Sombulance have that exciting new-favourite-band quality that traps your heart in your throat when you first stumble across it. Based in Southsea, this quintet are yet more proof that the finest melodic hardcore in the UK originates from the South Coast. They’ve been together since 2005 and released a full album back in 2010, so they’re hardly a ‘new’ band, but they’ve recently reassembled and refreshed their line-up so it feels like a new start. Since catching their explosive set at Manchester Punk Festival in 2016, I’ve been eager to hear more from them, and I was lucky enough to catch them slaying the Beach Stage at Punk Rock Holiday – one of my highlights of the week.
Lifer was released at the beginning of August, just in time for PRH and live shows with Pears and Darko. Sombulance play especially melodic skate-punk, underpinned by themes of regret and redemption. Expect 18 minutes of intricate, thoughtful composition, technical guitar and memorable song-writing. Sharing their new drummer, Marc Morey, with progressive thrash virtuosos, Almeida, the EP is also blessed with fast-paced, creative percussion. Lifer is an big advancement on their 2010 album A Cynic’s Response, particularly in terms of production quality.
The EP opens with The Articulation of Afterthoughts, a bittersweet and reflective love song with some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics on the record, “When she comes around the world seems a little brighter, and when she takes control my shoulders become lighter… When explanations fail to make you see what’s true, I am alone, I’m here with you.” In terms of composition, this is one of the most accomplished tracks on the album, coaxing the listener through a dynamic story that adeptly blends lyrics and melody. The elaborate layers of guitar sound like a waterfall rushing by, blending in delicate, brighter tones in the middle. Ant Harrison and Will Pearce’s dual guitars flow with force and beauty through all 6 tracks, giving Sombulance their unique edge.
The coda slides nicely into Lessons Lost, which is a heavier but punctuated by livelier, brighter drum lines. Throughout the all 6 songs, there’s not a single bar without layers of imaginative nuances that really hold your attention. The attention to detail in their composition is impressive, each listen piquing a new interest.
Here’s To Liberation is darker than the other tracks, once again featuring some cascading 6-string work that conjures images of flowing water. Dean Harwood’s sterling vocal clarity is what sets them apart from similar bands like Darko and Almeida, also allowing the words to travel well live. The EP is tied together by strong lyrical themes of regret, anxiety and hope, peppered with clever turns of phrase that complement the complex instrumentation.
The title-track Lifer is an immediate backline barrage, accompanied by a regret-fuelled chorus that has a lot of singalong potential live: “Redemption’s a lost cause, in the aftermath of all our worst mistakes. I’m running out of promises to break.” Marc Morey’s thundering percussion is unrelentingly fast, lifting towards the end like a break in a thunderstorm.
Downfall is the strongest song on the album in terms of guitar – moody and melodic with eloquent song-writing. The final track Better Left Behind stands out vocally, and was the song that really caught my attention live. The angsty chorus, “Medicate me now, sedatives to slow the pulse down. My heartbeat’s running out, silence is a deafening sound,” stands out really well in the mix, followed by a pit-worthy breakdown that’s absent on the other songs.
Lifer is a fast-paced lesson in precision and creativity. In short, Sombulance have got it all right, and I can’t wait to see them live again.
A limited run of 100 LPs in transparent blue are available from Lockjaw Records and Charlie’s Big Ray Gun Records. Lifer also comes in a delightful matt digipack CD that you can pick up here and you can download it here.