Wednesday 3 April 2024

The Great Alone - Perception (2024)

Country: Switzerland
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Jan 2024
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

Here's a fascinating debut album from Switzerland, which is most of what I know about The Great Alone. I don't know where in the country they're from and I don't really know who's in the band, a couple of names being all I can find: Murielle and Vincent. Clearly that's Murielle singing, so does that mean that Vincent handles all the instrumentation or do they split that up between them? I don't know and I'd love to, but for now, they're Swiss, this is their debut album and it has a unique sound that I rather like.

As they've stated in interviews, they take the sheer power of metal but present it through a rock structure. The result probably counts as alternative, but that's not alternative like, say, Nirvana or REM; it's alternative like Evanescence or a less theatrical In This Moment. Murielle sings clean and she has some serious power to bring to bear but there's a weight to the music behind her too, even when it's held back, as on songs like Cell, Quiet Place or Horizon, the latter of which has the most effective softer section here, I think.

All this, and occasional piano, brings a gothic feel to this material too, but not so far as to label it gothic rock or metal. There's merely a gothic flavour to their particular brand of alternative rock, just as there's an operatic grandeur at points without it ever becoming symphonic metal. Illusion may be the most overtly gothic track here, but the opener, The Call—which may be intended as an intro and may be the first track proper but which really works as both—has a Sisters of Mercy vibe to it. Whatever else it is, it's a statement of intent, but with a ruthless bass, tasty rhythms and an ethnic vocalisation in the background.

I wish I knew who plays the bass here, because it kept on impressing me throughout the album. It's right there on The Call forging the groove but it's there to open up Beyond Dreams too, with some tasty rhythms too. What this one does that points the way to everything to come is escalation, the one thing that the Great Alone do better than anything else. There are a host of tracks, beginning with this one, that have softer sections that build back to something heavier. Stars and Storms has a magnificent build. Cell has a strong second half, including two builds, one to the three and a half minute mark, then another after a complete drop to piano and texture. Quiet Place builds strongly too. These escalations are everywhere and they're always impeccable.

The problem some of these songs have is that their first halves, inherently softer, subtler and with more nuance than the builds that take them into something more, don't always survive the builds. They become the something before the magnificence rather than the first half of a song. That may be a little unfair, but I got so caught up in the second halves of so many of these tracks that I lost a grip on how they got there.

The most notable exception to that is the standout track for me, which surprisingly isn't the well crafted Beyond Dreams or indeed Mania, the next on the album, which continues in the same vein but with a neat drop down to something more ethereal three minutes in. Both are highlights for me, but it's Icons that steals the show, because it has a build but also has a unique sound from the outset and it totally nails its first half.

It's an angry and progressive song, compared to everything else here. Murielle has serious power and she can vary the intensity of a piece with panache, but, like the music behind her, she's always crafting material so that it's the best it can be. And that's great, but on Icons she goes far beyond that to send a message. She's angry here and whatever it is that she wants us to know, she sells it absolutely. There's even a subtle Dolores O'Riordan lilt at a couple of points and, frankly, if you're aiming to sell anger, a hint at Irish is never going to hurt. The music behind her, which starts out as a commercial take on industrial, backs her up absolutely and once again there's a joyous bassline during a neatly progressive section early on. It's a peach of a song.

While I liked this album a lot, in its details and in its sweep, Icons perhaps underlines how it could be a little more than it is. What I liked about the rest of the album was the craftsmanship of the songwriting and the technique of the musicians. It's impeccably done and when it adds an unusual touch or texture, it's even better, like the drops in Horizon and Cell, the gothic piano that opens up Illusion and the opening of Reverie, with a solid riff emerging from the darkness, where it sounds like monks are chanting low. However, it's so slick that it can lose some of its emotion, even during those magnificent builds. Icons nails the emotion.

And that's why this is a really easy 7/10 for me that made me consider an 8/10, but I can also easily see that with a little more rawness and a little less gloss, their next album could easily land a 9/10. I'm eager to see what they come up with next.

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