Album Review: Headless Relatives’ “Nightmare Realm”

ALBANY – Set to release his latest record, Nightmare Realm, on November 4th, Seth Biskind, going by the moniker Headless Relatives, is ready to show listeners a whole new and expanded sound. Featuring tons of instrumentation, all nine songs on the record display an improvement of not only songwriting, but arrangement as well. Fitting within the indie-rock genre, and combining elements that exude haunting sensibilities, Nightmare Realm makes for a great album to release during this time of the year.

Starting off with “Nativity In Neon,” the album begins with a forte acoustic guitar part and vocals. Halfway through the first verse, the band joins in; the instrumentation includes a haunting cello at first, followed soon by a violin during the chorus sections and interludes. It’s a very short tune that effectively introduces many of the album’s thematic elements.

Unlike the first song, “Tell It To The Nightmares,” track two, features an intro that gets the majority of the instrumentation introduced right at the gate. Swelling electric guitar parts – to this listener, it sounds like either a pedal or a volume knob being turned – make for a cool addition to this song’s arrangement. The drums really anchor this piece, as the pattern is fairly consistent throughout. One thing I will comment is at times the vocal gets lost in the back of the mix during the end of the song’s latter half, due to the effects of the instruments clashing with the reverb.

While the album mainly centers around haunting themes, as clearly hinted at by the album name, these are especially brought out in “Send You A Funeral,” “Carrion To Your Crow,” and “Hollow Be Thy Name,” tracks three, five, and six, respectively. Between the drums playing in the very front of the beat for “Send You A Funeral,” thus providing a sort of musical anxiety, and the strings playing an almost ostinato part, the tune is definitely in line with the quickly apparent spooky motif. Ending just as soon as it began, it could make for a compelling listen.

Headless Relatives are comprised of, from top-left-to-bottom-right: Connor Benincasa, Christopher Simple, Kevin Cardinale, Steve Gamache, Alicia VanScoy, Anthime Miller. Center: Seth Biskind.

During “Carrion To Your Crow” – first off, the title is killer, as is the instrumental melody line played during the intro – the acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and vocals all function greatly with one another. I really enjoy how the bass seems to take more of a central role in this track. Sound effects of a crow in the background help add to the listening experience. An elaborately long indie-rock number, the instrumentation combined with lyrical content reminds this listener – in all the right ways – of a song by The Decemberists.

“Hollow Be Thy Name,” a play on the phrase “hallowed be thy name”, has a cello part that serves well as a bedrock for the rest of the track’s instrumentation. A compelling part of the vocal occurs near the end, when Biskind holds out a note in the middle of his range for quite a long time. Then, the song quickly fades to an end. While it’s easy to mention these aforementioned positives, I feel it’d be remiss if I briefly didn’t touch on what I would’ve liked to have seen improved.

The main thing that Nightmare Realm could improve upon – and I stress this is purely in terms of this listener’s ear – is the tightness of some of the performances. The most prevalent example is in “The Dark,” track four. More acoustic in nature, this song is a bit more laidback than others on the record. Still enjoyable, there’s a certain air of rubato between instruments that sometimes make the parts clash with one another. A good song, it would be a great one if all performances were tighter on their own, and within the context of the song.

Changing up the feel of the record a bit is “Twice – Dead Cabal,” track seven. A song in 6/8 that clips along at a moderate pace, the instrumentation is fairly unimposing, despite there being a really interesting sounding synth part ladled in during certain sections of the tune.

The next track is far-and-away my favorite on the record. “Still Trapped” combines a nice minor chord progression, on top of an almost-fuzzed toned bass, and a drum part that finds the pocket; the instrumentation alone is groovy. When adding in the vocal that sounds as if it were fed through a tape-delay, and strings acting as pads to the song, there’s a lot going on here in a short amount of time. The ritardando that brings the tune to an end is also quite effective.

Closing out the record is “Well Met By Streetlight.” Featuring a longer-than-normal-for-this-album intro, this track is the only one that features a more major sounding chord progression. The harmonies sprinkled in this arrangement also add to a more peaceful ambiance. Clocking in at nearly nine-minutes long, the calming sounds, provided by softly played strings, make for a great closer: the repeating parts performed across all of the instrumentation turn the song into a lullaby, of sorts. As the lyrics, we hear one more pass through the progression before the song, and thus the record concludes.

Nightmare Realm is a great expansion of Biskind’s past works and it shows the songwriter’s ability in arranging. For all of the indie-rock goodness spattered throughout, the one thing that I see detracting from some of the listening experience is the timing on some of the performances. But with vocals that are solidly consistent, and string parts that draw you right in, it doesn’t detract much. Be sure to check out the album for yourself when it comes out on November 4th!

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