S.G. Wolfgang
The Shadows Are Lengthening [Fierce Panda Records]

Milton Keynes/Northampton foursome – Sean Grant (guitar/vocals), Steve Fiske (guitar/vocals), Phil Andreas (keyboards) and Matt Banham (drums) – aren’t here to mess about. They are interested only in digging deep into the recesses of mind and soul. “I am the darkness/You will never shine a light on” Grant bellows on opener ‘Row The Boat’, and the band play like they might be on the deck of a sinking ship.

This air of chaos perfectly sums up the times we live in, which is perhaps why the band felt it appropriate to team up with CALM, aka the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide [CALM’s other recent music partnerships include Everything Everything, The Boxer Rebellion and Blur’s Graham Coxon].

The neo-gothic anxieties continue with new single ‘Mary’s Grave’, it’s taut and foreboding guitars summoning the unmentionables to play with your emotions. It’s little wonder the outfit was recently dubbed “Frank Turner & The Bad Seeds” by one hack. Sure, the lineage is clear: Jim Jones Revue, QOTSA, Screaming Trees, Afghan Whigs, Rocket From The Crypt, The Mission. Continuing the history of soul-searching rock is not an easy task, but the guys rise the challenge with much collective composure. Much like fellow Midlander Tim Muddiman, the album feels like a journey to redemption after a battering wind has taken a significant toll. 

Summertime single ‘Souls Out’, a tight’n’tetchy alt rock heavyweight anthem-in-waiting, is a devil’s dance concerning the fragility of life itself that still manages to be a rabble-rousing call-to-arms that’s hard to shake off. The slashing power chords that set off ‘Last Man Standing’ abruptly give way to a creaking ballad, as Grant’s voice soars above the detritus. It’s a stunning effect, proving him to be an intense frontman worth listening to. When you realise he’s probably referring to himself in the title…it’s suddenly emotionally sobering. The maelstrom of guitar swirls that appear at the end of the track are a wholly appropriate touch. ‘Gripping’ doesn’t seem enough to describe what goes on here.

The rest of the album settles into similar patterns, an goth/alt-rock handbook of sounds [Radiohead here, Joy Division there], and more nautical and religious metaphors. ‘Thunder’ is funereal in a truly horrifying way, a song so bleak it’s genuinely hard to listen to til the end. The title track at the end contains haunting spaces where what’s not being played says as much as what is. Conjuring such sonic spirits takes something special to pull off, and the band deserve to have their stock rise quickly and significantly.

You have to take the album in as a whole, an expression of inward rage and suffering where confession leads to absolution in the church of rock’n’roll. Atmospheric and cutting in every second of time, you take to The Shadows Are Lengthening with no half-measures. S.G. Wolfgang are here to save your soul, if you want them to.

Phil Istine