Music Review: No Devotion finds redemption in ‘Permanence’

Most artists will, at some point, inevitably experience the embarrassment of having the nadir of their lives – public or private – documented for all to see. It, unfortunately, comes with the territory of living in the gossip-fueled, TMZ-obsessed world we now find ourselves inhabiting. All low-points and rock bottoms can and will be seen by the judgmental god that is the unblinking public eye. These artists are faced with the options of either slinking away shamefully and putting their careers into early retirements, or, courageously, they can embrace – warts and all – their darkest, most embarrassing moments and channel that negative energy into something creative.

Almost no artists have ever hit as devastating a low point as the members of Lostprophets.

No one would have blamed the ex-members of the group if they had decided to hang up their instruments and hide from the scrutinizing gaze of the public eye. They had, of course, just seen their 15 years of hard work as a band blow up in their faces when allegations surfaced that their lead singer, Ian Watkins, had secretly committed some of the most repugnant and evil crimes imaginable.

Despite the fact that years of their musical work were tarnished by their now incarcerated former front man – or perhaps because of it – these five Welsh musicians were compelled to continue making music. While a commendable decision, it would be a hard task to accomplish, as the Lostprophets as a brand was now forever tainted by Watkins. The question became how on Earth would musicians Jamie Oliver, Lee Gaze, Mike Lewis, Luke Johnson and Stuart Richardson get back into the world of music making?

Enter Geoff Rickly.

In the last few years, the former lead singer of Thursday – one of the most well-known and revered post-hardcore bands of the ’00s – had been experiencing his own professional and creative nadir. Thursday had disbanded in 2011 and – while he was still sporadically channeling his fury in the screamo power-violence supergroup United Nations – Rickly found himself in the ghastly grip of grief after a romantic relationship he was in ended.

On May 14, 2014, it was announced that Rickly would be joining the five ex-Lostprophets members in a new group named No Devotion. Rickly, in an interview with Radio Cardiff, said his new bandmates “needed a second chance.”

As fate would have it, Rickly himself needed a second chance.

Leaving behind the nu-metal sound of Lostprophets, and – to a lesser extent – Thursday’s post-hardcore vibe, No Devotion plunges Permanence for the majority of its 48-minute runtime deep into the chilly, turbid waters of ’80s Joy Division-inspired dark electro-pop. However, there are moments of airy, fuzzed-out shoegaze à la Stone Roses, and aural homages to the more buoyant tunes of ‘80s stalwarts The Cure and New Order that allow the band to rise above the depths of despair and bask in the light of redemption.

Permanence opens with the deliberately slow-paced, synth-heavy “Break” which finds Rickly sing, “I don’t wanna see you break.” Whether Rickly is addressing a lover or the fragility of his new group, “Break” is a spellbinding beginning to the album.

The atmosphere lightens with the next track, “Permanent Sunlight,” an energetic attempt at a hyperactive Cure song – think “Close To Me” and “Friday I’m In Love.”

“Tell me, where is the silver lining?” Rickly ponders out loud on “Eyeshadow” while colossal drum beats – reminiscent of Larry Mullen Jr.’s early U2 work – threaten to consume everything around it. The track is definitely informed by U2 – when the Dublin-based band was more Souixsie and the Banshees, not their current corporate dad-rock incarnation.

The first half of the album’s sound is a black, bloated cloud of turgid basslines, speaker-blowing drum lines, static-soaked vocals, and jangling guitar chords. We hear Rickly ruminate on the themes of love lost, obsession and disappointment. His bandmates are more than willing to commiserate with Rickly as they churn out sorrowful sounds.

However, an interesting tonal shift occurs during the latter half of Permanence. The instrumental “Death Rattle” finds the ex-Lostprophets members performing a dizzying and nearly violent exorcism of the ghosts of their ruined past. It’s a cathartic moment for the band and listener. A moment that sees the band members slough off their dark, impenetrable husks, and open themselves up to the world as a proud and united force.

From here on out, No Devotion delivers some of its best tracks. The album launches out of its murky sound with the catchy-as-hell “10,000 Summers.” Standout track “Night Drive” is a joyous moment when the best parts of the band – anthemic choruses, blown out bass, morose lyrics and glistening synths – converge into one. “Stay” is an absolute, unabashed pop song that blooms with beauty.

Permanence closes with the epic “Grand Central,” which sees the band returning to the darker gothic sound found earlier in the album. The difference this time around is that No Devotion is no longer hiding in the shadows, but rather wearing them as a source of pride. With this album, Rickly and the five ex-members of Lostprophets have done the impossible. They have climbed out of their respective low points, given a massive middle finger to the judgmental public eye and found redemption.

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