EVERLUST – DIARY OF EXISTENCE
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
Google ‘metal bands from Latvia‘ and the list is long. The ones I’ve come across recently, who span many subgenres, have been truly excellent, like Bloody Heels (with their take on modern glam) and Varang Nord (with their blistering folk/pagan blend).
EVERLUST favors a mix of gothic rock and melodic metal, and their latest “Diary Of Existence“ continues that trend of Eastern European excellence. It may be just their sophomore effort (their first was 2017’s “Hurts To Live“), but singer Kate Brown, guitarists Vlad Pucens and Max Reksna, keyboardist Andrew Jirgensons, bassist Pavels Savins and drummer Alex Shangin have firmly established a point of view and a high standard of quality. Pavels (2019) and Kate (2018) are the band’s newer members ; Andrew joined the lineup this year.
“Gemini“ is as unique an opening track as you’ll ever hear, most notably for Kate‘s bits of humming that go into soft giggling, then into almost crazed laughter, then into sobbing, all treated with echo that makes it even more uncomfortable. All of this is accompanied by keyboards and, later on, a sing-song, jet-black guitar melody that starts with a lone guitar then adds overdubbed layers to give it size and weight. Kate speaks the words, which seem to be a musing on some sort of surrendering (“If only I could raise a white flag / Close this book and lay it on a shelf“), some sort of disassociation (“Can’t feel the rhythm on my neck / Who is me and where’s myself?“). The second section has a vague suicide reference (“A wooden cross that breaks my back / Before I go a kiss goodbye / The ocean sound, my lullaby“).
“Land Of Dreams“ is an excellent track to get things under way in earnest. It’s notable for the guitar melody, colored and shaded by keyboards, that remains throughout the verses ever so lightly and comes forward most appealingly in the prechorus and chorus, getting jagged and irritated as the mood intensifies and changes from wistful to angry. It gets its heaviness from the stop-and-start rhythm before the chorus. Kate’s voice is dainty, with an airy breathiness ; her power is in subtlety and shading, not in volume or frills. An aching desperation comes forth in the chorus without her really having to raise her voice – you get it, you feel it (and her oos are nicely done too). You could surmise this is about the end of a relationship, the disappointment and disillusion (“Your angel wings are falling“), the sacrifices one makes for the other (“You made a wish beneath me / To heal the bleeding scar” and “I burned myself completely / Just so your pain would go“), but in the end nothing helped, it was doomed (“Like every other story / This one has reached its end”). In the end, the final chorus modulates down, the high-end guitar melody disappears, giving the words a new sense of hopelessness and loss.
“Running“ is a nearly-perfect blending of gothic and metal, the dreaminess of the initial guitar melody and brisk high-end drumming, the full, almost affected quality of Kate’s vocal (she gets very rounded here sonically, richer, much more siren-like). The full stop before the chorus is super effective, especially since it’s preceded by the words ‘kept on‘ and ‘keep on‘, then the chorus is, of course, “Running from myself” – it gives the chorus a means to happen, a jumping-off point. This is definitely about revealing yourself to someone, being vulnerable and being judged for it (“I showed myself to you / Naked and weak / You saw the freak“) in the first verse and trying to fit in, suppressing your true self (“Drowning in silence / In between the crowd“) in the second. The chorus is what the character’s trying to do in order to cope, to fit in – “Running from myself / Building up my shell / Nobody will see / The imperfection of what’s killed inside me“.
“Everlust“ is sung by Vlad, whose decidedly goth, almost deadpan (or monotonic, or dispassionate), entirely non-metal voice somehow makes this sexy song (yes, it’s about that) even more so. It’s that perfect blend of Priest-like riffing with a solo guitar line that has an echoing, chiming Sisters Of Mercy feel to it. The prechorus is chugging, suspenseful, Kate singing soft backing vocals there and in the chorus, and Alex’s fabulously light, skipping drums bouncing it along as the riffing gives it beefiness. The last section is a coda of the first, a short solo and the chorus again, before a pummeling, driving, irresistible ending – it’s a fantastic track that will get them on the floor in every cool European goth club.
It’s interesting that an Eastern European gothic metal band would cover an English R&B/pop singer/songwriter, but damn, they make Sam Smith‘s “Writings On The Wall“ their own and it’s almost solely due to Kate‘s vocal treatment. She feels every bit of it (and her slight accent makes it charming as well). She’s wistful and bleak and spare in the first verse, a lovely vulnerable catch in her voice in the line “But I feel a storm is coming“. She’s helpless when she asks “How do I live? / How do I breathe? / When you’re not here I’m suffocating / I want to feel love, run through my blood“. But the power and certainty flowing through her voice when she asks those questions the second and third time through makes it clear she KNOWS this is what she wants. The pause before she delivers the title the first time (and how they isolate her voice each time) turns it all metal, not just musically, but vocally, as she recalls her sins, if you will, in the second insisting, more confident verse: “A million shards of glass / That haunt me from my past / As the stars begun to gather / And the light begins to fade / When all hope begins to shatter / Know that I won’t be afraid“. This is someone who took love lightly and who split before it got too complicated (“I’ve spent a lifetime running / And I always get away“), but now they’ve been snared (“But with you I’m feeling something / That makes me want to stay“) and are faced with the terrible, terrifying risk of taking that chance on someone (“This is something I gotta face / If I risk it all / Would you break my fall? … Tell me is this where I give it all up? / For you I have to risk it all“). Kate is there for all of it, especially when she delivers the title that one last time, going from big and bold to small and kind of still terrified in the space of those six words. Brilliant.
