Dark Below’s new single “Tense” is a significant step forward for the Missouri-based power trio and a harbinger of their full-length album to come. They have one EP, 2017’s self-titled effort, and a 2019 single under their belt, but “Tense” pushes the band’s songwriting into intensely personal as well as physical territory while keeping it on a level any listener can connect with. The power trio configuration has made a comeback in recent years, dictated by economics as much as musical ambition, and several units have embraced the setup as a vehicle for tight and muscular rock music.
It’s ideal for conveying a track about hypochondria. Lead singer and guitarist Josh Campbell has a great lightly raspy voice for the material and the necessary lung power to command a hard-rock outfit. He writes about hypochondria with claustrophobic intensity; it comes across as confining and oppressive without ever overwhelming listeners. There’s no theatre or straining for effect. The matter-of-fact language gives the track far more impact than it might have had otherwise and makes it even more convincing.
Campbell’s voice is a big strength as well. He’s highly emotive without ever sounding melodramatic and modulates his voice appropriately given where they are in the arrangement. He has a fantastic texture in his voice for this sort of material and there’s a sense some listeners will get that he feeds off the powerful arrangement and vice versa.
It’s an unified performance. Unified means there isn’t a single aspect of the song’s presentation standing out from the rest. Instead, every part of the song works in sympathy with the other, and producers Malcolm Springer and Jason Schrick maintain an even-handed balance over the recording. It’s a recording bursting with immediacy and clarity and setting it at a mid-tempo pace contrasts memorably with the physical and emotional experience described in the song.
“Tense” doesn’t go on too long. You can hear that Campbell, bassist Josh Grove, and drummer Quin Koldan have the veteran instincts for keeping things on point combined with the youthful energy that newly born bands often have. Dark Below’s current lineup has been together since 2016 and those six years, two undermined by pandemic, has given them time to develop the full gamut of powers.
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They will be expanding upon and refining things from here. They wear their influences on their sleeve but have an individual sound present in the songwriting identity that sets them up for long-term success. Dark Below isn’t out there flailing in the wind, they’ve played with several top flight acts opening for Saliva and Buckcherry, along with others. “Temse” is first rate rock music for a modern audience and has enough roots in the past to appeal to older listeners as well. It isn’t showy, it’s ripped from real life, and leaves you wanting more. It feels like the song’s primary purpose is whetting our collective appetite for their forthcoming full-length. The pandemic has affected everyone in some way, but it’s clear listening to “Tense” that it hasn’t touched Dark Below’s capacity for writing and recording invigorating music.