October Rust - 'Black Rain'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we dig into a Swedish duo hailing from Kalmar, a south-eastern town in the country. October Rust is a collaboration between Christoffer Tholsson and Henrik Svensson. Tholsson tackles background vocals, guitar, bass, piano, and synthesizers, while Svensson takes lead vocals along with piano, synth, and sound development. The two cite groups like Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode as influences, so right off of the bat, I expected an eclectic, likely experimental rock experience.

Their new album is ‘Black Rain,’ a remarkable seven song collection chock-full of intuitive sound design and compelling instrumentation and composition. It’s a very introspective album, even dabbling into areas usually reserved for concept records. Essentially, it tells the story of a man who gives into temptation and kills his loved one. He has conflicted emotions of guilt and relief as a result of it - an interesting dichotomy October Rust explores lyrically throughout.

It’s difficult to pin down the sound of ‘Black Rain.’ It’s hard rocking, but also acoustic, soft-spoken, and definitely experimental. It has the creative nature of a Trent Reznor track, the chaotic feel of Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, and vocal pieces akin to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. From the melodic opening notes of ‘Backflash,’ listeners are met with a diverse soundscape unlike anything I’ve heard in the indie community for quite some time.

Another fascinating thing about the sound you’re introduced to on ‘Backflash’ is its production quality. There is a lot going on, and often October Rust embodies Phil Spector-esque walls of sound. Through all of that chaos, however, the duo’s creation is magnificently well realized and produced. Nothing is out of place in any of the seven mixes, and they’re mastered beautifully. Listening to ‘Black Rain’ in an actual music studio on large monitors was an amazing experience. Whatever your best sound rig is, that’s what you need to be listening to this album on.

The instrumental ‘Backflash’ slithers back into the darkness and ‘Sin’ greets you - a haunting, atmospheric track that is driven forward by an intelligent acoustic guitar riff. There’s something darker at play as well, the descending electric guitar notes and deep piano bass notes brood in the backdrop of the verses. Waterfalls of sound seemingly build up to catastrophic proportions around Svensson’s lead vocals. His voice is ideal for the style.

The demonic, even slightly disturbing ‘Whispers,’ is the highlight of the middle of ‘Black Rain.’ The track employs an extended use of electronic beats and sounds, something October Rust combine with their cut-throat rock and roll to significant success. ‘I Forgive’ may be the most lyrically insightful track. “Kneel before your creator... see the light in his eyes and the darkness in his mind,” Svensson croons over a perfect backdrop of cascading bright acoustics and light synths. The banter between the acoustics and the atmosphere effects is particularly wonderful, building a whole world around ‘I Forgive.’ (As is the case with each of the seven songs, really.)

'Beautiful Mistake' is an eerie track, but one that could certainly be interpreted a few different ways. After killing his loved one, the man seems to be remorseful, and he knows that just because she's not with him in body, he can't ever actually be fully free of her in spirit. With that said, he seems to take some solace in this. As he says, "It's time to rest now; I am weary of this life."

The final piece of this enigmatic puzzle, 'Wash Me Away,' has a sense of finality to it. The man wants the 'black rain' to wash his woes away; he's drowning and helpless. The song explodes sonically, perhaps in the finest debut of instrumentalism on the entire record. The track feels spiritual in a way; it's more soothing than unsettling.

'Black Rain' is a superb record. I am so thrilled to showcase it here on the Spotlight because it's an album I can honestly back - it's an exceptional piece of work. October Rain is an indie duo worthy of the big leagues. I found 'Speaks to Me' a bit uninteresting, but that quip aside, it's a near perfect exhibition of talent. Go check it out.

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