For Fans Of
How do you offer real honesty in your art? The most obvious answer that you’re probably thinking right now is to simply be just that – honest.
However, sometimes that’s not the easiest path to take. Sometimes you keep things very close to your chest, you mince your words, or you pull your punches to try and save face – whether in a professional or personal sense – and not risk burning any bridges. But when you’ve been lied to and fucked around by a thieving, unprofessional manager and a deceitful videographer; had selfish friends prioritise your art over getting a higher paycheck; had those closest to you say they’d be there for you right before leaving you; had incredibly toxic girlfriends plague your mind and drag down your personal life; and after having a dear family member be tragically stolen from you by the hands of cancer – honesty can come pretty fucking easily!
It’s this kind of cutthroat honesty and dynamic emotion that Belle Haven captures oh so brilliantly on their superb second record, ‘You, Me And Everything In Between.’. From the album’s layered mind map artwork hinting at the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ that these 11 songs are about, to the genuinely honest lyrics and utterly moving, powerful music housed within, Belle Haven’s second effort is without a doubt their best work yet.
Of course many, and I do mean many musical comparisons will be drawn to that of Circa Survive, Underoath, Saosin, and Norma Jean (which I myself did above), and yes, those musical comparisons are indeed apt when talking about Belle Haven’s sound; both on this new effort and their past material. But this Melbourne quintet is so much more than just a ‘RIYL’ or a ‘For Fans Of’ list, something they were perhaps guilty of on their debut record, 2015’s ‘Everything Ablaze‘ (an album that I highly enjoyed nonetheless).
With their second full-length, Belle Haven have not only constructed a tighter, better written and far more cohesive release than anything else found in their discography thus far, they’ve then delivered it all it in stunning fashion. For while this five-piece outfit as individuals are indeed approachable and loveable people, this record is filled to the utter brim with no-holds-barred call-outs of those who have crossed them. So much so that this album may just as well be called ‘FUCK YOU‘ and it’d have the same effect, as it’s some of the the most vehemently angry music they’ve ever put to tape!
As this album’s title and cover artwork suggest, the most focal points are the beginning and the end – the two songs, ‘You.‘ and ‘Me.‘.
The former is an emotional call-out track, backed up by punchy instrumentals, and an energetic pace carrying a truly infectious chorus along with it. (I challenge you not to sing along when that chorus hits at 1:07). ‘You.‘ is a song that rarely takes any respites and when it does, it’s to launch frenzied, violent hardcore assaults of screeching guitars, blistering screaming, and aggressive lyrics right in your direction; all creating a terrific, defiant opener that sets the tone of LP #2 incredibly well. On the flipside, the latter song is a more introspective, darker take on frontman David Vernon’s lengthy and scar-filled battles with his mental health. With such a heavy topic as the song’s crux, it’s fitting that it features what’s ostensibly the record’s heaviest and most emotionally disconcerting moment; Vernon grittily screaming “I’ve had enough, give me a gun…”, before leading into one of the most earth-shattering breakdowns Belle Haven have produced, all spearheaded by the striking, repeated screaming of “Kill Me“. It’s powerful stuff.
I think it’s perhaps fitting that a record with such a powerfully cathartic start ends in much the same way around 30 minutes later. Yet as ‘You, Me And Everything In Between.’ suggests, it’s also those in-between moments and factors that are just as important.
For instance, ‘“Selfmade”‘ (named after the face tattoo donned by their former manager), ‘HighfLIAR‘ and the melodic yet melancholic tone of ‘Ghost‘, despite the heavier vocals, guitars and drums present, all show-off the group’s keen ear for strong melodies and solid pop sensibilities. You see this with the bright layered synths working away in the background on ‘“Selfmade”‘, the pitch-shifted and chopped up electronic vocal melodies found in ‘HighfLIAR‘, and the insanely catchy chorus that propels ‘Ghost‘ forwards.
And sweet baby Jesus, the leader-of-the-pack single ‘The Carving Knife‘ and the brutal, angst-ridden ‘Burn The Witch‘ are two of Belle Haven’s best songs to date, hands fucking down! Don’t even try to convince me otherwise.
On a far more sombre and serious note, one cannot talk about this record without mentioning the soon-to-be-single ‘By Hook or by Crook‘. It starts off sounding like Brendon Urie took a fabled Panic! At The Disco hit and gave it a piano ballad makeover. That is until Vernon’s vocals rocket off into an unhinged emotional rollercoaster, detailing a heartfelt loss in the singer and his brother/guitarist, Christopher Vernon personal lives – the sad passing away of their grandfather in 2015. This immense open-diary screaming all happens while the piano keeps time and repeats its core melody beneath the rabid screams. ‘By Hook or by Crook‘ is a song of deep mourning and loss expressed so painfully and vividly that it’s lump-in-your-throat levels are absolutely palpable; a testament that Belle Haven don’t always need hardcore riffs or breakdowns to make a real impact.
