Australian duo Shane Parsons and Simon Ridley, otherwise known as DZ Deathrays, certainly made their mark when they released debut album, Bloodstreams, in 2012. The album, which was generally well-received by critics, combined pop hooks and gigantic choruses with thrashing guitars and scratchy vocals with almost perplexing ease. Their sound was volatile, unrestrained and – most importantly – didn’t take itself too seriously.
While the formula of abrasive guitar hooks played at blaring volumes – which evolved from the pair’s original intention of forming to play at house parties in Brisbane – is hardly new, the record was a chaotic and delightfully trashy slice of fun that enticed you to join the party. Two years later and DZ Deathrays are back with their all important follow-up LP, Black Rat, which once again captures a band that are happy to pull no punches.
The early signs from the album were certainly encouraging, with single Gina Works At Hearts a perfect example of everything that makes the duo so irresistibly thrilling to listen to. With the usual brutal riffs present, the song is a punk-driven burst of energy that includes one of the band’s catchiest choruses yet. “Gina works at hearts, but she doesn’t know/ why she does it, though?/ she just loves the attention,” sings Parsons, over a thumping beat.
However, if Gina Works At Hearts is very much DZ Deathrays by numbers, then Northern Lights – which was the lead single from Black Rat – suggested they had evolved in the two years they have been away. The song is far more stripped back than the pair’s previous material, with an epic, wondering guitar hook and much more restrained vocals from Parsons. In fact, it was an indication that the band have bigger ambitions than just making lots of noise.
Yet, anyone concerned that DZ Deathrays had completely abandoned the rough-around-the-edges raw excitement of their debut need not worry, though, as there are still plenty of dirty riffs and throaty vocals to get their teeth into. Opener Black Rat continues on from where they left off on Bloodstreams, with a filthy guitar hook and Parsons’ now signature piercing vocals, while Reflective Skull is another that doesn’t hold back, providing just over three minutes of devilish guitar riffs and crashing drums.
Ocean Exploder is also one of the picks of the record – one that is highly likely to be a favourite among hardcore fans when the duo head out on tour. Parsons gives it his all as he repeatedly screams “It’s hard to be alone” over a guitar hook so mind-meltingly brutal that it will leave you in a haze. Then there’s Less Out Of Sync, which sounds rather sedate on the verse, before exploding on the chorus with a razor sharp guitar riff.
If this sounds like Northern Lights is a bit of an odd one out then think again, because there are several moments throughout Black Rat that suggest DZ Deathrays have made significant progress since their debut. Keep Myself On Edge is one such example, with a rumbling hook and a slightly more subdued chorus, as Parsons almost attempts to sing: “My soul on the edge, I’m already done.”
Night Walking and Fixations are also less aggressive tracks, but while they demonstrate an interesting new side to DZ Deathrays, neither quite manages to have the same impact as Northern Lights. As such, Black Rat does not completely succeed in everything Parsons and Ridley try to achieve. Progress has undoubtedly been made since their debut album and they remain a thoroughly entertaining band to bounce around the room to. However, the overwhelming feeling at the end of Black Rat is that this is a band with a lot more up their sleeve.