Kill For Eden Review by Michael Aronovitz
Raunchy, Raucous, and Right up the Spine
I heard a song Friday night that was absolutely electrifying. It was featured on The Midnight Hour, one of my favorite radio shows (Crowzone) that stars Spin Goddess Midnight Furie, playing hard dance music the first half hour, hard rock and metal the latter. I was talking to her the next day on Twitter, and asked,
“Who was that fucking awesome band last night that you had in the tenth slot?”
“Kill For Eden,” she typed back. “Aren’t they cool?”
No, Midnight, my friend. Not “cool.” How about “raunchy, raucous, bad-ass, talented, amazing, stone-hard, and killer?”
Immediately, I made plans to contact the band, and the next morning, went hunting on YouTube for some more of their stuff. I found their debut record, self-titled, (2013) split into individual songs, and I started listening. What I found was an incredibly potent rock band with a classic feel, sometimes a bit honky-tonk, other times straight up crunch and smash, always daring and amazingly uplifting, with a female vocalist that blew the doors and windows straight out of my house.
I did some research, and while I don’t usually clog up reviews with “factoids and accolades,” (preferring to simply analyze the music on its own) I wasn’t surprised to find that members of the band had built resumes that would impress even the most critical of listeners.
Lyla D’Souza, the lead vocalist, has worked with producers such as Mike Rowe (Rolling Stones, Oasis, Sheryl Crow), Clive Lendich (Boys II Men, Jermaine Jackson), Tim Dudfield (Ce Peniston) Greystoke Productions (Elton John, Lemar) and has gained publishing credits with Sony BMG, Zomba Music, and Ministry of Sound. She has experience as a session singer and has been a lead vocalist for a number of top UK corporate and original bands, performing for the likes of Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Tony Hadley, Kylie Minogue, Jimmy Somerville, The Plymouth Music Festival (Germany), The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and at venues including The Jazz Café, Sydney Opera House, Hotel de Paris (Monaco), The Ritz, Dorchester, and The Royal Ascot.
Dave Garfield Bown, the guitarist, worked in a band initially called Formosa, then re-named Hunting Cows, under the respective labels: EMI Holland and EMI Germany, playing festivals and supporting those like Joe Cocker in Belgium and Germany as well as Rammstein in Berlin on the Waldbuhne. I asked him about the rich sound he gets, and he claims that he was always inspired by Alex Lifeson’s versatile approach, currently representing his own with a pedal board controller – a Harley Benton FLX8 Pro, midi connected to a Marshall, 25th Anniversary, allowing him to smoothly transition from chorus to crunch with flange, to lead with delay and phase. Personally, I appreciate these background details, but for those of you not so particular about stuff like that, believe me when I say his sound is incredibly satisfying.
Julian Palmer, bass guitarist, has a storied career playing the London circuit, and drummer Wally Miroshnikov, emigrating to Poland after The Dissolution of the Soviet Union, played as a session musician and band member with many famous Polish performers.
And now let me say with confidence that despite the diversity of their given backgrounds, Kill For Eden play like they grew up together. They released two EP’s – Kerosene in 2011 and Living on Mars in 2013, followed by the self-titled debut in 2013 and the sophomore record, Petty Crimes in 2017, and they all connect like the beginning of some great epic story.
EP’s aside, (trust me, they made for good pretext), Kill For Eden’s first album, Kill For Eden, is simply a must-listen. Besides D’Souza’s striking vocal, (which I will get to in a hot minute) the first thing one notices is this band’s taste for a good, hard, traditional rock and roll sound with a bone-crushing back beat. Now don’t get me wrong…it does not sound at all “old school,” in fact, it comes off ultimately fresh, but they are seemingly unafraid to wave similar banners as had many of the best classic bands back in the day, hitting power chords with authority and using the spaces in between for power and burst.
Many of the hard bands nowadays depend on pure speed, especially in the form of rapid hummingbird sixteenths on the double bass, coupled with speed-riffs behind the verse-vocals, usually on the lower end of the fretboard. While that offers us a rather interesting “arms race” measured by how much, how quick, and how dexterous, it takes a certain amount of courage to write new, culturally relevant material that illustrates the raw ability to go out there on a limb, using dynamics, expert changes, and attitude as opposed to only mechanical acrobatics to keep it rock-hard and heavy.
When I heard this record, I had the distinct feeling that before the listen I had been lulled into a “classroom” scenario where I’d been evaluating technical virtuosity, sitting at a desk, taking copious notes, and then BAM, here comes Kill For Eden, and I am in a packed bar, swaying with the crowd, shouting at the top of my lungs, and having the time of my life.
