• No Devotion – ‘No Oblivion’

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    During the 2015 tour No Devotion vocalist Geoff Rickly would proclaim ‘We’re a brand new band’. Riding high on a wave of promise they named their debut album ‘Permanence’ because it was a monument, something to last, a record that staked out their existence. The thing is, they weren’t a brand new band, not really. They were a sticking plaster, a bandage used to cover the pain in the members’ lives and with the tour completed they disappeared. Finally, seven years later, their second album crawls into existence. This isn’t a hopeful, optimistic record, its title tells you just how defiant it is; ‘No Oblivion’.

    Made up of Thursday’s Geoff Rickly and the musicians from Lostprophets, No Devotion drew upon their former bands’ history to create something new. If you’re looking for a through-line, you can hear the influence of Joy Division, New Order and the Cure, and this sound is also the basis of ‘No Oblivion’.

    On the first record the band’s sound was emo-tinged synth-rock heavily influenced by the 1980’s synth pop, the tone was ‘triumphant’. Sure it had its fair share of atmosphere but the overall feel was upbeat, as if they were standing in darkness and staring outward. This record is the opposite it’s looking inward, and thus as a result is moody and more subtle.

    With only eight tracks there isn’t much space for the band to explore, but even so the album’s first half is incredibly tightly wound. Each song is focused, purposeful and quietly thrilling. On ‘Starlings’ you’re treated to simple piano, clean guitars and shushing sounds allowing Rickly’s voice to work its magic. It’s understated until suddenly a violent guitar draws out the chorus, like poison from a wound. This makes for a strange, angry beauty, enhanced by the production choices to make it sting. This effect is also heard on ‘A Sky Deep And Clear’ when Rickly sings ‘I can’t find the air’ and the music swells around his words, making the hairs on the back of your neck rise.

    During its second half the album stretches further. ‘The End Of Longing’ is a simple, rousing song with some neat little synths to give it character. Track six ‘Endless Desire’ is similar but draws much more heavily on soaring synth keyboards and twinkling bass sounds, very much capturing the 1980’s synth-rock vibe. It’s grand, but does rather smother the vocals which makes it interesting to speculate how the album’s overall tone would have shifted just by adding another song in the same vein, because it wouldn’t have worked nearly so well.

    Between records No Devotion has shed members and is now a trio made up of Rickly, Gaze and bassist Stuart Richardson. As they’re no longer a traditional band it’s not hard to imagine how these songs have been pieced together. What this means in practice is the album is more creative and thoughtful, like a coloured drawing where you can still see the pencil lines beneath. It’s disarmingly honest, especially combined with the often sombre lyrical tone.

    Stuart Richardson is best known as a bassist but he has often handled production and again serves as producer here. He favours a sound that feels focused and subtle, meaning the songs are never overcrowded despite the different synth elements and the results are powerful and quite pointed. You get the feeling every song has been combed through and tweaked because each is filled with tics and understated nuance. Calling it ‘stripped-back’ isn’t accurate but there’s an honesty that every song preserves despite numerous layers, almost as if each has been nurtured to protect its heart, be this a hook or moment of yearning. This results in an intimate record and the fragile vocal space on ‘Love Songs From Fascist Italy’ proves to be a career highlight.

    While you might not describe Rickly as a great singer, he’s certainly a great vocalist. His voice is likable and is mostly presented here in the best possible way. In fact, the music often feels like reacting to his words, rather than his vocals being layered on top. This creates an immersive overall sound and emphasises the emotional hooks without sacrificing the honesty. You’ll notice him flexing his lyrical skills on ‘Starlings’ with its repetition of the word ‘black’ and you could easily compare it with older songs like ‘Addition’, where the intelligent wordplay allows him to relax without dimming the song’s power. It’s also surprising just how much emotional weight he can put behind a simple phrase and you can feel the loss, for example when he yells ‘The colour’s running out’.

    Interestingly, where the first half of the album seems perfectly in-step with Rickly the penultimate track, ‘Repeaters’ feels at war with him. A rattlesnake hiss lurks in the verses, the snapping drums drown him out and he evens fades into the background during the song’s middle eight. It’s a fascinating and ruthlessly effective track that’s actively contrasting with what’s happening elsewhere. This leaves the closing track ‘In A Broken Land’ as a bit of an outlier. It’s a sleepy, dreamlike song in-keeping with the rest of the record, but one that never really explodes to life, instead bleeding away, you might even say drifting off into oblivion.

    No Devotion wanted to be something new and exciting, but time has changed their outlook. They’re not a brand new band, they’re not making bold anthems, but they’re still defiant. Having searched inside themselves they’ve created a record that’s dark, bruised and beautiful, expressing their one desire, ‘No Oblivion’.

    IAN KENWORTHY
     
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