All told, this is a real step forward for Wax On Water, and sees them using the springboard of the ‘Halloween EP’ theme and transcending it by virtue of the songwriting inspiration it has clearly afforded them. Ghouls and fiends there may be – but to paraphrase another seasonal saying – ‘an EP is for life, not just for Halloween’…
London-based Wax On Water have been creating something of a name for themselves over the past year or so – their debut album The Drip was preceded – literally, ‘drip-fed’ – by a couple of EPs, The Drip Part 1 and The Drip Part 2 (hey, nobody claimed they had to have original titles!), and there was much promise if occasionally frustratingly not quite fulfilled. The two EPs showed plenty of sharp songwriting and playing, but spread over a full 16-track album a slight lack of variety or light-and-shade dulled the effect a little. Now down to the core duo of frontwoman Maya Damaris and guitarist Steven Blessing, they are joined on this new EP by American session drummer Matt Chivers, and the progression from the album is noticeable.
The title of the EP, and the five tracks, make it clear that this release was deliberately timed for Halloween – but in fact what could have ended up as a mere marketing gimmick detracting from the material is actually turned into a big plus, as the discipline of writing to a thematic concept seems to have sharpened their focus and improved the songwriting. The opening track almost-title track, Ghouls And Fiends, is a fine statement of intent, carrying as it does a big chorus giving Maya’s very distinctive voice a real chance to shine. A big, bold hook together with a nice tight rocking feel, coupled with an intelligent and interesting lyric makes this an immediate standout. Where things hit the bullseye here, however, is in the resisting of any temptation to just rinse-and-repeat the formula, as Guanciale (Mark of The Vampire) sets an instantly darker tone, with the more measured music marrying up to a rather nice Vampiric lyric. Two fine songs with far less overlap than the earlier material had displayed, and this continues with Deadbeat Guy, the most catchy and commercial song on the disc and definitely one which could get some airplay. A bit lighter in its feel certainly, but again, mixing things up successfully.
With the fourth track, Part Of Me, this variety of moods is maintained in a song which is practically a ballad, and certainly the most thoughtful and, dare we say, mature piece of writing the duo have yet come up with. It’s very nicely constructed, and could have sustained more than its four minutes or so duration with ease. Again, however, we take another turn for the closing More Than I, which wraps things up in the heaviest form on the record. It’s the hardest rocking thing on the EP, and it definitely leaves the listener wanting more rather than having any sort of feeling of repetition creeping in. This is the sound of a band who give all appearances of having grown and developed substantially within the past few months, and it is very pleasing to hear. Blessing in particular continues his distinctive ability to use a range of chordal semi-lead work rather than more generic ‘riffing and soloing’, a little like a mix of Pete Townshend and The Edge rolled into a more contemporary sound.
When they do get down to recording the next full album, they should certainly be well equipped to season the listening experience in a far more diverse and interesting fashion than the debut, but there is still one thing I would like to see them do when the wider palette of an album-length release allows it, and that is to allow themselves the freedom to stretch out over a longer track length. One of their key strengths on The Drip was their ability to settle into a groove and allow it to breathe when having the courage to do so, but they nonetheless always played it on the safe side and kept the tracks relatively short and sharp. Short and sharp is good, make no mistake – but all the more effective when counterbalanced by a little leisurely development here and there.
All told, though, this is a real step forward for Wax On Water, and sees them using the springboard of the ‘Halloween EP’ theme and transcending it by virtue of the songwriting inspiration it has clearly afforded them. Ghouls and fiends there may be – but to paraphrase another seasonal saying – ‘an EP is for life, not just for Halloween’. Do check this out, and roll on the next album.