God Damn is a rock band with only two people. But don’t worry, they don’t really sound like yout typical two-piece. For one thing, this British duo is reportedly pretty loud. Singer/guitarist Thom Edward even said “we’re probably the loudest band in Britain right now” (did he walk into every club with a VU meter just to make certain?). Second of all, Edward and drummer Ash Weaver understand the importance of dynamics, saying, “You can’t have the heaviness without the lighter touch.” And thirdly, they use the studio to their advantage. Guitar tones are changed mid-song and vocals become heavily processed for overdubs, ensuring that nothing gets monotonous. When you put it all together, you can toss out any White Stripes comparison you had brewing in your mind.
God Damn’s debut albumVultures pummels you with all the subtlety of early Soundgarden while using a finely-tuned production job. After a steamrolling introduction, the album’s leading single “When the Wind Blows” rides a brisk waltz meter for Edward to use his angry little troll voice in front of a more orthodox guitar track. On first listen, what stands out is the sludge. Each song seems to be built upon a similar sludgy foundation. The more you listen to Vultures, the more you’ll notice what else God Damn is trying. “Maladie Melodie” goes from whispering to screaming in the course of less than five minutes as if it were the most natural thing found in pop music. There are plenty of moments where Edward takes a stab at being a new kind of Billy Duffy, balancing the heavy rawk riffs with a precisely-plucked clean guitar, tipping a hat to the early-’80s goth movement (the album’s title track is one particularly Cult-ish stroke). A track like “Silver Spooned” is one where the two worlds of melody and noise hang together in perfect balance, more so than the much-trumpeted “When the Wind Blows”. Just the chorus alone demonstrates how there is more happening within Weaver’s kick drum than in most rock duo’s entire songs.
No discussion of Vultures would be complete without addressing the song “Skeleton”. Lasting just over nine minutes and starting out with an uncharacteristically acoustic guitar and (relatively) quiet vocal introduction that lasts for more than two minutes, it’s obvious that God Damn want you to give this track special consideration. Edward’s refrain is either “Dangle like skeletons / I am bored” or “Dangle like skeletons / I am born” — either interpretation doesn’t pave a rosey road for that track as it erupts at the 2:24 mark. “Skeletons” is instantly transformed from something quiet and pensive to something louder than the 1990s. As the feathers and anvils compete for dominance, God Damn lets the guitars pile up in an onslaught of scrap metal. You can just picture Edward and Weaver thrashing their big heads of hair in unison with each slow bash. As the howling vocals and rolling acoustic guitar die away, God Damn finish off “Skeletons” with one minute of silence.
“That’s cheating,” you might say. “They’re just padding out the length.” That may be true. But God Damn are also playing a game that is populated with few players, a two-piece non-minimalist rock band that plays distorted yet melodic songs at deafening volumes. I say, let them get away with their one minute of silence. Just make sure you have the volume down for when “The Cut” begins. My ears are currently recovering from that mistake.