However, while this record is essentially pure gold, there is but one song that the band could never, ever sell me on, and that’s ‘Hollywood‘; the reason 90/100 was the highest I went for this review.
See, ‘Hollywood‘ is this brief snowballing “interlude” track that breaks up both halves of the record. It starts off with this looping crunchy bass riff, before ever-building, lively drumming (double-tracked alongside ’68’s Michael McClellan) enter the fray, with just one lyric being repeated throughout – “Let’s see if Hollywood cares“. While it may be a sarcastic lyrical take on toxic ego’s and meant to gel with the themes of preceding tracks like ‘Burn The Witch‘ and ‘The Carving Knife‘ and the following surgical strike that is ‘Egophobia‘, I just don’t think it works. At all. This ill-conceived song gets in the way of its peers and it breaks the record’s grand pace in all the wrong ways.
Some of Belle Haven’s members have previously explained to me their reasoning behind the inclusion of ‘Hollywood‘ and its creative process, and that most of this record’s music came first before much of the lyrics were ever born, and even so, I just cannot abide by ‘Hollywood‘. For as I see it, this album flows so much better when it transitions from the surging and often abrasive ‘Little Polaroid Boy‘ (whose key lyric is “Your ego is circling the drain” and whose piano melody is a great ear-worming addition) straight into the sonically vehement ‘Egophobia‘, which deals with the idea of inflated egos.
Oh, and speaking of which…
Acting as this album’s own version of ‘Hunt For Health‘, for lack of a better description, the one and a half minute burst of aggression that is ‘Egophobia‘ is a short but very sweet standout. The fast tempo, near-unrelenting pace and the well-used Morse code sound effect underpinning the screams of “Save my soul” all works gloriously well in tandem. Out of the whole lot, it’s easily my favourite track. As the first time that I ever heard Belle Haven’s brand of heavy music was in October of 2014 when they first released the aforementioned ‘Hunt For Health‘, and hearing this new hardcore banger was akin to rediscovering the band all over again.
What’s so special about this record is that the “You”, the “Me” and the “In Between” elements of its title, its meaning and their real-life origins are so utterly ingrained in the very pores of Belle Haven, that it’s something beyond genuine. What aids this further is that these songs are near-universally applicable to any listener that comes in contact with it; in whatever capacity they could possible adhere from their own lives. The same goes for me too.
For just as Vernon pens heavy, incendiary and borderline hateful tracks like ‘Burn The Witch‘ and ‘The Carving Knife‘ about a former partner of his, the raging feelings those songs convey resonate with my own experiences with an ex-girlfriend, as it will for many others.
Just as the vocalist sings of the regret and hurt from “the one that got away” up and leaving him on ‘You.‘, there’s indeed someone like that from my past that crossed my mind from time to time; as I’m confident there’s someone like that in your life that ‘You.‘ will deeply attach itself to.
And just as Vernon laments the death of a dear loved in ‘By Hook or by Crook‘, how people selfishly take what they feel they need from you in ‘Ghost‘, and how people lie through their teeth in ‘Little Polaroid Boy‘ and ‘HighfLIAR‘, the feelings and experiences that have driven those songs into existence have been felt in my life, in some way, shape or form. I’m equally sure they’ll be applicable to your own world; whether for people you know currently, maybe once knew, or even if it’s you personally.
These songs – bar one – have taken up permanent residence in my head and not just due to their well-written nature, vast musical strengths and high replayability, but in how I see my own life and my own experiences reflected in them. And that, my friends, is the real beauty of a record like ‘You, Me And Everything In Between.‘.
To wrap up this review, I’m going to quote myself from my recent feature interview with Belle Haven – “Belle Haven: The Devil Is In The Details” – as I feel that that piece’s conclusion is just as fitting now as it was then:
“Finally, as a teenager, one of my favourite authors was Margaret Atwood, who when asked in an interview if her recent book at the time, Moral Disorder, was at all autobiographical, Atwood replied: “There has to be some blood in the cookie to make the Gingerbread Person come alive”.
And boy… there’s a whole lot of blood in ‘You, Me And Everything In Between.’.”
‘You, Me And Everything In Between.’ is fucking exceptional. Embrace it and let it change your life.
2. The Carving Knife
4. Burn The Witch
5. Little Polaroid Boy
9. By Hook or by Crook
‘You, Me And Everything In Between.’ drops on June 16th via Greyscale Records. Pre-order it here – it’s fucking sick! Oh, and bonus points if you get the reference I made in the ‘In A Sentence’ section too.