When started the Flashback Friday series, we made a list of the albums that we wanted to cover and put them in a spreadsheet and each week I use a random number generator to decide what’s next. Call it fate or just a weird co-incidence but this week it chose SikTh – on the day that their third full-length album gets its long-awaited release.
You can read my thoughts on ‘The Future in Whose Eyes?’ here, but for now I’m going to talk about where it all began: debut album ‘The Trees are Dead and Dried Out, Wait for Something Wild’. You know that a band has had a profound effect on you when you can still remember exactly where you were when you first heard them, even though it was 14 years ago. I’d taped the Radio One Rock Show (yes, onto cassette!) that week and was listening through it in the garage while I set up my drums for a band practice. A band came on to do a live session and as it started, it sounded so alien to me – two vocalists seemingly at war with one another, while intense music smashed the speakers with seemingly no structure. I wasn’t sure what I’d heard, but I was so intrigued that I had to rewind the tape and go again.
At the time, I was in a band with my good friend from school Dan Tompkins (who has since gone on to better things fronting Tesseract) and when he turned up (wondering why I’d not finished setting up the kit) I asked for a second opinion. That was pretty much it for the entire band practice – we sat and listened to SikTh play three live songs on repeat for the rest of night, energised by what we’d heard. From a drummer’s perspective I couldn’t help thinking “how does he even remember what he’s doing when there’s no real structure at all?” – until I’d heard SikTh I hadn’t been introduced to the brilliance of alternating time signatures and free-form structures and it seemed impossible to follow.
For me and Dan at the time it completely changed our perspective on what was possible with music. There was so much energy, so much excitement with what SikTh were doing; how did we get that across in our own music? Listening back to what our band had produced it suddenly seemed so flat. For me, the way SikTh built up the layers in their songs changed how I thought about melody and the way it can conflict with the instrumentation to produce interesting results, instead of conventionally going with the grain. In summary: this band changed my musical brain and I haven’t looked back since.
For a casual listener SikTh are the kind of band that’s easy to dismiss because there’s no easy entry point. The intro to ‘Scent of the Obscene’ which kicks off this phenomenal record, is as intriguing as it is technical and keeps you engaged, but at the point where Mikee Goodman’s unique vocal style kicks in, I’m sure that’s where a lot of people could be put off. Goodman is a vocalist of course, but much more than that: he’s a performer. Throughout this record his voice takes on many characters, his tone alternating through several personas and during the spoken-word narrative of ‘When Will the Forest Speak..?’ you get to experience just how special and unique he is.
Once you’re swayed by Goodman’s charm there’s really no going back. Justin Hill’s more melodic vocals give you an occasional clean break from the carnage, but he too offers up plenty of screamed vocals at a higher pitch, ensuring that vocally there’s an insane range of notes being covered. I can’t do justice to the amount of guitar notes being covered, but just seeing how excited Mike’s face is while covering ‘Skies of Millennium Night’ gives you some idea.
As much as I’m blown away by the technical brilliance of all four instrumentalists in the band, what impresses me more than their individual skill is that somehow everything has so much groove. Riffs this meandering and free-form over time signatures that are an effort to count, shouldn’t lock into a perfect rhythm that you can’t help nod your head to. The way that SikTh manage to make this work is what sets them apart from other bands that have attempted something similar. And still no-one has come close.
With so much talent and craftsmanship at their disposal, it seems a shame that today marks only their third full-length record in a career spanning over 15 years. But quality is always preferable to quantity and they’re yet to disappoint us with the material they’ve put out to date. After announcing their hiatus almost a decade ago, I feared we’d seen the last of this iconic, genre-defining beast of a band, but luckily they’re back and ready for more. I’d suggest having a SikTh day today: start with this incredible debut album and work up to the new record, which I can guarantee you is a thoroughly enjoyable listen.