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So, here we go: here is yet another 90’s grunge rock throwback album. Every time a record of this particular style is released, a coin is flipped. As said record will either be an absolute modern rock gem… or something that is better left in the dumpster behind your local record shop. To me, this jarring distance in quality when it comes to rock records like this is because the rock sounds of the ’90s and the early 2000s can actually be fairly tricky to recreate. And a lot of contemporary bands just do not have the chops to take on such a task. Luckily, this time around, I think that former emo band, Microwave, have captured this great ’90’s energy really well.
It is immediately worth noting that ‘Death is a Warm Blanket‘ sounds polar opposite to almost all of this band’s previous material, save for the one or two tracks. It takes real guts to take your sound in a complete 180 direction, and it can be astonishing when a band pulls it off well. This album sees Microwave almost completely ditching their previous emo schtick, whilst also keeping it very Microwave. I know; that sounds kinda cheesy, but I can’t help but feel that it is accurate in this case.
These past few years, vocalist Nathan Hardy has struggled immensely with both his mental and physical health, watching his body deteriorate before him. On top of this, he had no health insurance and no nest egg of cash to help pay for his treatments, leading to having to self-medicate and push through the pain. The harrowing emotions that have been born out of these brutal struggles are heard through the records intense tone of frustration and sorrow. There is an overarching feeling of hopelessness that runs like blood through the veins of ‘Death is a Warm Blanket,” almost making it difficult to listen to at times. However, one of the most present emotions felt on the album is pure anger, clearly felt in songs like “DIAWB” and the scream-filled “The Brakeman Has Resigned.” Opener “Leather Daddy” may fool the listeners at first with its spacey acoustic intro, but it soon delves into pure chaos as the drums only intensify and the guitars really explode.
There is a strong and powerful energy that keeps the first half of this album moving along at a breakneck pace, with its bombarding heavy chord progressions and booming drums. “Hate TKO” is one of, if not the best song on the entire record, with its noisy and urgent intro and these apocalyptic melodies. Just when the distortion fades and the sample plays on, making you think the song is concluding, it then hits you with one of the most beautiful and atmospherically heavy sections found on the whole record. “Death is a Warm Blanket” is fueled by a constant back and forth roller-coaster of moods and emotions, and is filled to the brim with painful screams and simple-yet-stellar drumming (seriously, well done to Tito).
While Side-A is pure rage and seething angst, the second half sees Microwave falling into a deep pit of sadness and despair, with tracks like “Pull” and “Love’s Will Tear Us Apart” holding a vice grip around your heartstrings. The former begins with a dreamy, airy intro with Nathan softly whispering “you pull me back in,” before then ironically being pulled back into a heavy and emotional ending. While I do like both of these tracks very much on their own, I must admit that they would’ve been better off being combined into a single four-minute song, as the one-minute long “Love’s Will Tear Us Apart” would have served as the perfect outro for “Pull.” Nitpicking, I know, but they’d work stronger as a singular piece.
Anyway, the doom and gloom then continue onto the massive closing track “Part of It,” which features some of the most powerful, emotive guitar work that Microwave has ever written. This track, in particular, showcases Nathan’s exceptional vocal capabilities, which bury a dark and intense feeling of sadness deep into the roots of the song’s soil. This is a tone that pops up in intervals all over “Death is a Warm Blanket,” and serves as a fantastic contrast to the booming yells and crushing energy of the heavier sections.
Microwave has always particularly been known for their brutally honest and blunt lyrics, and ‘Death is a Warm Blanket” is certainly no exception. If you’re looking for deep metaphors and intricate commentary, you certainly won’t find that on this album. Hardy’s lyrics are very shallow at times, but they are clearly meant to be and still have great meaning and cathartic moments. After all, sometimes it can be better to confront your thoughts head-on, rather than shrouding them in metaphors and figurative language.
“Leather Daddy” immediately hits you with its brutal confessions, with lines like “we used to be the fireball whiskey warriors, but now it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… I don’t know if we’ll ever be sober again” speaks volumes as to how many people cope with their worst pain by drowning it all in buckets of alcohol. “Pull” also wastes no time in sharing Hardy’s frustration with his physical downfall, as he sorrowfully sings “if I ever get that bad, take me out to a field and shoot me. Take what you can, don’t leave me with your hands empty.” Although it is one of my least favorite tracks on the record, I quite admire how “Carry” tackles self-hatred with lines like “do you murder me in your lucid dreams? Oh god, I hope you do.” The lyricism on this album is deceptively simple, but it finds a certain beauty in Nathan’s preference to not hold anything back; admitting things to himself that others would maybe rather bury deep.
While I much think very highly of this album, there were a couple of gripes that I feel hold it back from being an instant classic, as per their previous album, ‘Much Love.” The biggest issue I have is that much of the experimentation and melody gets lost in the mix with so much going on musically. It doesn’t feel quite as polished as it should be in certain parts, like the soaring choruses of ‘Mirrors” or the wishy-washy vocals in ‘DIAWB.” At times, this makes it quite hard to discern what is actually going on in the songs, and that slightly kills the energy of certain sections. Another small aspect that I took minor issue with was my feeling that coming off the back of the moody and twinkly Much Love,” “Death is a Warm Blanket” can feel slightly rough around the edges, and a little too in-your-face. Sometimes the album simply has too much aggression for its own good, and it makes me somewhat miss the soft melodies of ‘Wrong” or the bluesy riffage of ‘Whimper.”
Although I have a few minor issues with what is still a robust final product, ‘Death is a Warm Blanket’ serves as a steadfast pillar in the ever-growing catalog of Microwave; one that’ll certainly satiate and blow the ears off of every fan come September 13th. This is a droning and sludgy mesh of genres, and a colourful display of the emotions that come with a flurry of human stresses. In a way, the album perfectly encaptures the imagery of its title and reaches its way right into the heart of the listener. It’s crushing and gut-wrenching, constantly diving back and forth between tones and always shifting energy from one riff to the next. While Microwave may not be the same band that they were back in 2016, ‘Death is a Warm Blanket’ still welcomes a fantastic shift in sound, and I extremely excited to hear where they can take it next.
Float to the Top
The Brakeman Has Resigned
Love’s Will Tear Us Apart
Part of It
‘Death Is A Warm Blanket’ is out September 13th.