Dark Below owes a clear musical allegiance to alternative rock of the 1990s and beyond. It isn’t slavish imitation, however. I believe you can even hear strands of psychedelia working their way into the song during its bridge, even if that’s a subjective evaluation. Their new single “Tense” is far from 5th generation alt-rock served up for a steadily swindling audience but, instead, guitar-centic yet melodic rock that’s engaging and current without selling itself.
They are far from pandering for the listener’s attention. “Tense” covers the subject of hypochondria or health anxiety, certainly not your average rock song fare, and undoubtedly something the band’s songwriting has experienced first-hand. It comes across with such visceral reality, but Dark Below is careful to never overplay their hand. The song is never clinical, doesn’t depict the condition in distanced language, and the musical arrangement and lyrics are tailored to work together.
Vocalist and guitarist Josh Campbell’s singing sounds like he’s locked in on every single word. He’s a singer who’s paying attention to every note from the band rather than attempting to impose his will on the cut. The only part where I think his vocals miss is during the bridge, but the fault for this falls more on the effects applied to his singing. It’s far from a fatal moment for the song.
He handles vocal and guitar duties with considerable aplomb. Dark Below doesn’t lean on signature riffing as much as other bands of their ilk do, but the playing has a pulverizing effect. The thoroughly modern sound of the track keeps it from being mired in the past, but some listeners may long for a warmer guitar sound.
The rhythm section of bass player Josh Grove and drummer Quin Koldan have a strong presence throughout the song. Their playing establishes a fluid yet unshakable foundation for the singing and guitar playing to build on the performance. Anyone looking for extended instrumental breaks should go elsewhere, however, as the guiding aesthetic behind songwriting such as this eschews those sorts of affectations.
The songwriting tackles the song’s unusual subject matter in a conversational way and with well-chosen language. Dark Below’s experience as capable songwriters shines through with subtle decisions as well – I commend the wisdom of writing about hypochondria with such deliberate and dramatic language.
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It reflects the band’s understanding of dynamics. There are several peaks and lulls layered into the arrangement that helps the track unfold in a natural and gripping way. Nothing is ever rushed and the trio refrains from chasing after any short cuts. The band delivers an honest and forceful track that doesn’t mince words and provides listeners with the ability to sing along as well.
It’s far from mindless bash and thud. We can expect the same from the band’s forthcoming first full-length album, but “Tense” will more than do for now. This hint of greater glories to come is one of the best rock tracks I’ve heard in some time, and I expect to hear more from them for years, if not decades, to come.
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