Monday, 27 October 2014

Album Review - The Sea Kings - Woke In The Devil's Arms

Woke in the Devil’s Arms,  the debut album by Glaswegian four piece The Sea Kings combines an array of musical genres and lyrical subject matter with a delightfully sinister edge, making it stand out amongst a lot of the alternative receiving plaudits in the UK just now.

The album produces a wonderfully aggressive introduction.  Title track and opener Woke in the Devil’s Arms  is full of thrashing guitars and powerfully raw vocals.  This creates an essential impact that is required to grip the listener from the word go.  Although the instrumentation of the song is definitely more rock than country, the lyrics give hints to the folkish style of the band and so the two key genres which are found throughout the album are also evident on this opener, reassuring us of what we can expect to find throughout. 

However The Sea Kings do have a couple of surprises up their sleeve, as seen in the following track. Moonlit Range  which begins much more gently and the harmonies on display give it a very different feel.  The guitars and piano used here also produce a completely separate vibe from the opener. 

The most successful song on the album comes in the form of the upbeat Bible John.  Opening with the downright macabre lyric, "The mark I made, on my arm with a razor blade, says get me out of here" shows the band's dark side.  It isn’t really surprising when you consider that this song is really about a famous Scottish serial killer who picked up girls in the famous Barrowlands Ballroom before murdering them.  The combination of jaunty guitars and dark content is very reminiscent of The Smiths, as are the vocals on this track, which may be intended or just a happy coincidence.  Either way it is a stand out track on the album.

Have You Not Hurt Me Enough?  provides quite a sensual moment on the album.  As the title of the song suggests, it is a tale of heartbreak, sung with emotional vocals and lyrics.  The first part of the song contains very sultry guitars, but the tempo picks up as the song goes on.  The piano that comes in at the chorus is also an interesting addition to the song, and certainly encourages the feeling of passion that is on display.  This is further enhanced by the influx of electric guitars and pounding drums at the very end of the song.  This crescendo leads towards a cathartic finish, making this track one of the more epic moments on the album.

We are, yet again, greeted by something new on the next track Is Paris Burning?.  The introduction of classical strings adds a new dimension to what has proceeded, and although in this instance the strings are discordant, they are still enchanting in their shrillness.  They are used briefly here just as an introduction before the track falls into a folky little number.  Another change in tempo follows in the form of Church and State.  It starts off with a very slow, sexy, jazz style.  The bass and the piano giving the verses a quality that would not seem completely out of place in a smoky salon in the 1920’s.  The chorus however does not follow suit and is very much carrying on the folk rock feel felt in many of the previous tracks.

The final song on the album, Across the Coals  provides the albums darkest moment, which is some feat consider the inclusion of a song about Bible John.  The subject matter is about the death of a girl, and more widely about death in general.  It is littered with haunting lyrics, such as "every day is like a wake and every house is like a morgue" and "how many souls are dragged across the coals".   The guitars at the start here are also laced with melancholy, fitting perfectly with these evocative words.  Again, sharp strings are featured here towards the end, creating a cacophony of sound that helps add to the morbid, yet highly emotional tone of the albums closer.  A build-up of drums at the end helps to finish the album off in a beautiful way, and I personally think this last song is The Sea Kings crowning moment.

Overall this album is both emotional and exuberant in almost equal parts.  Not every song is a triumph and not every song fits with the general tone, but perfection is perhaps asking too much, and the mixture of styles is not always a bad thing.  For the most part Woke in the Devil’s Arms  provides the listener with an innovative, yet traditional set of songs that would please lovers of both folk and rock alike.

- Gillian Parfey

The Sea Kings - Woke In The Devil's Arms  is out now via Iffy Folk Records.  You can buy the album here.

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