Again, I listened to “The Evil Men Do,” and was struck not only by the sophisticated performance on guitar, but the powerful richness and diversity of D’Souza’s vocal. I have read that she is compared to Halestorm and / or the band Garbage, but I wouldn’t go there in this case. It seems when men sing and sing well, there are fewer of these “Venn Diagrams” created, and in this case, I would simply claim Lyla D’Souza is amazingly magnetic, talented, and engaging. All on her own. Let’s say for argument’s sake that she creates her own category. In the above-mentioned song, she shows us her texture and range, just as she does with all the other songs on the record, like “The Dome,” “Shoot Me,” and “Kerosene,” that which contains a choral hook (Burn your love into me) that makes you sit back and say, “Oh yes,” as if you just had good sex. Or ate a fine steak, pick your pleasure…D’Souza is all about passion and satisfaction no matter what personal version you bring to the game.
With the second album, Petty Crimes (2017) the band made some subtle yet fundamental changes in their approach. They diversified, adding an alternative vibe to some of the songs, especially in a few of the introductions that show off various guitar sounds and D’Souza’s low end. Personally, I like the new direction, if only because clever dynamics are one of the band’s strong points, and the application here enhances this particular part of their overall vision. The singles they have gone with have reflected these changes, none more than the wonderfully painful, Woke Up Alone, as presented in their YouTube video, up close and real, featuring D’Souza in tears and hot rage, eyes smeared underneath with tragic mascara, hair in her fists…scorn and rejection personified. Powerful stuff. Like the first album? No, different house, though the neighborhood is still very much Kill For Eden.
Moreover, the latest single, Love You So, has a distinct pop feel, and the feeling you get is that teenagers will love singing along with this one, in front of their mirrors with a hairbrush, shaking their hair all around. The video for this is shot in some sort of institution’s basement hallways, or maybe the lower level of a concert venue, and while D’Souza struts in her short black skirt and high black boots, singing coquettishly, the rest of the band walks behind her holding guns and wearing cartoonish masks. As said, this is a divorce from what we have already seen (and heard) from this band, but in a way, it is not. First of all, the song is credible on its own grounds. Second, the name of the game with these artists is to change it, and so a move from “rejected bitch” to “sassy tart” fits the overall paradigm more as a delicious puzzle piece, than a move in any particular direction. Even better, is the idea that D’Souza plays this whole thing tongue and cheek, making us evaluate it as compared with some of her other “masks,” and we inevitably enter a hall of mirrors, similar to when we read those classic novels through which the given author leaves just enough controversy and narratorial distance, that we have to search our own experiences to fill in the blanks.
The rest of the album is no less brilliant.
“Army of Ants” is pure funky rock and roll, showing off rhythm and swag, along with D’Souza’s high range. “Brave New World” starts off with acoustic guitars and features an ethereal high vocal at the 1:58 mark that is spellbinding. “Burn Out” has a good hard edge that uses a vocal with an alternative twinge to an effect that is nothing short of alluring, (I have to go out of order here) and “Sticks Man,” linked to the former song almost as a continuation, is nothing short of good fucking music (and I mean “fucking” as the verb, not the adjective). Rarely do I hear a song that simply exudes and personifies sex like this one, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that the title of the record is a rhyme line in it: “Guilt is a state of mind / It’s just a petty crime.” Album theme? How about a band mission statement? Seems to me that they are selling the idea that pain, beauty, desire, and art are all a part of a slightly sinful yet ultimately glorious underside existing in all of us, just beneath the surface, ready to explode.
Or maybe it’s just a good fucking album, and in this case, I do use the “f” bomb as an adjective. This band does that to you. Makes you feel like cussing for the fun of it!
My favorite song on this record is “Give In To Me.” It has a catchy bass track in the beginning, and a terrific vocal that weaves in and out of the kind of rocking rhythm pattern we’ve worked into our collective subconscious like lifeblood. The power chord hook in the chorus is majestic, and the verse work has a middle eastern flow that does System of a Down one better.
“Halley’s Comet” has an interesting male vocal added by Doogie White, (who has performed with Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker), and “Ocean Breeze” has a smooth lead guitar in the opening that reminds us of the velvet sustain April Wine introduced to us all way back in the day. “Pay the Piper” is savage and “Ready to Go” is perfectly placed as the cover tune (originally by Republica) well past the half-way mark, sending a hard jolt of electricity up our spines. Finally, “Toe the Line” is simply a great rock song, possibly exposing another emblematic message that claims, “I didn’t do this for you / I did this for me,” therefore finishing off the pain and beauty with a feeling that we might gain the courage for self-acceptance, guilty passions and all.
Or…it’s just a great record, well produced and well performed. Or both.
Again, and to give brief summary to all this, I don’t think one can experience Kill For Eden by looking through the lens of the debut record or its follow-up alone. We need both. And even so, some sort of definitive statement concerning the two would be misleading. This band is made up of pros, but they are only beginning. It is a thrill to see the start of their journey. And a beautiful mystery as to where we go next.