For Fans Of
Stepson’s first EP, 2014’s ‘Broken Bottles/Drunken Hearts’, was a great example of melodic hardcore done right. It was hard hitting and full of impact, both in terms of its sonic characteristics and its lyrical content. With only six songs clocking in around 18 minutes, it was a condensed, cohesive beauty that was one of the better homegrown EPs of last year. Now, it’s one year on and we’ve got the quintet’s new EP, ‘Echoes In An Empty Room’, and fucking hell is it a great listen!
Kicking off the album is the short and punchy ‘Bruised’, arguably the heaviest song the band has written thus far in their brief lifespan, complete with lower growls and a fast tempo to it. Its short length only adds to its resounding impact, and then before you know it, you’re thrown headfirst into another pit of heavy riffs and pained screams in ‘Compassion & Growth’, a longer song that ploughs along in a more traditional hardcore sense, but is not worse off for it.
In a nutshell, the band has the energy of bands like Sierra and Worthwhile, mixed with the emotional and honest lyrics of Trophy Eyes, all constructed with the care and love that bands like Being As An Ocean and Capsize apply to their own work. The raw, emotive screams with the occasional low growl, as well as the melodic guitars and punchy mix remain from their past effort, but the group has added in a few extra ingredients into the wonderfully delicious pot that is Stepson’s sound. See, while most bands save their massive, tension building, crescendo climax-athon (it’s a real word, shut up) for the end of their records, Stepson break the faster, heavier pace of the EP right in the middle with ‘Blue’. Normally, this would bring everything to a screeching halt, but it actually works in their favour as this is not only the most dynamic song of the half-dozen, and definitely the most emotive too, it is arguably the best song the boys have ever written, and it contrasts very strongly with the sound of the first two songs.
However, this contrast works for the band, and feels natural, as opposed to just a quick cash-in. The acoustic guitar intro and the soft clean vocals may catch a few off-guard at first (like myself) if you’re familiar with their previous work. Furthermore, it’s in ‘Blue’ that the themes of mental and emotional overcoming of grief, depression, and the sinking feeling that life is worthless are paramount. In fact, those themes run throughout the whole record, and it’s striking the way the lyrics are woven into the music.
That last part becomes quite clear on ‘TV’, yet another brilliant moment. This, being the first single off the release, shows the group taking a trip back to their, shall we say, more “typical” melodic hardcore sound. The track itself has been out for a couple months now, and it’s a truly great song. The backing vocal harmonies, the inspiring and half motivating, half down-trodden lyrics, the chillingly melodic outro; all gloriously executed.
Much like the newer Senses Fail, the band again jumps back to the cleaner, melodic side of the road, with ‘Cold Water’, a short ambient track with a few brief lyrics, that seamlessly transition into the intro of closer ‘This Is How It Feels’. Much like ‘Blue’, this song brings so many of the EP’s prior elements together into one brilliantly touching and heartfelt four minutes. This song also highlights the contrasting elements of the band. For instance, one second the soft, ethereal vocals, clean guitars and dynamic drumming will suddenly explode into punk/hardcore riffs and intense screams as the locals go full throttle. It is in these powerful, memorable moments that the instrumentation reinforces the impactful lyrics that will more than likely put one giant lump in your throat. It then becomes clear that Stepson have skill and potential far beyond their years.
With their sophomore EP, Stepson have shown that they are the masters in this slightly ambiguous trend of atmospheric/ambient melodic hardcore. The musicianship and instrumentation has been treated with real care, and the emotive lyrics and themes are lined with ulterior positive vibes that don’t quite make it a full-on cry-fest. The mix is punchy, the songs don’t ever overstay their welcome, and the EP has so many unforgettable moments (the outro of ‘TV’? The climax of ‘Blue’ anyone?!), that it’s nearly impossible to keep from coming back to this.
*If you do need someone to talk to, please reach out to Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, or head over to Beyond Blue.
2. Compassion & Growth
5. Cold Water
6. This Is How It Feels