For some creatives, self-imposed isolation is the catalyst for fantastic pieces of art. By temporarily cutting the threads connecting one to society, one can tap into the often subdued ley lines of creativity that run throughout the mind, all without facing distraction from the deafening noise of modern life. Highlighting this method is the sublime sophomoric record from relative supergroup Gold Key.
The successor to 2017’s Hello, Phantom, the upcoming Panic Machine was recorded outside the remote North Wales coastal village of Arthog. With no phone signal, no access to transport and nothing within walking distance, Gold Key created a breathtaking piece of work that mirrors the isolation, beauty and wildness of the Snowdonia Coast.
As defined by Gold Key themselves, Panic Machine is fuelled by overwhelming feelings of isolation, dislocation, fear and anxiety for the future of both the planet and mankind. Such emotions of alienation run palpably throughout this release, but the current circumstances only exaggerate them to overwhelming levels. With the vast majority of us now living in a state of anxiety-ridden quarantine, it’s impossible not to personally connect with this album. Record opener ‘Sweet Darkness’ - a track that contemplates the fact that we are all just meaningless clumps of star dust birthed by chance – sets the tone of Panic Machine perfectly. As the record floats past the post-hardcore, insomnia inspired ‘Don’t Sleep’ (the 'heaviest' song on the record) and into the disturbed tranquillity of ‘Shallows’ one is fully immersed into the troubled waters of Panic Machine.
Yet, despite this dark, ever-so-slightly bleak atmosphere, misery or animosity is utterly absent. Even at its most sonically turbulent, there’s a sense of serene buoyancy to Panic Machine, one that’s achieved by frontman Steve Sear’s soaring and acrobatic vocals. The very element that bonds this dynamic record together, Sear’s flawless falsettos ascend and flow weightlessly, documenting the deeply intimate, yet universally relatable themes that run parallel throughout the record in a fashion that’s sombre and most sobering. They’re not overpowering, exaggerated or distracting from the musical prowess of flaying riffs and withdrawn ambience of Panic Machine however. It’s a masterclass of tasteful of vocal majesty, with the duel between electric leads and vocals within ‘Human’ and the gilded ‘Fly Into The Sun’ showcasing this beautifully.
Whilst Gold Key still boasts the talents of members of Sikth, Nervus, Gallows and Blackhole, the band have doubled down on their own individualist sound. Those entering this record in eager await of elements of tech-metal wizardry or blackened hardcore will be left wanting, but not disappointed. Whilst their 2017 debut offered such insights, Panic Machine carries it’s own sound that can’t be pigeon-holed into a singular restrictive genre. To call it an alt-rock release would be fair, but far too simplistic given it’s all-inclusive and characteristically dynamic sound. Throughout this release, the group tastefully incorporate elements of art-rock, prog-rock and punk, borrowing elements enjoyed by bands such as Black Peaks, Pink Floyd, Baroness, Queens Of The Stone Age, and in the case of the bitter ‘Enceladus’ and liberating ‘Strain’, Absolution era Muse. Reference and comparison points are aplenty within this twelve track record, but directly comparing the overall sound to a singular sound would be a crime. Every track offers a new insight, a new shade, a new sound and a new moment of brilliance that’s beyond comparison within the record.
Panic Machine is a sublime rock record, one that simply can’t be discarded into a singular sound and one that shows that Gold Key is far more than just a cheap side-project. It’s a deep stylised nosedive into the psyche of the troubled human condition and a journey that respectively demands your full attention at all times - one can not simply dive in and out of Panic Machine easily. If you require a substance filled soundtrack to what may be your most bizarre summer of your life, look no further.
Panic Machine is released May 1st via Venn Records. Pre-save here.