To sum up this record in a word, it would be ‘beautiful’. Gates established themselves around 4 years ago in New Jersey, and after building anticipation with a pair of EPs they have ended the wait for a full-length. And what a worthwhile wait.
‘Bloom & Breathe’ begins instrumentally, a sparse guitar leading gently to a slow-building transition to next track ‘Bloom’, opening with a haunting and cinematic one-two statement. This is an album that is simultaneously introspective yet cavernous, packed with a mountain of guts and heart. Gates play the kind of sonically dense but lyrically stirring music that has won Balance & Composure legions of fans the world over, but this New Brunswick-based five-piece achieve this with a higher vocal register, firing the tracks into an epic post-rock stratosphere that sits outside the remit of Jon Simmons and Co’s recent output.
Lead single ‘Not My Blood’ sees Gates build to a thunderous climax with screeching guitars and pounding drums; just as the wall of noise becomes almost overpowering, ‘Light the First Page’ drops the tension to the sound of more superb vocals from frontman Kevin Dye. Approaching close to falsetto at various points throughout the album (while hitting screaming territory at other times), the fantastically assured vocals often morph into affecting harmonies which serve to add to the sheer intensity of these 13 songs.
‘The Thing That Would Save You’ touches on themes that have impacted many of our lives — depression and self-harm. “You won’t cut deep enough to scar the person you are,” intones a passionate Dye, “and who you are is more than voices in your head are drowning out”. Reading more like an emphatic plea for hope and self-belief than anything else, this song serves as a call-to-arms and a rallying cry for the despairing and suicidal in the least clichéd manner possible. It also contains an ethereal chiming guitar outro that Explosions In The Sky would be proud of.
The most aggressive moment on the album comes in the yelled closing passages of ‘At Last the Loneliest of Them’, almost reminiscent of Devil Sold His Soul track with the crushing colliding head-on with raw desperation – it’s hard to believe at times that this is Gates‘ debut LP, but it is.
One of many lyrical highlights of ‘Bloom & Breathe’ comes in the form of ‘Low’; the illustrative and personal chorus hits home, as Dye croons “I’m losing whatever made me breathe / whatever made me feel alive / And I’m losing whatever made me dream / of anything but fear in my heart / I’m losing me”. The vocalist’s raw emotions are laid bare for all to see: the song was written during a time of immense frustration and anger at his lack of career options due to the band, and his thoughts of quitting. Persevering, however, has proved to be to Dye and the band’s benefit. Writing the songs that appear on this album fuelled his determination, and the fruits of the quintet’s labour are absolutely stunning.
For fans of: Moving Mountains, Explosions In The Sky, Caspian