In the sound-hopping, always-on, premium-subscription language of music fandom in 2019, it’s perhaps for the best that the teenage tribalism of old hasn’t necessarily died, as some observers might like to opine, but rather shifted its shape.
The well-worn uniforms of teenage rebellion that may have sustained many a young person of your writer or your editor’s age (or older) throughout their culturally and socially formative years seem almost romanticised at this point. Post-punk’s recent revival on either side of the Atlantic is not without a wistfulness from certain segment of the gig-going audience, while the previously heavily-lampooned subgenres of nu-metal and noughties pop-punk have begun to slip in front of the rose-tinted shades of a generation jaded from over a decade of austerity, and longing for a time when optimism was only seen through the filter of polished, sturm-und-drang cultural import.
On the other side of that equation, however, is the first generation of music-makers and consumers to grow up in a world where, not only was all the music available, but legally, on all of the devices, all of the time. We see it in mood-driven playlists, pop consumption equally built on hookplay and introspection, and a wider milieu of music being appreciated and considered by casual consumers and musos alike. The aesthetics and influences of a genre’s exponents, different aspects of artists that appeal to different people, are rubbing off in different ways. The pop-cultural barriers that generations of moody, angry, lonely or adventurous music heads erected for themselves represent different things now.
Enter God Alone, a five-piece post-metal outfit based in Cork City, hailing from a working-class northside steeped in a hidden counter-cultural history, and a product of the circumstances and social issues affecting the area. Basing their sound in the blackened shoegazing of fellow Corkonians Altar of Plagues (taking their name from a song from final album Teethed Glory and Injury), the constituent parts of the band are deeply rooted in the Cork city of the present, garnering their chops and developing their friendships in different projects around the small but immensely loaded all-ages scene from whence they came.
While the band’s circle of influences would eventually expand, this was a youthful noise not necessarily born of the romanticism of the city, or of the torture of the post-adolescent fug, but simply of a need to create, according to vocalist/guitarist Jake O’Driscoll. “We formed in 2016, with the idea of just making weird tunes in a room together. Me and Cian (Mullane, bass/vocals) used to do tae kwon-do together as children, me and Jack (drums) used to play in a classic rock band together, and we met Seán (guitar) and Dylan (synthesizer) at the Academy of Popular Music in Cork. We just try to blend influences from whatever we’re listening to at the time, and our general experiences of growing up in the northside of Cork City. We just enjoy making tunes together.”
The band has been a very real story for specialist and social media locally for a few reasons, initially for their frightening sonic maturity, and a live show that has matched the tumult of their art. Over the past three years, members of the band have balanced their Leaving Certificates and early college lives with playing this relentless music nearly every weekend at venues around the country, displaying a work ethic and humility that has endeared them to promoters and gig-goers alike. And while the ‘local boys done good’ angle has helped get them in the doors of local press, and a willingness to work has stood them in good stead, a fair amount of the goodwill the lads have accrued comes down to that peculiar strain of civic pride inherent to Corkonians.
After a tough post-recession period for Leeside metal bands, venues, and punters, our scene has provided fertile enough ground for the likes of God Alone and other heavy/noisy bands to survive and thrive on their own terms, and more to the point, we’ve seen that maturity and precociousness happen before our collective eyes. Bassist/vocalist Cian Mullane talks about the importance of community to the band’s early going. “People in Cork are the friendliest on Earth, and without them we wouldn’t have done half the things we’ve done together. We played our first show when we were 15/16, in Groundfloor Youth Centre (a youth arts facility on Marlboro Street), and we’ve probably played there a million times since. We played our first “real” show in 2017 with (‘death-punk’ four-piece) Horse, (rapper/producer) Spekulativ Fiktion and (noise project) Shifting, and it was pure sound of them to have a bunch of youngfellas on their show, legends. Shout-out to our mams for coming to our gigs too.”
