Thursday, May 30 2024

What happens when you take the stripped-down twisted guitar motets of ‘Hesitation Marks’ era Nine Inch Nails, throw in the cool as hell swagger of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and garnish with unhinged elements of Kasabian? May I present, for your consideration, Heelplant and their opening salvo, ‘Dune’

To put it succinctly, there is no reason to suggest that London’s Heelplant will not be successful. I will go farther than that; they will be a success. They have everything at their disposal to leave a mark; attitude, belief and an unrelenting talent to excite and challenge, in equal measure. ‘Dune,’ may not be the most accessible song to many, but this is the beginning of something. Something that should, with fair weather and a fallowing wind, take them on a journey up the ladder to be darlings of the festival circuit.

There are certain nuances within the song that harken back to the new wave era, a Joy Division, aesthetic, if you will, mixed with an almost experimental flavour. Some songs are inherently visual in their nature and this is cool, grainy black and white, pulsing strobe through reams of cigarette smoke cool. It’s unapologetic. This is us. You WILL sit and listen. And so, I did. And it was good. Uncompromisingly good. Not in a ‘copy and paste’ formulaic, ’we’re going by the book here,’ sense. There’s something innately wonderous; sneeringly wonderous, about ‘Dune.’

From the off, with the hypnotic A to B bassline, there’s a swagger. The verses are sparse. Guitars used to create atmosphere and almost a quiet dissonance. Vocalist Thom Bowden’s sneering, broken and angst fuelled prose juxtaposes the repetitive, mechanical soundscape with a biting honesty. He’s not worried about sophisticated musical contour and consistent measured phrasing; it’s the voice of a frontman from the punk era. OK, in musical terms it’s a mixed voice; head and chest, but with a definite leaning towards the head-voice. That’s where all the grit happens. It’s a trade-off and you do get the impression that Thom is far happier when in the higher register, head voice, as opposed to his lower register, which does become brittle.  But Heelplant don’t need that level of control. It’s about effect.

The bridge follows a clever and interesting implied Gb, E, A, B progression. Resolving on the A, B offering cadence and allowing the verse pattern to seamlessly flow. The guitars offer dissonant and playful tones, experimentation in the mould of Nine Inch Nails with a more alt-rock feel. It breaks up the song nicely and allows for the verse patterns to be repeated without ever sounding strained or tedious.

When the chorus does eventually arrive, to break the stranglehold of the ternary structure, it’s like a well delivered slap. E, Bb, A, B; it’s a simple, effective use of chromatics to elevate and relive tension. The vocal phrasing switches between mirroring that of the guitar and a more staccato delivery, which adds emphasis to the narrative when required. It’s catchy and well put together.

At is core, ‘Dune’ is a simple piece, despite it’s expanded Rondo structure, but the artistic license afforded the guitars allows them to create beguiling and often mesmeric symbiosis. That said, it’s still the A to B bassline that draws you in and ‘sells’ the song. 

When the verse pattern returns it’s accompanied by well controlled feedback and accents to emphasise the word “Shame.” It’s eerie, moody and brooding and even Thom’s, formally, measured angst is now beginning to boil over. These playful changes in both mood and dynamics give the piece a sense of scale. Yes, at times oppressive and claustrophobic, but often spacious and vast. This struggle between dynamic opposing forces fits, and almost succinctly eulogises, like a glove; both thematically and musically. This also, by extension, fits in with the disillusionment and conflicting nature of the narrative; we can look inward for resolution and comfort, or become immersed and smothered by the outside world. The decision is do we engage, or not? Heady concepts indeed.

In terms of production there’s a good balance and separation between all components and overdubs, when used, sit nicely within the mix. It’s what I’d describe as a ‘dirty clean mix’; one which appears to be raw, but is actually really polished. The ‘live’ sound to the drums certainly supports this idea and Thom’s gritty and distorted vocals don’t smack of someone who’s in a vocal booth with cans and a pop shield in situ. But these elements add to intensity and do not detract in any way.

‘Dune’ is a fantastic introduction to what will surely be the beginning of something pretty special. It bites. It growls. It hypnotises. It’s an alt-rock banger. Now can we have some more please?

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Swaggering, alt-rock, with hypnotic baselines and an uber cool vibe. ‘Dune’ is a fantastic introduction to what will surely be the beginning of something pretty special.
A Gritty, Swaggering Banger


Song Quality
Vocal Performance


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About Author

Gareth Johnston

Gareth Johnston is a Lancashire based musician and producer who studied music at MMU. He is a former reviewer for 'Glitzine' and when not writing for 'The Indie Grid' can be found restoring old furniture whilst listening to obscure alt-rock. He has too many favourite bands to pick one and insists it's easier to pick a favourite child.

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