Dogleg ‘Melee’ – Review

2 Apr

The way that Dogleg put it, ‘Melee’ has arrived at the worst possible moment. In a recent tweet they wrote “already thought this year was starting off as a huge trainwreck before this mess and now seeing everything we tried to build up go down in huge fiery flames makes me ridiculously depressed.” The album was recorded over a year ago. A lot of time has been spent clearing the way, like a circle pit being prepared during the countdown. They couldn’t have possibly anticipated that Spring 2020 was going to be a write off. That their tour would be cancelled. That promotional opportunities would be flushed down the drain. That they wouldn’t be able to leave the house, much let do a radio session. But the way I see it, there is no better time for this album. ‘Melee’ is the gut punching, kung-fu kicking Rock album you need in your life right now. It’s a cathartic whirlpool of tension bursting because there is no where left for the energy to go. It’s an album about battling anxiety in a time of widespread anxiety. In this context, ‘Melee’ feels essential.

Like many of the best guitar albums of recent years, ‘Melee’ lives at the intersection between a lot of misunderstood and misrepresented sub genres. It has the whiplash intensity of post-hardcore, the heart-rattling sincerity of first wave emo and the melodic ingenuity of pop-punk. The band also cite 00s indie bands like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys as influences, and you can hear it in the bright hooks and tasteful way they structure and arrange the songs.

It’s part of Dogleg-lore that the band will give free merch to any member of the audience that can beat them at Super Smash Bros. Nobody has. The band convert that button bashing proficiency into musical efficiency. The riffs come hard and fast; completed with the practiced intensity of a pro-gamer battling the final boss. The momentum is carried by a drummer Parker Grissom who pounds every snare as if his life depends on him breaking the skin or drawing blood in the effort. The hit that opens ‘Cannonball’, possibly the album’s most vivid performance, sounds like a bullet being smacking the air.

The velocity never lulls – when the relentless onslaught of noise is occasionally paused, the silence is pierced by feedback or shouts that ring like battle cries. There are no slow songs and little sonic, rhythmic or musical variation. The closest they come is on ‘Cannonball’ where an acoustic chug briefly intercedes the noise before a choir of screams reset the status quo. Strings are introduced on ‘Ender’  at the very back of the album as a kind of curtain call but by then the damage to your eardrums has already been done.

The mix is fiery hot. You can almost feel the guitars vibrate. The vocals are mixed sensibly low to the point that you can frequently can’t make out what singer Alex Stoitsiadis is saying. A few choice affirmations do rise above the noise though: ‘will you be the fire or the wind?’, ‘time will let you down’, ‘I know it’s just you and me’, ‘I’ll keep it in my head, every increment.’ Stoitsiadis is no poet. His writing is vague and non-committal at best. But he’s able to summon incredible intensity with the limited tools at his disposal. The sentiments behind his words are carried by his raw and loud vocal performances.

Beyond the throat shredding, guitar thrashing and Nintendo references, lies a collection of burning heart on sleeve confessionals. Cryptic highlight ‘Fox’ finds Stoitsiadis floundering inside his own head, unable to articulate the thoughts that are ‘pressing against’ his skin. As the song rattles towards its end he exposes his deepest concern: ‘Any moment now I will disintegrate.’ On an album that hurtles around musical and emotional corners at a frightening pace, it’s a constant surprise that Dogleg don’t disintegrate. In spite of the odds, ‘Melee’ is a brilliantly triumphant rock record for 2020.

9/10

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