Nocturnal Transmission by The White Swan

Release date: September 18, 2020
Label: War Crime Recordings

Kittie were never a band I gave the time of day to when I was younger and first exploring heavy music. I don’t think it ever had anything to do with the band being an all-female group, but rather my hasty dismissal of the two sub-genres that had acted as my gateway to heavier music in general – namely nu-metal and alt-metal.

This was a mistake in a number of ways. First and foremost, I should have realised how important the band were to the young women who were growing up alongside me in the punk/rock/metal scene. Kittie, they themselves young women, were showing that it could be done. And no, you didn’t have to be the token female member – you need not be the obligatory female bassist. This band were creating their own brand of heavy in their own right, with talented women in every position. It’s hard to overstate how seismic that was for some of the people I knew. My dismissal of them surely must have seemed to my own personal group of friends as if I, a young man, was implicitly not prepared to accept that picture up on a stage and headlining ever larger gigs.

Secondly, Kittie were one of the best bands coming out of those oft maligned early 2000s sub-genres. Being an all-female band, as well as coming from Ontario, Canada (and therefore influenced by but outside the melting pot of the USA music scene) and being – quite frankly – more talented musicians, all culminated in a sound that was truly chameleonic. Over the years, since they formed in 1996, Kittie have also exhibited the ability to incorporate ever more varied sounds into their portmanteau– be that groove metal, old-school death metal and stoner rock, too.

Since 2016, co-founder of Kittie, Mercedes Lander has had a new project on the go: The White Swan. She has swapped out the drums for guitar and lead vocals in this band, although she still records the drums herself. She also plays keyboards, too. The trio is filled out by fellow guitarist Shane Jeffers and bassist Kira Longeuay, with friends or touring musicians presumably filling in behind the kit when they play live. The White Swan is a different beast to Kittie, make no mistake, but the sense of melody, the obvious songwriting tenure of Lander, and the penchant in Kittie’s later years for a lilt toward stoner rock and even some elements of traditional doom metal are all here in the band’s make up.

What may be most frustrating for fans about this new release, is that this is yet another EP. I stumbled upon the announcement of the band’s formation in 2016 and having only recently begun a revisionist look at my musical past, was intrigued to find out what Lander was up to in this new project. Their debut release was Anubis, a three track EP. It immediately struck me as very promising and I have kept a tab on the band ever since. The following year another short EP was delivered – The White. It once again offered listeners three tracks, two of which were much more expansive, incorporating different elements into their sound – both softer and heavier – signalling the trio’s growth and the signs of a group starting to stretch their creative muscle. A year later in 2018, a short EP was offered up yet again to excited fans, entitled Touch Taste Destroy. It was another intriguing dose of what the band could do and by its end, the band stood nine for nine in terms of strong songs let loose into the world.

With 2019 being the first year sans release, I was convinced when The White Swan started teasing with #nocturnaltransmission that we were set for an album. However, Nocturnal Transmission is an EP once more. Longer than those before, coming in at just shy of 22-minutes, it also sports four tracks to its name, albeit the final track being a cover. The White Swan clearly have a plan – either preferring this short format as the best delivery vehicle for their sound, or, building so much anticipation and noise that when an album does finally drop, it hits with as much force as possible. Either is perfectly reasonable, of course, but these tracks do feel like such a tease…

Nocturnal Transmission opens with ‘In Love and Ritual’, unsurprisingly offering a brutish, powerful drumbeat, before we get washes of noise and Lander’s gorgeous, unmistakable voice before a huge, huge riff comes crashing down. Imagine SubRosa jamming with Pallbearer or Thou recording one of their grungier covers when Jerry Cantrell just happens to walk into the studio and offers to lay down some guitar to bolster the already thick sound. The production is also on point for the vast majority of the EP. There’s a nice chug to the final stretch of ‘In Love and Ritual’ that gets the head going before the ethereal but catchy chorus returns once more to finish things up.

The second track, ‘Nocturnal Transmission’, is another monolithic slab of stoner infused metal, all the while softened and carried by phenomenal vocals from Lander. There is also a lightness and positivity in these tracks seldom heard in the genre mix the band are clearly influenced by. As the press junket states, the band’s subject matter is love – all the songs on the EP are, essentially, “love songs”. The tracks detail joy, desire and longing, as well as the sense of comfort in finding someone (or something) that one truly loves, and which one derives such happiness from. ‘Nocturnal Transmission’s main riff sounds like something Khemmis or Windhand would be proud of – boiling in the background, urging the track ever on, allowing for some amazing guitar work to flourish over the top.

‘Purple’ is the longest track on offer here, just shy of six minutes. With its greater use of keyboards and slightly more expansive sound, it shows a different side of the band on this release, especially if this is your introduction to The White Swan. The more polished sound exhibited across the entire EP, does ‘Purple’ great favours here. Longer tracks from the previous releases perhaps suffered from a lack of punch in their production, allowing them to feel meandering at times. Not so here, with ‘Purple’ feeling purposeful and powerful throughout.

The final track is a cover of Tracy Bonham’s ‘Tell It to the Sky’, a cover that makes perfect sense for this band and is accomplished with great panache. However, I don’t know what happened with the mastering, but this track jumps out of the speakers a lot more than the prior tracks for the first minute or so of its runtime. It’s a bit odd and I can only imagine it’s a stylistic choice as it would be far too obvious a mistake to miss. Perhaps for some listeners this will work, acting as a ‘wake up’ following the more sombre sounds of ‘Purple’, but upon numerous playbacks, it still strikes me as jarring. Other than that, the cover is absolutely spot on – and I can imagine will be a real favourite for the band to play live and audiences to react to.

With Nocturnal Transmission, The White Swan once again delivers an exciting 15-20 minutes of music, but which only whets the appetite for something… more. The Kittie connection is obviously a great draw for some, but The White Swan in 2020 feel, to me, as if they’re finally a fully defined separate entity now: justifiably a great band in their own right. If you haven’t discovered them yet, this EP is a perfect introduction and leaves the band’s catalogue untarnished, with no poor song in sight. Hats off.  he stage is set. It will be very interesting to find out what The White Swan do next.

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