One thing becomes very clear upon listening to Dead Sara’s self-titled debut full length album: this band will not be flying under the radar for long. Fronted by lead singer/rhythm guitarist Emily Armstrong and lead guitarist Siouxsie Medley, the band has a distinct swagger and incendiary sound that finds its roots in metal, punk, and blues, but isn’t afraid to break it down either. All of these sounds are present on Dead Sara, a blistering and unique album that not-so-shyly announces the band’s presence on the hard rock scene.
Armstrong’s vocal range and quality are astonishing – some beautiful mixture of Ann Wilson, Mia Zapata, Stevie Nicks, Courtney Love, and Corin Tucker. One minute, she’s handling a soaring ballad with ease, and the next, she’s screaming with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. Partner-in-crime Medley may not be the band’s frontwoman per se, but her guitar takes center stage alongside Armstrong’s riveting voice. She consistently brings the ruckus, laying down riff-after-memorable riff that form the basis for Dead Sara’s unmistakably heavy and haunting sound.
Dead Sara starts off with three captivating tracks that waste no time letting the listening public know what this band is all about. Album opener Whispers & Ashes is a driving anthem of escape, redemption, and self-revelation, paced by Medley’s catchy-as-hell riffs and Armstrong’s incessant rhythm guitar. All the while, Armstrong’s voice exudes a sense of newfound focus on her own purpose, and she vows to continue her struggle against being swept back out to sea by the riptide of one’s past mistakes. As the song approaches its finale, the band It breaks down before rising again behind Armstrong’s repeated self-affirmation “I’ll be just fine!” that at times sounds more likea question than a statement.
On We Are What You Say – where the band continues its sonic assault with another addictive guitar-driven anthem – Armstrong tackles the subject of dealing with outsiders’ perceptions and rising above projected images and one’s own desire to meet those expectations. It’s an unreasonably intoxicating mix of punk, glam metal, pop, and alternative, with Armstrong showing a glimpse of her range, moving with ease from growling “you can’t back down, kid…back down, kid…you can’t back out now…back out now” to the beautifully melodic and soaring line of resignation and realization, “we are what you say…we are not what you think.”
From Medley’s mesmerizingly heavy and fuzz-filled opening riff, Weatherman commands attention – attention that is undoubtedly deserved. The song is the album’s centerpiece, at varying times finding its influences in Nirvana’s Bleach, then Vs. and Vitalogy-era Pearl Jam’s juxtaposition of classic rock anthems with punk, Tom Morello’s guitar work, and even Jane’s Addiction hypnotic psychedelia. If you weren’t already convinced of Armstrong’s pipes, she lays all doubt to rest here, building each verse from a soft, but bouncy swagger into an aggressive onslaught of emotion, eventually reaching the chorus’ repetitive screams of “go for the kill!” All the while, Medley plays the metal/blues/punk guitar goddess role to perfection, Chris Null provides a sludge-laden bass line, and Sean Friday keeps the entire band focused with an incessant beat and explosive fills. Weatherman is a damn near perfect rock song, capturing Dead Sara’s raw energy and promise.
The band takes on a quieter demeanor on Dear Love, which is exactly what you think it is – a love letter. Armstrong is in full songstress mode, singing of broken promises and reconciliation and professing an unconfident hope that her lover rises to the occasion after a breach of trust. Monumental Holiday again finds Dead Sara dabbling in the sounds of Nirvana, starting with a familiar feedback leading into a fractured noise rock reminiscent of the original grunge kings’ Stay Away as Armstrong resumes her punk snarl. Friday provides a thunderous intro and paces Armstrong’s rebellious tone and attitude on You Said You Were Lucky, one of the album’s darkest songs.
On Face To Face – a ballad about trying to save a failing relationship and seeking acceptance in lieu of forgiveness – Armstrong’s gentle tones at the outset eventually make way for her soaring, emotional outbursts, where she throws up her hands in frustration, asking to be taken back but to be accepted along with all of her faults. It’s a roller coaster of a song that the band nails without allowing the sound to become overly sentimental. Her lilting voice is accompanied by Friday’s pin drop drumbeat during breakdowns, and the entire band enters a full groove when she hits ever-ascending vocal peaks during the chorus.
On Test On My Patience, against the backdrop of another soul-stirring hook from Medley, Armstrong tells the audience what it probably already knew – that she’s got a short fuse and there’s no reason to fuck with her: “Why you test on my patience? I was feeling part of the scenery. Why you give me a reason? Then it must have been good enough.” Medley’s modern blues licks on Timed Blues sound like a revving engine, with Armstrong adding fuel in the form of lyrics of regret, remorse, resolve, and rebellion, acknowledging that “it doesn’t seem like heaven’s on its way” and directing us to “tell the devil to wait” as she sorts through the wreckage.
Lemon Scent kicks in with a murky punk rock riff that matches the caustic nature of the song’s lyrics that question one’s commitment to a cause and accuses them of selling out. Armstrong drops into a growl, telling her adversary, “You’re not cut out for this, you’ve got that lemon scent. Fuck your instincts, everything you do is for somebody else” and warning “this is the part where it gets it gets kind of personal,” as she rips into her subject for trying to make lies become reality.
Closer Sorry For It All – a ballad that opened the band’s 2008 EP The Airport Sessions – is an emotional ballad about an attempt at reconciliation after an ugly split. Armstrong’s voice once again takes flight seeking one more chance, but recognizing the difficult road ahead and her own inability to look inside and share blame. As is the case throughout Dead Sara, Armstrong’s lyrics flow with remarkable ease, here emotionally but calmly and steadily bringing the album to a close.
Dead Sara’s sound moves fluidly from primal punk and metal power to melody driven power pop ballads and indie blues guitar riffs. Armstrong’s dumbfounding vocal prowess and Medley’s wickedly heavy guitar work make them as powerful a duo as there is in hard rock today, and bassist Null and drummer Friday provide a rich darkness – an ideal backdrop for the album’s overarching moods and themes.
A rarity in today’s hard rock scene, Dead Sara exhibits a simultaneously polished yet raw and primal sound. The band finds its influences in many of the sounds of the last thirty years, from punk and 80’s metal to 90’s alternative, modern blues, and indie rock, and seamlessly blends those genres into a single, distinct vision of modern rock. Dead Sara is nothing short of a must listen for any hard rock fan. Pick it up on October 11th here.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.