Palm Reader fall into that recognisably English breed of band playing a particularly abrasive form of hardcore tech – think a more esoteric version of Architects without the dominant low end. Their Facebook page pegs their genre as ‘lairy’, which seems like a rather apt account of their barked vocals and frantic, staccato riffs. Beside the Ones We Love is the follow-up to 2013’s Bad Weather and it builds on the blueprint laid out by that album, its compositions sprawling out into the surrounding landscape.
Album opener ‘I Watched the Fire Chase My Tongue’ is one of those song titles that screams progressive songwriting married with a mathematical construction and it does not disappoint. Taking nothing but a snare drum and barked vocals for an introduction, it makes no polite entrance, preferring instead to wrap itself around an elusive time signature as the guitarists attack their instruments. As it progresses, the composition takes in more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan film, such that it’s impossible for the listener to guess where it’s going to go next – from frantic, staccato rhythms to instrumentally skeletal passages and meandering lead guitars.
This is very much a template for the entire album, as it oscillates between the breakneck, rhythmic bludgeoning of the likes of ‘Pedant’ and ‘Stone’s Blood’, and the more thoughtful, intricate passages of ‘Stacks’ (which features a fantastically sinister riff) and monolithic album closer ‘Unabridged’. They say that one of the greatest military assets is the element of surprise and this is certainly an attribute that sets Palm Reader apart from their peers as the concept of expectation consistently eludes the listener; time signatures chop and change and moods shift from barely contained ambience to discordant aggression.
Palm Reader know how to rage – that’s a given – but they’re most interesting when they pull everything back. The Woking five piece possess that all too rare understanding of minimalism, and harness it to really create a shift in mood and dynamics. Take ‘Sing Out, Survivor’ for instance, which takes a skeletal drum groove that loosely grips the droning guitars and their moaning feedback as frontman Josh McKeown’s unrestrained screams echo over the top. ‘Travelled Paths’ is even more captivating, consisting of nothing more than a clean guitar drenched in reverb and vocals spat with passion and belief. The minimalism is such that you can even hear McKeown’s seething breaths between lines.
In Beside the Ones We Love, Palm Reader have created something that eludes definition and fumes with experimentation. In this respect, they draw comparisons with The Dillinger Escape Plan and rival them in their fearless embrace of the paths less travelled. One thing’s for certain: no matter what happens next, Beside the Ones We Love is going to have a huge and lasting impact on the UK hardcore scene.