The Dirty Nil
Free Rein To Passions LP
(Dine Alone Records)
How fantastic is it that, in some instances, a band doesn’t have to change themselves or their sound very much (if at all), they just have to write a new batch of songs and be brave enough to just be themselves with the understanding that fans will be able to pick up on it and appreciate that music and that heart for precisely what it is? Things like that don’t happen every day, but The Dirty Nil has been lucky enough to build their career on that base; calling what they do candid would be both trite and incorrect (because it would imply that the band put some kind of forethought into what they’re doing) and would do a complete disservice to the band – really, what The Dirty Nil has always done is just make music that makes them happy, and that just happens to connect with a great number of other people too. That relationship continues to yeild excellent results on Free Rein To Passions – The Dirty Nil’s fourth full-length album – but also sees the group growing ever so slightly beyond their comfort zone without also coming off as ambitious.
Making such growth feel easy without seeming earnest is not the easiest thing to balance, but that The Dirty Nil seems do it so well and easily here is truly impressive. The proof is in the listening; as soon as stylus sinks into the A-side of the album and “Celebration” opens it, listeners may find themselves stunned expressionless as singer/guitarist Luke Bentham grinds out the single best glam metal guitar figure captured in song since since the height of glam metal crested in 1989, and then earnestly sets the framework for the song up with assistance from bassist Sam Tomlinson and drummer Kyle Fisher. The results are absolutely flabbergasting; Bentham’s guitar both stretches and pounds unrelentingly and, when he sings, he proves that it only took him three albums to grow into his sound and stature as lines like, “Cause the way that you hold me while the world’s on fire, is a gift that commands me, and requires a celebration” melt listeners’ faces with a presence which is timeless in that it echoes all the greatest lords of rock since the music really began to appreciate spectacle in the Seventies.
That is not to say the band wasn’t capable of producing as good as “Celebration” before, just that the maturation of the band and the quality of “Celebration” as both a song and performance piece is undeniable and spectacular.
After “Celebration” sets the pace and sound for Free Rein To Passions, The Dirty Nil presses their own advantage, albeit in an unexpected way, with “Nicer Guy,” the second cut on the side. There, the band shifts into overdrive and delivers a treasure trove of melody without actually lightening up. Bentham coasts sardonically through some “la la la”s in a way which seems destined to have a gang vocal develop in it when the band plays the song live, and that sense of potential spectacle rides both neatly into and through both “Undefeated” as well as the particular standout “Atomize Me” – where The Dirty Nil crosses a genuinely unique hybrid of melodic hardcore and a sense of pop song craft which calls Limblifter to mind in a manner that is truly amazing (read: no one on Earth ever expected lyrics and melodies as refined as those which appear in “Atomize Me” from The Dirty Nil) before finally returning to the sonic centre at which the band started during “Celebration” for “Land Of Clover” to close the side. While “Land Of Clover” upholds the structures that The Dirty Nil presented earlier on the A-side well enough, that the song somehow manages to almost double the lengths of the other cuts, combined with the fact that the lyrical center is just a hair weaker than elsewhere on the side (“If it makes you smile, then I don’t really mind” came pretty close to making me flinch in genuine discomfort) leaves listeners hoping where the side leaves off will not be the point at which the band picks up on the flip-side.
Happily, “Blowing Up Things In The Woods” (which glorifies all the small town kicks its title implies) doesn’t explode in a very trite way to open the B-side – so much as it sizzles perfectly and gets listeners glowing red hot again. There, the guitars blaze with all the glory that they should and frame Bentham’s vocals and Fisher’s drums and, while any message that the song may contain is pretty lean, the cut is still a whole lot of fun (as anything involving firecrackers should be) and informs “Stupid Jobs” (which extols the merits of its subject really, really well) before seamlessly rethinking where the B-side of the album might be headed for “1990.” There, The Dirty Nil perfectly encapsulates the unhappy celebration which characterized the music of that aforementioned decade as well as touching upon the pop-punkier points of the bands who shone during that period (like The Odds, The Killjoys, Teenage Head and so on) as well as expanding to include some better and more refined modern rock and pop chops (check out lines like, “Betray yourself with chemicals and constant self-doubt/ And now you’re used up, you’re outta luck and had enough”) and holding that position perfectly through the album’s title track (which increases the punk force and loses some of the pop clarity, but is in no danger of losing listeners) before finally throttling back for “The Light, The Void and Everything” to close the album. Because the album’s final cut takes its foot off the gas as completely as it does while also featuring lines like “Do some living – while you’re able/ Try not to be ungrateful,” it’s definitely hard for those who have gone front-to-back with Free Rein To Passions to appreciate the song on first play – but repeated trips through reveal that “The Light, The Void and Everything” is intended to represent a moral balance that the album genuinely requires. That sort of “moment of clarity” gives listeners a sense of resolution which is pretty uncommon for a punk album, but also ensures that those who have gone front-to-back with Free Rein To Passions will take repeated spins through. It might sound weird or even unlikely but, on Free Rein to Passions, The Dirty Nil has done what many other punk bands (like The Offspring, Rancid, Propagandhi and Descendents) have attempted to do but all come up short on: they’ve grown up and recognized that they didn’t have to abandon who they are to do it. [Bill Adams]
Free Rein To Passions is out now. Buy it here on the band’s official website.