Slow and sludgy, “Despair” has that same Sisters Of Mercy guitar tone in the ringing melody, the metallic riffing and chugging. Alex’s drumming is truly tasty and tasteful, not just in terms of keeping time, but in his little flourishes that you can’t help but notice, like in the chorus. Between the second and third verses, the pinging, melancholic keyboard jousts with the biting riffs. Kate’s murmuring verses are low-key, nearly monotone, and it really gets the despair and the hollowness of the emotions across. Here again is another relationship ending and the lyrics are just outstanding in their imagery and wordplay: “When warmth in your eyes had abated / The chill has run deep through my bones” in the first verse ; “No point in dissecting the feeling / That started to decompose” in the second ; and the brilliantly devastating third verse “You left me alone at the crossing / With someone else holding your hand / For you it’s the light of new dawning / For me it’s the night without end“. So much drama and passion in so few, so well-contained words. She and Vlad sing the chorus together, him in a droning low voice, her in a droning high one, to really get across the feeling that this is meaningless – these are people who just don’t care anymore because of all the pain they’ve inflicted on each other.“Alone“ begins on a strum much like “Despair“ ended, which is a lovely continuity, then massive riffs and almost primitive drumming lead into a verse melody reminiscent of The Church’s “Under The Milky Way“. Many of these might be breakup songs, but they’re all unique in themselves, like the nature references in this one to indicate that the whole world is feeling her pain (“The rain is crying for me tonight (because I can’t) / With every raindrop blurring / All that’s left behind” in the first verse and “The wind will breathe for me today (because I can’t) / About to carry away all that’s still / Left of all this“). She might be hurting, but she will have none of him if he tries to get her back – “Don’t you search for me / I’m your expired medicine“, she warns. The chorus is resigned and empty – “And you won’t remember me / When you are all alone“, Kate sings, her voice colored with hitches and rounded, aching cries. The second time through it, her voice swells and modulates into a throaty wail, ending in her liquidly wordless vocal.
“Entwined“ features Matias Juselius of the Finnish band Lamori, who’s a sonic cross between two Peters, Steele (the late basso frontman of Type O Negative) and Murphy (once of Bauhaus), all rumbling and whispery and raspy and kind of affectedly sexual (but in the best way). So again this is a situation where being together was as bad as being apart (“Entwined to tear our hearts / Entwined to suffer“, as the chorus says). The attention to detail in their songwriting is really notable, like at the end of Kate’s verse when she says “This taste got bitter somehow” and at the end of his when he says “Still crave your taste like caffeine“. She asks, spoken-word style “Do you remember how it all began?” ; when he asks it, he whispers. Each does a verse and a chorus, and when they at last merge and sing it together (after an almost toy-piano-sounding solo that”s brutalized by the guitars slashing along with it), it’s so freaking satisfying – they are different enough to contrast, but somehow similar enough to meld exactly perfectly. They do it once and then modulate it a second time and it’s just stunning altogether.
A sing-song melody, perhaps on a keyboard, and moody, snarling layers of guitar are the musical touchstones of “I Never Was“. But it’s the production of Kate’s voice in the mix, here as throughout, that stands out – in the verses it has a hollow, barren resonance (she’s very good at swelling certain words and phrases, an innate sense of emphasis), and even when they add layers and heaviness, they don’t lose her in it. She has projection but not oodles of power and they know that and give her plenty of room. Andrew’s judicious sprays of double-kick drumming here are a real treat, making his actual timekeeping even punchier. This seems like an I-messed-up scenario – the first verse is her remembering or maybe imagining better times (“Dream you’re here / See your smile“) ; the chorus hints at feelings maybe unreciprocated or phony (“I never was there / I didn’t smile / And everything I did was lie“) ; the third verse adds to the ambiguity (“Let me live / Let me be / In your memory / I am here / In my dream /My reality“, like did this actually happen). The final chorus is an alternate one, modulated with different lyrics that make distinct references to madness or delusion (“It never happened here / It’s just a dream / Is this a memory / Or fantasy?“, like what exactly was this relationship).
“Destroyer“ is a quirky little track, brief and hard to describe. It has Kate as predator in the verses (“I am the shadow / Destructive power of all dreams” and later “Ahead is just another prey / In greed and suffer I decay“), which she sings with a delicacy that belies the rather threatening words. Vlad and Max’s accompanying guitar tone, though, is brilliant and sparkling, even in their riffing. She speaks the chorus, tinging it with an unhinged quality, intensified by the jagged rhythm pulsing underneath and more of her maniacal laughter, as she threatens “I’ll be the last thing you have known / Destroyer is my name, for your love and hopes I aim“. The final verse has a ring of judgment to it, kind of like a look-what-you-have-made-me quality (“Once I gave love and joy / Live to create, not to destroy / I won’t forget the day I changed / My peaceful life will be avenged“) – she speaks this part, too, with an organ line adding to the righteous anger/avenging angel feel.
Shorter still is “8“, the equally unconventional closer and the bookend to “Gemini“ in its unexpected quality. A mini concerto of gorgeous piano is the moving introduction, mixed so intimately, you feel as though you’re sitting next to Andrew on the bench. Again it’s spoken, both Kate and Vlad reciting the words that make cryptic reference to the number 8 (“Eight swords in my back / Eight words to come back / Eight notes in tab key / Eight leaves on dead tree / Eight steps to my heart / Eight lives for black art / Eight years of my war“) and then finally “Never less / And never more“. What it might mean is a mystery, but it’s pure gothic theater.
EVERLUST‘s bio proclaims them to be “the only active gothic band left in the Baltics at the moment“. That’s likely because they’re so good as to have scared off all comers and “Diary Of Existence” will only solidify and expand their reputation, not just in Eastern Europe, but worldwide.