For Fans Of: Converge / Deftones / Cult of Luna
The progression of Palm Reader’s career has been nothing short of breath-taking; from their humble beginnings playing house shows in the sleepy commuter towns of Surrey, to supporting Glassjaw at the world-renowned O2 Brixton Academy. If it’s not already abundantly clear at this point that this band possesses something special, then Palm Reader in 2020 are poised to indelibly mark themselves out as expert purveyors of their craft.
This success did not come without hard work and incredible musical talent, of course. The band have been honing their sound tirelessly over the years through three critically acclaimed albums, fighting tooth and nail to win over fans around the world by playing festivals such as Download, Pukkelpop, and Greenfield (to name but a few). The band’s ferocious live show has garnered stellar critical acclaim and a loyal and dedicated fanbase. Theirs is a hard-won reverence that has posited them as bonafide contenders for modern metal and the underground at large’s title for most revered band.
With the announcement of their fourth studio album ‘Sleepless’, coupled with signing to the UK’s fan favourite independent label, Holy Roar Records, there is currently nothing stopping them from reaching the very summit of the metal scene.
‘Sleepless’ marks yet another sonic evolution for the Nottingham-based quintet; every successive release, from 2013’s ‘Bad Weather’ to 2018’s critically acclaimed ‘Braille’, has shown progression, each album building upon the last without ever compromising the band’s ideals. Guitarist Andy Gillan is direct and to the point when he says ‘I don’t believe it’s healthy for musicians to write the same thing over and over again because as soon as bands find their formula, they become crap!’
Palm Reader in 2020 are almost unrecognisable from the savage, technical hydra that used to regularly see them described as the UK’s answer to The Dillinger Escape Plan. At this point, they use their brutal hardcore roots merely as a starting point; songs like ‘Ending Cycle’, ‘False Thirst’ and ‘A Bird and It’s Feathers’ are a conglomerate of disparate styles, the sort of compositions that can only be written with years of battle-hardened experience. They are songs that define a band not by constrictive genre boundaries but distinctive characteristics that mark them out as individual from their contemporaries. With ‘Sleepless’, Palm Reader are firmly establishing their own unique sense of identity.
On ‘Sleepless’, Palm Reader utilise ambient textures and swirling atmospherics which act as the complementary yang to the band’s vicious yin. These extra elements are no mere garnish but integral parts of the musical landscape, much in the same way that Frank Delgado’s turntables create a haunting ambiance over the best Deftones tracks. Speaking of this extra layer to their sound, Gillan says ‘Bands that use keyboards always sound bigger. We’re constantly trying to evolve as musicians, so rather than having a guitar riff and beefing it up by adding a second guitar part, this time around we’ve created sounds that sit behind those riffs and tear at your heartstrings.’ These disparate elements coalesce into a sweeping, expansive cinematic sound that is by far the most ambitious work in Palm Reader’s discography to date.
Lyrically, vocalist Josh Mckeown has looked outside of his own experiences in an attempt to see things through the eyes of others. ‘I tried to put myself in other people’s mindsets and other people’s shoes so that I can have a more rounded set of themes rather than it just being about me’ he says.
In this respect, ‘Sleepless’ is a plea for empathy during a time when such compassion often feels sorely lacking. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Willow’, a song about a mother losing a child. Through his research, Mckeown discovered that to some, the willow tree can be a representation of loss but also a bastion of hope, a reminder of a loved one we want to keep close or a memory we choose to cherish.
Opener ‘Hold / Release’ explores the notion of toxic masculinity, how men are sometimes discouraged from sharing their problems in an attempt to live up to a false idea of what they should be. ‘That attitude can tear people apart’ says Mckeown, ‘I’ve seen it happen to people. I’ve been scared of it happening to myself. It’s a subject that I‘ve particularly gravitated towards of late.’ Inspired in part by Grayson Perry’s 2016 book The Descent of Man, the song provides a sober reflection on the dire consequences such an attitude can have, especially in the UK where suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45 in the country.
‘Stay Down’ is most reminiscent of the hardcore sound Palm Reader fans will be familiar with, a ferocious ode to perseverance and overcoming adversity in trying circumstances. ‘A running theme throughout all the albums has been the idea of overcoming obstacles’ Mckeown says. ‘I’m not sure if that’s me reassuring myself or trying to reassure other people, but it’s essentially about getting up after you’ve been knocked down.’
Album centrepiece ‘A Bird and It’s Feathers’ is a dark love song (perhaps a first for Palm Reader), which gradually rolls in on a dark cloud of menace before building to a cathartic and noisy conclusion that ceases abruptly to make way for a short sharp cacophony of brass. “Within the sonic landscape of Palm Reader there isn’t usually an opportunity to write about affection.” remarks Mckeown, further cementing the desire Palm Reader have shown to move forward as a band.
‘False Thirst’ is full of warm synths and delicate piano lines that interweave in and out of Mckeown’s vocal lines before a gargantuan chorus brings the entire band into cataclysmic effect. It is perhaps the biggest experimental departure for a band who refuse to rest on their laurels and rehash formulas.
With ‘Sleepless’, Palm Reader capitalises and makes do on the promise of their previous material. The more seething barrages of metal found in their sound remain intact and their penchant for melody is more fine-tuned and purposeful, expounding on their inarguably growing appeal to fans old and new. Most importantly, however, the five-piece’s reputation finally stands unwavering in its own credibility as much as hard-earned mythology. – Remfry Dedman, July 2020
Palm Reader are:
Josh Mckeown – Vocals
Andy Gillan – Guitars
Sam Rondeau-Smith – Guitars
Josh Redrup – Bass
Dan Olds – Drums