The Dirty Nil's 'Master Volume' Fully Embraces the Power of Rock Music
If rock music is going to have a renaissance, then the Dirty Nil have shown that they are ready for the those first, all important, recovery breaths.
The Dirty Nil
14 September 2018
There's no doubt that Hamilton, Ontario trio, the Dirty Nil live and breathe rock 'n' roll. From the body odor filled van tours to the low-ceilinged, cellar shows, they are living their own version of the rock 'n' roll dream. So, at a time when modern rock music finds itself flat on its back with nary a pulse, the Dirty Nil's second album, Master Volume, is perfectly primed to kneel down and start applying chest compression.
After releasing the hook-laden, riff heavy, rock stomper Higher Power in 2016 and the compilation of their earlier work, last year's Minimum R&B, Master Volume marks the return of an older and wiser band. While "Higher Power" was about finding yourself in a touring rock band with its accompanying trials and tribulations, Master Volume moves those experiences on further. This is a fully fledged rock 'n' roll record but with a few more miles on the clock.
There's no doubt from the opening, distorted power chords of "That's What Heaven Feels Like" that the band are ready to rock you. It also illustrates the band's understanding of dynamics as the song gradually ascends before unfurling it's huge chorus at the top of the alt-rock mountain as frontman Luke Bentham wrings his vocal chords for all their worth.
"Bathed in Light" keeps up the revs with those meaty power chords tumbling over themselves to get to the kind of chorus that would make a polar bear sweat. Early indications are that this is a band who have their eye on swiping the alt-rock crown that's gathering dust in Dave Grohl's garage. Throughout Master Volume, the band consistently demonstrate that they have a decent hand to play, but it's "Pain of Infinity" that's the album's trump card. Riding a fuzzed out riff, it gallops to the kind of chorus that glues itself to your soul. Imbued with a '60s guitar pop sensibility, the repeated line "Let's do whatever you want / Whatever you want" is the kind of line that you end up singing loudly into a department store mirror while expertly playing air guitar.
If the album, sounds like a fight for rock's very soul then "Please Please Me" breaks out the nun-chucks. A garage punk tune with the brakes fully off it hurdles to a spinning, full on, rock breakdown. A song that would comfortably fit on the last Hot Snakes record, the band sensibly decide to apply the brakes a little before the album careers over the edge. On the mid-tempo "Auf Wiedersehen" frontman Benthem comes to the conclusion that his best bet is to leave a negative influence behind ("I mean this in a nice way / Fuck you!") before they both go down in flames ("I'll see you again / In hell as a friend").
On the super tight "Smoking Is Magic" the band show off their early noughties pop-punk chops while "Super 8" illustrates what they've learned from touring with the Menzingers as they paint a vivid picture of the realities of bedding down in a different motel every night as part of a touring rock band.
"Always High" and "I Don't Want That Phone Call" provide the emotional heart of the album. Similarly, they serve as the flip side to the good times as, on the former, Bentham lambastes a friend for carrying on the metaphorical party long after the music's stopped and the lights have come on. Reality bites even harder on "I Don't Want That Phone Call" with Bentham pleading for a friend to shake themselves out of addiction ("Hey Man / You gotta slow down / Cause I don't want that phone call"). Despite the subject matter the band still manage to fashion a taut, hooky chorus straight from the heart.
The album concludes with the clean guitar line and more subdued mood of closer "Evil Side". Initially suggesting a band wary of becoming a rock 'n' roll cliche, the song threatens to flicker to a morbid conclusion until the lights are turned to full beam as the trio finish with a full-on, fuzzed out freak out that recalls the rockiest moments of The Bends-era Radiohead
Master Volume fully embraces the power of rock music. No fat. No compromise to current fads or fashions. This is grade A rock music as pure as it can be. Musically, it shows a band willing to put in the hard yards to write the kind of album that used to connect to thousands of rock kids back in the '90s. If rock music is going to have a renaissance, then the Dirty Nil have shown that they are ready for the those first, all important, recovery breaths.