I seem to have been covering a few rather meaty box sets and multi-disc releases lately, so when this new EP dropped into my inbox I took a listen to it, almost as a sort of ‘palate cleanser’, by way of a quick and easy listen before diving into something much longer again. And I’m quite glad I did, because this is one of those rather promising curiosities which can take you out of your regular comfort zone and shake up your thoughts a little bit. There are five tracks on this EP (so named because the band’s second full length album, due next Spring, is to be called The Drip), though one is a ‘prologue’ (called, appropriately, Prologue), and is a scene-setting instrumental of only 40 seconds duration, building from some subtle piano and cello up into the fury which ignites the first song proper. So effectively, we have four tracks here – like a vinyl seven-inch EP back in the ‘old money’ – therefore without further ado, let’s dive in and take a look.
Right off the bat, I confess that I was uneasy reading the description of the band’s sound as a mixture of ‘electronica, industrial and grunge’ – because, even though I don’t mind a little of each of those genres in reasonable doses, they did seem like rather unlikely bedfellows to mesh with each other. However, this is one of those cases where genre pigeonholing can be counter-productive (though obviously essential when promoting a new band of course), because the sound that Wax On Water produce is a unified whole which I haven’t really come across before. All of those elements are certainly there, but there is more in the mix, and the balance is mostly just right so that it sounds at its best like all of those things and yet not exactly any of them. The band is fronted by female singer Maya Damaris, who formed the band back in 2012, and her vocals are astonishing. Rough, gritty, and with some occasionally harsh electronic treatment, I spent the first song labouring under the impression that it was mid-to-high range male vocal! This is far from the sweet, melodious style favoured by female prog singers, or the more operatic style sometimes prevalent in the more Gothic regions of your collection – rather, this is her using the vocal as an aggressive weapon, spitting out the often angry lyrics in an effectively ‘punk’ way. It works perfectly with the music, as it happens.
The real ear-grabber for me throughout this collection of songs, however, was the guitar work of Steven Blessing. He only joined the band in 2019, a year after their debut release Procession, and already it is hard to imagine the band without him. His unique style colours and punctuates the songs with a mixture of precision powerchording and brief yet surgically placed lead guitar fills. He’s a little like a sort of mixture of Pete Townshend and The Edge, largely eschewing traditional soloing and flat rhythm chording, and yet remaining the prime focus of the music. He is a talent and no mistake.
The first three tracks following the prologue are all strong, and all simultaneously very dark, nihilistic and aggressive in tone. This suited me down to the ground I have to admit, being from the generation serenaded in our youth by the existential angst and misery of the likes of Peter Hammill, Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. Empty, hopeless despair, mixed with just the right dose of fury at the godless hell we are consigned to, was my cocktail of choice as a teenager, and it’s good sometimes to indulge a bit of that old brew in a nice little ‘unhappy hour’. This release does just that, as Maya spits out Don’t Bore Us, The Sting In The Raw and Seventh Son in a tirade of black-hearted funereal angst. The way she herself describes the songs gives more than a flavour of the content: Don’t Bore Us is a ‘revenge song’ directed at overbearing, bullying individuals, of which she says ‘some people really do thrive on that negative energy…so this is my ‘f** you’ to that situation and all those people’ – which is certainly fair comment in my book. Seventh Son is about ‘the dark descent of a doomed relationship’ while, perhaps best of all, The Sting In The Raw is another catastrophic relationship song about the moment when it ‘crumbles to dust’, causing her to remark ‘I always say that hope is a cruel mistress! She is so beguiling when in play and so crushingly disappointing when she is misplaced.’ So there you are, not a party record then – or at least, depending on the nature of your parties.
As stated above, what makes these songs work is the nice balance of influences, with a little electronica tempering the dark industrial edge of the vocals and the grunge-influenced riffing, with hints of metal and even the odd proggy flourish coming from the inventive Blessing. The downside is that the final track on the EP, For The Love Of Money, really doesn’t work in the same way at all, and while the longest at almost five and a half minutes, it is also the weakest to these ears. A reworking of a song by soul outfit the O’Jays, of all people, it is far heavier on the electro side of the band’s sound, and seems a little jarringly out of place following the powerful venting of the previous tracks. They probably intended it that way as a contrast to end the EP on a lighter note, and for some people that might just provide the perfect conclusion, but to me it detracts from the other material rather than enhancing it. It might have worked better as a shorter rendition placed in between the darker, more aggressive numbers, with one of those perhaps extended instrumentally itself.
It’s an interesting release though, and certainly more intriguing than the mere influences put down on paper. Maya is an extremely unusual vocalist, with a definite ‘unique selling point’ about her, while in Blessing she has the perfect foil. A little more experimentation, and perhaps a bit of contrasting light and shade within the aggressive tracks to illuminate the darkness and anger, and the forthcoming album could be rather interesting. I’m certainly glad I checked it out.