Written by Ellis Heasley
Dreamwell – Modern Grotesque
Post-Hardcore/Screamo from Providence, USA
Released February 26th
It seems that screamo, or ‘skramz’, has been in a really good place over the past few years. The list of bands who’ve put out great records that broadly sit within that world is pretty endless at this point, with recent standouts including Frail Body, For Your Health and Frail Hands, to name a few. Seeking to add their name to this list with their second full-length, entitled Modern Grotesque, are the Providence-based ‘emo post skramz’ five-piece, Dreamwell. Off the strength of this record, it feels like they belong there. Modern Grotesque is an album that’s thick with a heartfelt emotion and passion. Often, this manifests as something quite visceral and abrasive, but it can also be extremely melodic and even moving at points.
The album opens with What Does it Mean To Live in a Grotesquerie, a short, gradually building track that features the first of several tortured performances from the band’s vocalist, Keziah Staska. After this, the band tear into the one-two punch of Painting Myself a Darker Day and Sayaka. Both of these are great. Each bristle with some serious metallic savagery, with Staska’s vocals drawing strong comparisons to the impassioned stylings of Jordan Dreyer of La Dispute or Jeremy Bolm of Touché Amoré in particular. Both, and especially Sayaka, also have an intensely atmospheric and expansive feel, mostly driven by the clean guitar work.
This guitar work becomes a consistent highlight of Modern Grotesque. Handled by the duo of Ryan Couitt and Aki McCullough, it often adds real melody and a more ethereal quality to the band’s music. These parts are rarely particularly flash, instead accentuating and juxtaposing nicely with Dreamwell’s more ferocious leanings. Fourth track A Crouching Tiger Waits for Prey That Never Comes provides one of the most obvious examples, as does eighth track, The Lost Ballad of Dominic Anneghi.
Surely the best track on Modern Grotesque is the staggering Plague Father; Vermin Son. This, the album’s fifth track, feels very much like the centrepiece of the record. It appears to tell the story of presumably Staska’s experiences of abuse at the hands of their father. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s absolutely devastating, with lines like “I must have guided the hand that broke me. I was shaped by abuse, now I’m the vermin son” and “This anxiety’s a black stone you vomited out when you swallowed your children.” Staska’s emotion is well-matched by the band behind them, who provide a dynamic backing with mournful lead guitars and moments of driving hardcore rage.
The rest of the record remains of a high standard, with sixth track You Dreamt of Me, I Dreamt of a Mountain of Salt also standing out. This one may well be the most traditionally heavy track on the album, even evoking the hard-hitting melodic hardcore of the likes of Defeater. Another highlight is the album’s ninth and title track – an emotional, lengthy and dynamic piece that builds to a massive, crushing conclusion with huge lead guitar parts and the rhythm section of Justin Soares and Anthony Montalbano adding real weight behind them.
With a runtime of just under 39 minutes, Modern Grotesque is pretty much a perfect length. The tracks on it are dynamic and varied enough that things never become boring. Instead, Dreamwell have crafted a powerful, mature, and often quite moving listen. Crucially, it’s an album which sits comfortably alongside many of the other records that are being praised as part of the recent screamo revival, and one that fans of that scene should be sure not to miss.