Despite having self-released a few sold-out EPs, the band saw their biggest mainstream success with the release of their debut album, King of Conflict, in 2013. The album received high critical praise, gaining a nomination for “Album of the Year” at the 2013 Classic Rock Awards and being awarded the iTunes Editor’s Choice. After being awarded “Best Breakthrough Act” that same year at the Classic Rock Awards, the band followed up this success with another full-length album in 2016, Divides.
Produced by Gil Norton who has worked with artists such as Foo Fighters, Pixies, and The Distillers, Divides featured the hit songs “Motherless Land” and “Into Dust.” Composed of Singer/Guitarist Ally Dickaty and Drummer Danny Dolan, The Virginmarys are a driven, dichotomous, and dangerous duo who have continued to deliver uncompromising Rock with a soul. In their latest venture, Northern Sun Sessions, out Friday, November 16, 2018, the band seeks darker topics with a new vigor and unapologetic brashness that is unexpected and cathartic.
The first song on the album is “Look Out For My Brother.” As the first single off the album, it bears the weight of being both emotional and deceptively upbeat in tempo. It is driven and compelling as Dolan’s percussion hammers out the path and Dickaty’s voice continues to blaze the trail. It is like receiving a pep talk, the proverbial punch in the arm pick-me-up to urge you on to concern for your fellow man. It is infectious and anthemic in the chorus with an easy-to-follow riff. This is followed by “SOS4UNI” which is a sweeping and consuming track that picks you up for the ride right at the beginning.
Dickaty’s coarse and gritty vocals are eye-opening and as he rasps his way through the lyrics, their impact becomes clearer. Lyrics like “When you’ve drunk depression dry/ The Catcher In The Rye/ Well I was lost inside/ Crossing lines, got a head like a landmine” and “I’m still in love with a girl and a jackknife” give the listener some insight into the kind of darkness that can linger inside any of us. What is an “S.O.S” if not a cry to “save our souls,” whether that be from death, damnation, or darkness, the need for salvation remains. Here, the questions are who will save us? Do we save ourselves? Can we?
As the album progresses, the messages become varied, but there are some that stand out in their stark bluntness and unabashed darkness. “Flags” is one of those songs. Tackling issues like sobriety and inner darkness, coldness, and emptiness. It begins a lot darker than its predecessors, but despite its opening, there is something compelling and riveting about when the song really kicks in. It marries the band’s classic Punk meets new Rock sound that has been a staple on their previous albums and has come to be synonymous with The Virginmarys to OG fans.
Closing out the album is “All Fall Down.” This song starts very bare and stripped down, but steadily builds as it goes on. There is a bare honesty in the voice of Dickaty that, along with his string work, lends itself to a bluesy influence. It is raw, open, honest, and beautiful in its way. The easy escalation of the song, the build-up, as well as pacing is captivating and keeps the listener hanging on for every note. As the song bounces along towards its climax, the tension is ratcheted up and Dickaty’s voice becomes increasingly more shrill and raspy in his screams to the very peak of the song before eventually giving way to a frenzied flurry of orchestration and an abrupt end.
The overarching feel of this album seems to be the relationship the band has with the world and their connection to the universal themes that make up existence. That is to say that it is very much an exploration of the human condition and the ways in which people relate to one another and interact in this society with all the complications and trials this existence can present. While some might say that the “mask” of choral chants, heavy drumming, and effected vocals dulls this impact, it is important to give this album more than the cursory listen. Songs like “SOS4UNI,” “Look Out For My Brother,” “Blind Lead The Blind,” and “Flags” all address different complications of living and the need to strive for better.
If there is anything to be taken from this album, it is the concept that we are all doing the best we can, but we can be better, and we should be. The state of the world and the divisions between people, countries, and cultures are poison darts in the heart of society, but music stands a chance at bridging those gaps and healing those wounds, so why not give it a go? No one is saying this album will bring about world peace, but it presents a good case for why we should strive to be better people and citizens of the world while also being a great work of art. So, for creative composition, compelling themes and lyrical content, and emotional influence, Cryptic Rock gives Northern Sun Sessions 4.5 out of 5 stars.