From those humble gigging beginnings, debut extended-player Intivim was launched, with physical stock selling out on the day of release. A rough-and-ready document of the band’s live feel and sound, its production was overseen by Ronan McCann (of Cork indie projects Any Joy and Painting By Numbers), and served as a prelude to the release in 2018 of debut full-length Poll na mBrón. Both served as statements of intent: embracing/confronting sadness and melancholia as a means to emotional honesty and mental health, the band has used the overtones of its music to address some of the ghosts that haunt the Northside of Cork city. The latter is a concept album, barely restrained in its indignation in places, dedicated to the victims of Our Lady’s Hospital, a facility of the institutional sort that haunts the conscience and memory of the State’s earliest development and oppression.
But from there, as the band reckoned with adulthood and the sources of their anguish, a more honest and worldly sound began to foment from within, as heard on their newest, eponymous, extended-player, released last month via Cosmonaut Music, and premiered in iconic metal media outlet Kerrang!. O’Driscoll expands. “For the first two releases, we were just making post-metal really that was showing our metal influences, more than what we sounded like ourselves. This EP was more introspective, showed everything we listened to, and what we actually wanted to sound like. We recorded the EP over the course of five days with Tom Peters of (UK math-rockers) Alpha Male Tea Party. This release was promoted and released differently, also because we did it with the help of (Cosmonaut head honcho) Cormac Daly.”
Of course, we couldn’t have the discussion of metal and the greater alternative rock oeuvre in a post-genre environment (and in this particular forum), without discussing the sometimes unfairly-maligned influence of the genre on popular culture as a whole, perhaps a difficult one for longtime genre loyalists, given the nature of pop to co-opt.
While nu-metal is routinely lambasted for a bullish and sometimes cringe-inducingly earnest nature, it did, in fact, presage a less defined understanding of the lines between genres in the minds of a generation that followed: pop acts like BABYMETAL and Poppy have opened the wider genre up to casual young listeners by co-opting aspects of its sound for shorter attention spans, while the romanticism and sensitivity of modern alternative hip-hop artists, like late genre exponent Lil Peep, has openly drawn influence from (and comparison to) the latter days of the grunge phenomenon.
Meanwhile, one need only look at the aesthetic choices of Billie Eilish, stuck somewhere between sleepy-eyed goth kid and day-glo raver, for an idea of why she took home ‘Favourite Alternative Rock Artist’ at this year’s American Music Awards, upending the idea that teen pop stars are to stay fixed in the male gaze, amid shifting perceptions of what it means to be in any genre (at all) in the musical mainstream of 2019. Meanwhile, her very unknowing of legacy rock artists like Van Halen has brought forth discussion on gatekeeping within music, and the age/ideological gap that faces both the genre and the artform, going forward.
Closer to home, the announcement of the rebooted Sunstroke in Punchestown, brandishing big alt-rock/metal names like Faith No More and Deftones, has added mainstream interest and headlines to a national, but mostly self-sustained, network of heavy events, like the bi-annual Siege of Limerick community all-dayer, and weekenders like Cork’s Monolith event. Among the homegrown outfits booked to lend their weight to Sunstroke are grunge revivalists Bitch Falcon, long-running metal trio Dead Label, and viral metal/trad crossover stars The Scratch (formerly of hardcore veterans Red Enemy). Farther away, trailblazers like Primordial and Cruachán have courted cult followings the world over, while the likes of Galway mathcore boys Ilenkus, Limerick proggers Shardborne and Tipp/Cork sludgers zhOra bear astronomical standards for the Irish metal scene at the moment.
