Bands who prioritize diversity in their musical palette will by design create polarizing music. Vancouver metal quintet Neck of the Woods embrace this burden, showcasing their ability to at once explore a diverse range of influences while presenting a cohesive statement in their debut full-length album The Passenger. Genre purists may disagree, but with The Passenger, Neck of the Woods have created some very exciting and engaging metal. Brutal death heads, metalcore mall kids and elite prog snobs will all be able to find something within this album to enjoy.
Neck of the Woods describe themselves as “progressive death metal,” and while it’s a serviceable summation of their sound, it’s far from comprehensive. The band have crafted a set of songs that make as adept use of crushing riffs and odd time signatures as they do ear-grabbing melodies and hooks. I imagine Neck of the Woods are by now used to such genre debates regarding their output, but those who bristle as the nature of their art is critiqued don’t often fare well in the creative industries.
The band have clearly worked hard to ensure their songs flow together despite movements being so diverse in texture and feel. Opening track “Bottom Feeder,” possibly the record’s heaviest track, dances between tempestuous blast beats, rolling kicks with beefy chords, and pointed melodic passages, all within the space of a minute-long bridge. Transitions have been crafted with a careful hand, as chug-laden grooves are interspersed with single-note runs featuring complementary drum variations and fills that match note-for-note. The detailed performance of drummer Jeremy Gilmartin reveals an analytical mind — his parts have been as meticulously composed as those from his bandmates, and the music is made more cohesive thanks to this technical approach. Check the opening moments of “Nailbiter” for a particularly impressive representation of his abilities.
The one aesthetic touchstone to which I keep returning throughout the record is that of Misery Signals. Melodic riffs groove smoothly as they frequently shift meter, the music retaining an undeniable heaviness even in its softer moments. The band are unafraid to make liberal use of clean guitar tones, and lead vocalist Jeff Radomsky’s wet and throaty roar strongly evokes that of Karl Schubach. If progressive metalcore is a thing, then Neck of the Woods are it, and there’s more than a passing similarity between them and their Milwaukee-based predecessors.
One common feature shared by the band’s primary influences is a willingness to explore the power of dynamics in song composition, and this is no less true for Neck of the Woods. Brutal, aggressive riffs are allowed to seem even more powerful when juxtaposed with elegantly melodic interludes, as they are on “White Coats,” “Before I Rest” and several others of the album’s seven full songs. “Drift,” one of two acoustic interludes that push the total song count up to nine, serves as a minute-long introduction to the furious first movement of “Foothills,” the penultimate track on the record. The use of space on “White Coats” is also worth a mention, as bassist Jordan Kemp is given multiple opportunities to drive the music ahead.
Another of the standout aspects in the band’s sound are the soulful guitar solos which pepper the album. Having fallen out of fashion for much of metal in the post-80s decades, they’re employed tastefully here and do much to enhance the songs in which they are found. The fifth track, “You’ll Always Look the Same to Me,” features a particularly ripping performance — it’s also my favorite track on the album. Check it out below in the band’s official music video.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Neck of the Woods gain some serious traction over the course of the next year. The Passenger has the right combination of accessibility, heaviness and high production values to please a wide variety of listeners, and with this album, Neck of the Woods have more than proven themselves as a band to watch.
The Passenger drops on September 15th via Basick Records. For now, you can stream “Bottom Feeder” and “You’ll Always Look the Same to Me” on Bandcamp. Neck of the Woods are supporting the release with a Western Canada tour throughout the month — dates below.
Sept. 8 — Bower Community Hall (all ages) — Red Deer, AB
Sept. 9 — Live on CJSW — Calgary, AB
Sept. 9 — Broken City (all ages) — Calgary, AB
Sept. 11 — Vangelis — Saskatoon, SK
Sept. 13 — Neighbours Corner Pub — Drumheller, AB
Sept. 14 — Cloud 9 Live — Regina, SK
Sept. 15 — Industry House — Edmonton, AB
Sept. 16 — Record City — Vernon, BC
Sept. 22 — Pub 340 — Vancouver, BC