Release Date: 27/11/2020
Record Label: Church Road Records
For Fans Of: Thrice, Architects, Deftones
Extensive use of piano and keys, slide guitar interludes, Iron Maiden harmonies, this is what Palm Reader are known for, right? Because all of the above can be found on their latest album, Sleepless.
You may now be wondering ‘are Palm Reader no longer a hardcore band? What more will 2020 take from us?!’. The answer to the first question is an ambiguous Yes and No (sorry, I can’t answer what the rest of the year will hold). Sleepless is still recognisably a Palm Reader record, and features all the heaviness and visceral screams you’d expect from a hardcore act, but the band have now transcended to become so much more.
With record number four (yet again produced by the hitmaker Lewis Johns), Palm Reader have capitalised on the sound teased throughout their last record, Braille. Proving to the naysayers that they were more than the British version of The Dillinger Escape Plan (still not a bad comparison in this reviewer’s opinion), the Nottingham based quintet demonstrated an incomparable style, incorporating more textured, atmospheric passages rarely found within the genre renowned for unrelenting aggression. No longer would they neatly fit into the category of ‘chaotic hardcore’, taking the tropes and stylings they cherry-picked to present something brand new.
This has continued with Sleepless. Listening to the record, one cannot deny the heaviness and sheer weight behind some of the five-piece’s riffs, not to mention the ferocity of vocalist Josh McKeown’s screams. Yet at the same time, the question surfaces ‘is this a hardcore record?’. As previously mentioned, keyboards play a prominent role in the mix, adding new textures and overall expanding the band’s sound (no synth solos though, unfortunately). Guitar Andy Gillan comments that ‘bands that use keyboards always sound bigger’, and this certainly rings true for Sleepless. By providing a solid chordal foundation to the music, the keys enable the guitars to enter new territories, whether it be providing clean arpeggiated passages, or dominating the low end to counteract the soft tones of the keyboards. Songs such as ‘Ending Cycle’ and ‘False Thirst’ demonstrate this, with the former track being driven by bass and drums with twinkly keys occupying the upper region of the sonic landscape, while ‘False Thirst’ opens with washed out drums and reverb heavy keys. Even when the overdriven guitars kick in, the track still resembles an alternative metal sound, closer to the likes of Thrice than The Dillinger Escape Plan.
As the record reaches the halfway point, ‘Islay’ provides an instrumental interlude. Normally, this reviewer would find interlude tracks unnecessary or indulgent, but the atmospheric slide guitar stylings transports the listener to a desolate western setting, the likes of which is usually achieved via the film scores of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Had the band retained their more ‘traditional’ hardcore sound (if it can be called that), the track may appear out of place, but since there are no boundaries left un-pushed on Sleepless, the interlude is a welcome addition.
Yet despite all these experimentations and expansions of sound, Palm Reader still managed to bring the noise. ‘Stay Down’ is most in keeping with the band’s sound found on previous albums, while still demonstrating an evolution of style, similar almost to Architects in recent years. Towards the latter half of the album, the heavier moments begin to creep out. This is partly achieved by extensive use of expansive, sparse instrumental passages – by being more sparing with heavy riffs, they hit so much harder. Sleepless climaxes with ‘Both Ends Of The Rope’, climax being the operative word, as this is not merely the final track of the record. The track provides an epic feeling, one of resolution to the album just heard, with the distorted guitars coming out in full force. As the track peaks, the guitars erupt into an Iron Maiden-esque harmony. As left field as this sounds within modern hardcore, it does not feel out of place, but more so the natural progression of the track. This just goes to show what can be achieved with a band expanding their sound. By refusing to be pigeon-holed, Palm Reader have so much more available to them.
If one is reading this and feeling scared that their favourite hardcore band has abandoned their roots, this should not come as a shock. Palm Reader have gradually been teasing this change, and with great success. The band’s development has now come to full fruition, still retaining elements of the sound they performed so well, but incorporating new-found elements of their musicianship, illustrating just how strong they are at songwriting, regardless of genre.
Recommended Tracks: ‘Stay Down’, ‘A Love That Tethers’, ‘Both Ends Of The Rope’