On DZ Deathrays’ first album Bloodstreams – released in 2012 – duo Shane Parsons and Simon Ridley’s main method of assault was through uncontrollable noise, volume and shedloads of vitriol. The tracks emerged from a fuzz and squall that held hidden beneath it a bedrock of spite and bitterness, tracks like ‘Teenage Kickstarts’ and ‘Gebbie Street’ were almost perfectly-formed thrash-pop pieces in the same vein as Japandroids and DFA1979.
So back in November last year it was surprising to find that the self-confessed ‘power-ballad’ ‘Northern Lights’ was the first cut from their sophomore LP. It was the signal of a change in palette for the band; they even self-coined the term ‘DZ Coldplay’ to describe their new sound. Was it really a sincere sign that they’d moved on from their thrash days and into a more mainstream field?
Fortunately for everyone, the answer is an almighty no. ‘DZ Coldplay’ is, thankfully, not a long-term thing and was a nice little distraction technique. Turns out, in the 18 months the band holed themselves up in studios in New York and their native Australia, the band are actually louder and more unapologetic than ever. Thrash-pop has never sounded so visceral and unhinged as on Black Rat.
‘Northern Lights’ actually provides a nice breather pretty much slap-bang in the middle of the record. For the other 10 tracks, you’re assaulted by a tsunami of noise, schizophrenic riffs and apocalyptic drumming. ‘Ocean Exploder’ is a beast of a track, with Parson yelping like a wild animal over a relentless tempest of scuzz. ‘Less Out of Sync’ and ‘Night Walking’ both follow a similar pattern, with commotion and clamour at their rampant core. That’s not to say that DZ Deathrays can’t do quiet though: ‘Night Walking’ in particular borrows a quiet-loud-quiet mantra, making the deafening fuzz of the guitars and drums all the more piercing when placed in contrast with some of the calmer verse segments. The single ‘Gina Works at Hearts’ features a warped melody and an itchy punk vibe, perfectly summed up by its NSFW video that features fishnets, vomiting and the DZ pair dressed not too dissimilar from the Blues Brothers.
On Bloodstreams, the band sometimes flirted with the idea of using electronics and synths. The most notable progression on Black Rat is that the use of electronics takes on a greater role among the carnage. ‘Fixations’ uses cyber-punk digital bleeps and a staccato drum beat. The elasticity of the title track in particular even shows a slight influence from hip-hop; the flow melding beneath the initial blast has a definite swagger, while ‘Reflective Skull’ takes this a step further with a deliciously sleazy refrain. They experiment more with other genres and instruments without ever sounding like anybody but themselves.
Some might want to criticize DZ Deathrays for not altering their sound enough or seemingly not ‘progressing’ as a band. But really, they have a formula that works, so why tamper with it? Black Rat may be very similar to Bloodstreams – with a few minor tweaks thrown in here and there – but that doesn’t make it any less of a brilliant album.
Words: Eugenie Johnson