From hardcore to music that is incontrovertibly influenced by neofolk and nihilistic pop; that’s a transition that no-one would have expected for BoySetsFire and I Am Heresy’s frontman, Nathan Gray. The January 13th-released, self-titled digital EP has been an energetic kick-off of to the new year for music and the furthest dark pop edge of neofolk.
A four-track EP is a welcome change of pace from the otherwise generic pile of work that builds up as a music critic. You can essentially listen to the entire EP four times over and absorb the content in the same time as a full-length record. However, full-lengths obviously demonstrate how consistent and creative an artist can be. In comparison, an EP is a ‘play it safe’ recording for any artist, especially those who use it as a gentle introduction in the infancy of a new direction. However, though forging a completely new path as a solo artist, Nathan Gray is no stranger to the music industry, having fronted the aforementioned bands and worked with many more. Gray could boast a vast accumulation of loyal fans to lure across genres to his new solo project. I’ve never seen a solo-act break the mass opinion of an artist’s previous output, but it can certainly change one’s perspective on them. At about my second listen, it has become clear that Gray has nothing to fear in this light.
‘Wolves’ begins with a synth approach that is reminiscent of the analog sound of an ’80’s progressive rock song or B-film score. It loops and stays with you throughout the entirety of ‘Wolves’. The deeply haunting recitation of some lines from the classic 1970’s film, The Dunwich Horror, sets both the tone and theme for the EP. A bevy of effects/synth and accompanying drums characterize the lyrics and vocal ability of Nathan Gray.
By the time you’ve heard the chorus on ‘Tomorrow’, you can already visualize this act playing live and a packed venue swaying their arms in the air to a different side of an artist they’ve already long known. Gray’s vocals challenge new heights and polish.
‘Baptismal Rites’ begins with a simple, humble looped organ performance that leaves one predicting that something dark is bound to follow. What does follow is actually drawn-out, polished harmonies and electronic effects, a minimal bass line, and percussion. This is music that is built around what Gray has become most known for in his career as a musician: his vocal performance. These vocals are indeed his strong suit; they define the quality of this recording overall.
The fourth and closing track, ‘Corson’, brings a bit of disappointment, but only with respect to the length of the record. Cello, bodhran, synth effects, and an orchestrated finish with a touch of noise end this debut masterpiece.
What inspired this musical dichotomy for Nathan Gray? The neofolk genre has its fair share of artists with what mainstream society would consider as eclectic interests and associations; one doesn’t have to look much further than the enigmatic Spiritual Front—who, along with Rome, are admittedly big influences on this solo project—to find proof of that. Enter Nathan Gray, who has become a very public member of the Church of Satan. Could this be the opportunity to more blatantly unleash the churning thoughts of his chosen spirituality? Or maybe Gray was playing it safe and conducting an industry Litmus Test to his suitability to the genre with a four-track EP? Perhaps this is the musical love-child that has been at the forefront of his inspired thinking? Whatever it was, the EP is nothing short of brilliant. The only complaint that I can make is—you guessed it—the length. A ‘safe recording’ it may indeed be, but four songs leaves you hungering for more. That said, the Litmus Test has passed; this music is neither Acidic nor Basic, and has in fact turned in an altogether new reading. See it for yourself.
While he’s impressed with this initial output, Nathan Gray needs to release a full album to show that he is completely up for it, and I have no doubt that he will succeed and become a heavy-hitter in the dark pop side of the neofolk genre as he continues to develop and hone his very unique approach.
To those ‘Nay-sayers’ on Satanism: If the dark lord inspires music of this quality, it would be wrong to stand against it, so go ahead, embrace the sin of gluttony, and feast on this release!
03) Baptismal Rites