Kowloon Walled City- Grievances

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, October 22, 2015

I was a fan of Kowloon Walled City’s sophomore effort Container Ships back in 2012, as the San Francisco based group had taken crushing sludge and merged it together with softer melodies that had more of a post hardcore and post rock vibe. With so many bands putting an emphasis on outdoing each other for who could be the heaviest, this multifaceted approach that bludgeoned when necessary but gave the listener space to take it all in came as a welcome change of pace. Three years later on follow-up Grievances, Kowloon Walled City has continued this exploration by heading towards more somber, introspective territory. It’s a natural progression that takes the songwriting to its next logical point, and for anyone that wants an emotionally charged and engaging music to take in this is one of the year’s best.

It’s important to note that the further push towards mellower instrumentation and stretched out riffing hasn’t made these guys completely lost their heaviness. Even when the guitar leads are offering airier melodies that hang over the listener with a somber, wistful feel the bass still lumbers forth with an immense amount of power and many of the climaxes on Grievances still find Kowloon Walled City delivering an intensely dense body of sound. But the difference here is that unlike so many of the other sludge bands out there that are singularly focused on force and achieving maximum intensity through volume and distortion, the material here is powerful in multiple ways. Not only do the peak levels have the guitars and bass completely washing over the listener, but even when things scale back to their mellowest point the melancholy of the tonality and riffing style gives these songs a real emotional weight. Compared to Container Ships, the instrumentals are able to make even greater use of these melodic sections by stretching them out for a bit longer and providing sparser sections that allow the dreariness to fully sink in and completely take hold of the listener. This shift in style is accompanied by strong songwriting, as each of the seven tracks has a hook of some kind that will have you coming back for more.

Scott Evans’ vocal style continues to come in right around the middle of the spectrum; not quite a harsh scream but not a completely clean singing pitch either. I’ve always felt that it was something of a cross between the jagged edges of a noise rock singer and the emotional delivery of a post hardcore vocalist, and that continued to be the case on Grievances. While that’s definitely a departure from what one might expect when they hear the word sludge, it’s perfectly suited for what Kowloon Walled City has to offer here as Evans is able to deliver the same level of gut wrenching emotion as the guitar work. The emphasis on cleaner ranges also makes it easier to take in the lyrics, and while I’m not usually one to discuss lyrics in my reviews because of how personal they are for each listener the ideas offered on these songs really connected with me. The crossover between singing and screaming regularly hovers over the instrumentation, demanding your full attention and enhancing the melancholic yet warm feeling ideas.

Kowloon Walled City’s previous efforts had plenty to offer, but it feels like they’ve really pushed themselves to a whole other level with Grievances. There are still plenty of heavy hitting sections and stunning climaxes, but the noticeable push towards sprawling melodies and added space that gives the somber, melancholic elements chances to fully sink in makes these guys truly distinguishable. Call it thinking man’s sludge if you want, but in a time where I continue to be bombarded with bands trying to outdo each other on volume and grit I’ll take Grievance’s expansive and heartfelt take on the genre any day.


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