Bonfire Nights – ‘Entopica Phenomica’ Album Review

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Bonfire Nights (sadly missing a trick by not releasing their album on Nov 5th) are a London-based psyche band, initially formed in Australia, who deal in gnarled, stoner jams that are part shoegaze hypnotising act, part synth-infused somnolence. This nine-track effort is the band’s debut album, recorded hot on the heels of the ‘Ego-death’ 7” and once more with producer Olly Betts (The Duke Sprit) in tow.  With split male/female harmonies, swirling synth and droning guitars, Bonfire Nights draw on a similar set of influences to the likes of Seafood and Sonic Youth, albeit with a darker fire than the former and a more accessible edge than the latter. Twenty years ago, this would have been the sort of music that would have been released on Org records or (Delgados label) Chemikal Underground,  and it’s hard not to be drawn into the band’s miasmic swathes of sound.

Opening track ‘easy touch’ sets the seen perfectly with its throbbing bass lines and half-whispered vocals giving way to a huge wall of crystalline guitars. It’s a path occasionally trod by the Pixies at their most beguiling, and the band are sensible to keep the music short, neither over-milking ideas nor allowing the music to wander too far into the realm of ambient noise. The perfectly entitled ‘Mesmer Isles’, with its 8-buit intro, echoes around the listener while Steve Foster’s fragile vocal, filtered through a mild distortion, sounds like a cross between David Line and Syd Barret. When the beat finally kicks in we’re reminded of Fuck Buttons and their ilk, although the music here represents a more pop-infused vision, with the glorious vocal melodies and post-punk guitars giving the song a more defined sense of purpose. The guitars blaze and roar on the pulsing ‘Heart’s to blame’, a glorious trip powered by Ruth Nitkiewicz’s heart-beat drum and Suzie Creevey’s texture-generating synth lines. The slow-burning ‘Low’ recalls the slow-core music crafted by the band of the same name (a link further reiterated by the split harmonies) whilst ‘Ego death’ emerges in a haze of white noise guitars, post-punk fury in the vein of PiL and earth-shaking percussion, the latter given greater weight by Olly’s exceptional production which is both raw and powerful.  

The bizarrely titled ‘Bo Diddley Did Me’ is a full-on psyche fest with crawling guitar lines awash with tremolo and the vocals following Jefferon Airplane down the rabbit hole. It’s a freaky, lysergic trip that sees the band at their most inventive, blurring together searing guitar lines, jabbering electronics and a tribal beat with a gleeful intensity that demands the track be played at full volume. The lengthy ‘Going Round’, with its metronomic beat, seems beamed in from another decade,  as Steve does his best Thurston Moore impression (think ‘Goo’) only for the brief ‘Signal Failure’ to plunge the listener into a synth-orientated nightmare that brings to mind Walter Carlos’ dystopian soundtrack to ‘A Clockwork Orange’. It feeds nicely into closing track, ‘Crossing the wires’, another piece of music that draws its inspiration from the music-as-art spirit of the 90s’ alternative scene. A taut, dynamic track, ‘crossing the wires’ is vast in its scope, piling on layers of twisted and occasionally brutal guitar as feedback fills the spaces left behind and vocals freefall through the noise. It’s epic, beautifully blistering art rock that traces its lineage back to Pink Floyd’s dark-hearted experiments in tension and relief on ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ and it sounds thrillingly alive.

On ‘Entopica Phenomica’, Bonfire Nights have managed to capture a good deal of their live spirit, not least thanks to the exceptional production work of Olly Betts’ perfect production job. There’s a depth and a power here that is impossible to ignore and the album builds beautifully to the crushing conclusion that is ‘crossing the wires’. Drawing freely upon a range of influences spread over forty years, Bonfire Nights have carved out their own niche, but what links them, beyond all else, to their peers of yesteryear is a wilful desire to experiment and to create rather than simply follow in someone else’s footsteps. ‘Entopica Phenomica’ is an exceptional debut from an exceptional band. 9

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