Music can be a strange and wonderful thing at times. You can listen to a song once and be indifferent towards it, twice and hate it and then listen to it a hundred times more and still not “get it”. All it takes is that one moment for a song to finally click with its listener, and soon your head is bopping along to the tune that you could not stand just a moment ago. My experience with Damascus’ latest effort was something very similar. Hailing from South River, New Jersey in the USA, Damascus is a relatively young band having only formed in 2011. They have been pretty productive over these past few years though as they now have 3 releases under their belts, including the fantastic 2013 release Heights which I still listen to this day. How does their latest effort When Last We Met stack up though?
RELEASE DATE: 25 November 2014 LABEL: Self-released
As alluded to earlier, I was really not impressed with When Last We Met upon my first few times listening to it. On my first listen, I even thought I had selected a different album from another band as the first song sounded nothing like the Damascus I knew from Heights. “Where is the piano from the opening track of Heights?”, “Why does the production sound so different from the last?”, “Why can’t I accept that Damascus has progressed?” I can now safely say that after listening to When Last We Met for almost 2 months, it’s really grown on me and I now believe it even surpasses Heights!
The first track, “Everything was Burning” is probably one of the heaviest songs that Damascus has written. Chunky, distorted guitars and sledgehammer drumming hit the listener immediately and pound away for a solid 2 minutes before Damascus change tempo up a bit with some solid groovy bass lines and clean guitar chords. The song builds and builds from there, culminating in a wonderful crescendo of thunder-like double bass on the drums and a catchy guitar melody played atop.
The next track, “Breathless” is without a doubt the best song on When Last We Met and my favourite of the album (I enjoyed it even when I wasn’t really digging the album during my first few listens!). “Breathless” showcases everything that I love about Damascus; the wonderful contrast of heavy and light parts in their songs, the progressive nature of their song writing, their ability to craft memorable melodies and riffs, and their all-round ability to rock their listener’s socks off! The beginning clean guitar chords are simple yet effective in drawing the listener in and the reverb-soaked riff that kicks in just after the minute-mark is absolutely stunning. The song builds and builds with some wonderful deep bass lines driving the song along, which is always refreshing to hear in a rock/metal influenced band. The song explodes into a triumphant chord progression with a wonderful melody played atop that will have you humming it long after the song is done. What follows after this is an emotional meandering of sounds with guitar flourishes weaving in and out of one another, with a solid drum beat and bass line backing it all up.
“Ever Since” is another standout track. The beginning acoustic guitar pieces are a delight to listen to and show another new dynamic to Damascus’ sound. The band even utilises a bit of violin in the song build-up which is a nice touch (I hope to hear more in future releases as it works so well!). The song explodes around the halfway mark with some reverb laden melodies and chord progressions which are part and parcel of Damascus’ writing style. The song ends on some more wonderful violin and acoustic guitar work which really brings “Ever Since” full circle.
“When Last We Met” is the title track and deservedly so! Damascus once again utilise acoustic guitar pieces to great effect and even introduce a short piano piece which was an aspect of their earlier music that I loved so much. “When Last We Met” is all about building up instead of meandering in and out, with the song progressively building layer upon layer of melody and riff. “Morning Star” is a great experimental track which showcases Damascus’ ability to create contrasting sounds and emotions in their songs, especially in a single song. Haunting synths open the track and soon are joined by acoustic guitars and the return of some piano and violin. The song continues in this fashion throughout its entirety, backed up by a solid, almost military-style drum beat.
The final track “Wake” ends When Last We Met on a satisfying note. The track kicks off with some more great acoustic guitar work from Damascus. The song slowly builds and builds with acoustic guitars and reverb-soaked melodies, and some really wicked and catchy drumming. The song peaks and then dials down into a slow jam of bass lines and simple, clean guitar melodies. The song changes direction completely after that and builds once again, into a powerful ending with some heavily distorted chord progressions, melodies and some of the most furious drumming to be heard on When Last We Met.
What I did find disappointing on When Last We Met even after multiple listens is the sound mix. I found a lack of width in the soundstage noticeable at certain points and I yearned for the mix to “open up” and sound “bigger”. The distorted guitar parts and drums had punch but sounded one dimensional and the fantastic guitar melodies were lost at times in the mix. All the clean guitar parts did sound fantastic though, especially the acoustic guitars and violin, so I’ll give them that!
Listening to When Last We Met has definitely shown me to always give songs and albums a second chance; even a third, fourth or fifth! Music doesn’t always click on a first listen and deserves to be fully explored before giving a final judgment. Many of you reading this will probably adore Damascus’ latest and greatest from the get go, that’s great! For anyone on the fence about this album, I urge you to give When Last We Met multiple listens, you will NOT regret it.