Former Altar of Plagues man James Kelly set the tone for life after metal, meanwhile, with electronic project WIFE, while his recent collaborations with grime producer Mumdance have resulted in the primal power-electronics of the Bliss Signal project, recalling his musical naissance and bringing it in new directions. The Outsiders Ent hip-hop collective have been among those that have heavily referenced alternative rock in their works, not least on Outsider YP/Jay Ronic joint ‘Stampede’, seemingly made to inspire a different kind of moshpit. DJ, SESH FM man and producer Numbertheory, on the other hand, has chosen to acknowledge the influence of the genre on his teenage self on debut EP Horrible, blending lean and sparse beats with the dread and extremes of black metal, via vocal contributions from O’Driscoll and Here We Stand frontman Mark Coughlan, and remixes from similarly-informed producers Fomorian Vein and Cnámha.
A cursory listen to the band’s God Alone EP is to bear witness to an inversion of the aforementioned soup of influences and events, the sound of a genre’s understanding of itself expanding from the inside out: black-metal’s excesses, the introspection of shoegaze, the leaner rhythmic elements of various dance subgenres and post-punk, flourishes of folk and scintillating passages of technical metal, jazz and math-rock influence. It’s as well-informed musically as it is hectic. Speaking to this writer for Cork’s The Echo newspaper, Mullane outlined just how this all works. “I suppose for the first two releases, we were like, ‘let’s just do some post-metal and see what happens’. There were elements of dancey stuff and influences we’d later flesh out, but for this one, now, we’d tend to just get mad into one band or movie, and write a load of stuff, slap it all together, and say, ‘yeah, this is grand’. We got mad into Foals’ first album, and the movie Black Dynamite, and, like, Basshunter for a while, and we were like, ‘yeah, that’s cool’.”
While mental health and changing musical times have been recurring themes for God Alone, there’s also no getting around the fact that, quite simply, they don’t look like metal archetypes: flinging comparatively slight statures around stage at velocity, draped in patterned shirts and speaking openly on social media of their gigs as opportunities to dance and confront one’s sadnesses openly, the band takes pleasure in subverting the toxic stoicism and gatekeeping that sometimes still afflicts the genre.
While not being angry people themselves, O’Driscoll explains the endgame of their music in this respect, and where they pull the wherewithal from themselves to create such demanding, taxing art. “The album was a concept album about mental health, and we used Our Lady’s as a place for those themes to exist. We’re not angry people ourselves, the sights around the northside, and mental health influence us to make music in general. It just happens to be “metal” that we make naturally. The toxic-masculinity thing inspired us, as it annoys us seeing all the metal bands in black and white, with big beards, looking angry, despite being normal lads, and being really, lovely, happy people. The angry masculine cloud that shadows metal needs to go, as it’s stopping people from expressing their actual personalities in their music, and just following the herd in being ‘angry and mysterious’.”
Amid the tumult and circumstance of their newest extended-player’s release, the band has found time to do the rounds of international press, and criss-cross Ireland on the way to their first ever UK tour. As mentioned, their efforts reached Kerrang!, with the band featuring online, and in the outlet’s widely-read weekly print edition, while outlets as diverse as Metal Hammer, Bandcamp Daily and Hot Press have sung their praises in the recent past.
With a banner year under their belts, the band finishes 2019 up with a pair of Cork dates: this Saturday, the band supports seldom-seen prog metallers Yurt at Fred Zeppelin’s, alongside experimental duo Skellig; while Friday week sees them co-heft with Leeside post-hardcore godfathers Hope is Noise, and stated band influencers Horse at the Kino. Mullane takes the excitement in typically understated fashion, ahead of a 2020 that sees them set their sights on bigger and better things, including an appearance at Quarter Block Party,and gigs further afield. “It’s been a fair class year there, with the EP coming out, and stuff. The last few gigs will be class, and we’re happy to round up the year in such unreal company. It’s going to get very Christmassy (laughs).”
God Alone’s new self-titled EP is available now on godalone.bandcamp.com, and across all streaming services via Cosmonaut Music.
The band plays Fred Zeppelin’s this Saturday at 9pm, for the Xmas edition of the Paranoid Pit night, joining Cork sludgers Skellig in supporting rarely-seen Irish metallers YURT; and appear at The Kino on December 20th, supporting Hope is Noise and Horse.