Artist: The Decoy
Our Verdict: 8/10
Release date: Out now
Find it at: Amazon
Review by: Graeme Blackwell
The Welsh alt-rock trio unleash an inspired debut, elevated by a touch of myth and legend
Welsh alt-rock trio The Decoy’s 2015 EP, Parasites, was a remarkable beast. The band managed to pack more ideas into its 20-odd minutes of music than many bands do into their entire discography. Incorporating elements of tech and math-rock, metalcore, punk and reggae into its mongrel body, it was the aural equivalent of a well-intentioned slap to the face: refreshing and focusing with an ultimately life-affirming sting.
On the face of it then, debut full-length Avalon picks up roughly where Parasites left off. Gaming culture, punch-ups in mid-sized Welsh new towns, the state of the modern world, the problems of being young and lanky and an outlet for personal frustrations, the album has it all.
The title Avalon lends the collection a mythic status and suggests a blurring of the lines between fact and fiction. The Isle of Avalon is of course the place where the legendary sword of King Arthur, Excalibur, is said to have been forged, and where the King supposedly went to die. It is also a place the location of which – or even existence of – cannot be agreed upon by most. Nevertheless, its legend endures and retains its power to inspire, move and thrill in equal measure, qualities which The Decoy’s Avalon shares in abundance.
Indeed, across its running time Avalon succeeds in elevating its vignettes of Welsh small town life to the level of myth and legend. Opening track “Black Mountain Radio” – a reference to the radio station of the same name that features in video game favourite Fall Out: New Vegas – begins by sounding distant and full of static, fighting its way across the airwaves of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, before galloping through several changes of rhythm and pace. It would be all-too-easy to assume that the song’s choppy, changing nature was a mark of a lack of coherent vision, but taken in context it feels more like distinct musical movements, perhaps representing the different tracks broadcast across the broken radio signals of that same post-fall out world.
If that all sounds a little bombastic however, the fact that this particular wasteland happens to be Cwmbran adds a personal, poetic focus for the material, with no small amount of humour in the mix. For all the proselytising above about myth and legend, tracks such as “Cold” – on the face of it the story of a can of Coke speaking in Shakespearean terms to whoever is about to crack the fridge door and drink it – bring ingenuity and wacky imagination to proceedings, sample lyric: “Can’t sleep? // Crack my head and drink me dry // I’m cold aluminium // And I hope I taste of Pure Avalon.” But then isn’t rendering the plight of a can of Coke in Macbeth-like language mythic in itself?
Elsewhere it’s the small details that shine through. “Habit” tells the tale of a lover (stalker?) obsessing over the minutiae of his object of affection: “I love the way your lip gloss tastes from your coffee mug.” Set against a backdrop of monstrous alt-rock guitars, it does what The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” did for compulsive infatuation, but with a tech-rock twist.
“Lion” delivers a nuanced, lyrical state-of-the-world address: “Freedom by definition has no fee // And if you cannot be charged // You will not receive.” The air of linguistic subtlety is juxtaposed brilliantly against a gigantic squall of thrashy, up-tempo guitar and – be aware, those of a sensitive disposition! – liberal use of the word “cunt.” Mythical Kings and their magical weapons aside, The Decoy’s way with a profane quip should establish their legend in itself.
Ultimately The Decoy may orbit the same sonic world as the likes of Reuben, Biffy Clyro or Press To Meco, and they are all reasonable reference points if you need them. But it is the band’s expert navigation and representation of everyday life, writ heroically large by a backdrop of complex and inventive musical adventure, that sets them apart. Much like the figures rendered on Avalon’s cover art, standing on the shoulders of a stone giant seemingly cleaved from the bedrock of Avalon itself, The Decoy have mined the world around them, internalised it, and cut gems of real beauty from what they have processed within. May their legend abound.