Merrin - 1

Merrin - 1.png

By Gray Vickers

Released 1st October 2017

It seems the boys and girl in Merrin have been busy bees! It was earlier in the year that I was introduced to this Wellington based 5 piece, in the form of their single Mr Dominant. Fast forward 6 or so months, the band has been rocking and rolling all over Aotearoa with some of New Zealand’s premiere rock bands and now it seems they’ve garnered one more feather in their cap – their debut album, “1” is out now. 

While Mr Dominant has a sexy, dirty rock and roll groove behind it, it looks like Merrin are kicking the door down with more force and ferocity on “1”. A dark horror noir concept record, with an interweaving series of interludes following a story set around the selling ones soul to the devil and the price paid in the transaction. While the story pieces are synth and vocal heavy, with ominous textures, the songs they intersect are pure rock and roll.

Merrin’s true strength is in their intensity. Vocalist Charlie Phillips boasts a powerful wail and unleashes is without restraint throughout “1”. Opening tracks “Durty Little Secret” and “Burn It Up” showcase the band firing on all cylinders, sharp chugging riffs with Phillips’ roaring over the top kick the record off in glorious fist pumping fashion. There is a balance of classic rock stylings and modern pop writing sensibilities that fits band incredibly well. Throw in some tasteful shredding from guitarist Angelo Pantelakis, and you’ve got a solid foundation of a sound that has broad appeal and enough hooks to ensnare an audience loyal to a variety of genres.

The album isn’t all foot to the floor though, slower tracks like “War Within” and “The Huntress” bring the tempo down and allow the band to invest time into more progressive passages, with longer instrumental breaks and more complex musical ideas. These songs have a much closer relationship with the story passages, with slower, brooding and often droning sections bringing in a darker tonal quality to the music. Finding a contrast between doom / stoner grooves and an almost dark blues feel allows effected vocal sections and symphonic elements to creep in, adding layers to the sound that can’t be achieved in full noise rock tracks.

Big Hooks are prominent throughout this album. Ultimately, it’s a rock and roll record and Merrin pick and choose moments incredibly well to pull the technicality back and lay a solid platform for fist pumping, crowd screaming moments. I Declare War is probably the best example of this, with guitars consolidating from complex riffs and counter melodies to flat out chugging over the “Crush” screams. What Merrin has achieved very well in this record is creating songs with live appeal. These are tracks that are designed with an audience in mind. Whether it’s through gang vocal sections, or percussive hits sections transitioning between bridges and chorus like in “Ode to the Homicidal Trash Queen”, the band's intention to capture their live energy and intention is clear throughout the record.

What is frustrating about “1” is that it is let down by the production. Self-produced and self-engineered, the album suffers from a general lack of polish that is common downfall with the DIY approach. The guitars lack clarity with deep low swelling harmonics covering up riffs, drums lack body and punch, sitting back in the mix with over compressed cymbals swelling above the rest of the kit, and the vocals are overly distorted and effected, pulling away from some of the really powerful nuances in Charlie’s voice. While by no means a terrible sounding record, the tonal quality of these songs do detract from what’s going on musically too often to overlook. In terms of production in an arrangement sense, Merrin appear to be a band with their finger on the pulse of their own identity, and while there are unfortunately some under developed ideas present throughout the album, there isdefinitely no sense that these are unfinished or rushed songs. Certainly I would’ve liked to hear what a more polished product with these songs would sound like, however the content held with the album is still strong enough to achieve what the band has set out – which is a road map to what they’re bringing to their live rock and roll show.

Merrin put out a mission statement, to write and produce a record in 3 months. “A Dare” as they refer to it in their press release, a bold move by any bands standards. What they have done is laid out the groundwork of their bands identity. Within this album is some outstanding rock and roll, which great riffs, great vocals, catch as hell hooks, and enough fist pumping action to light a fire under any audience. While the production does have a rough edge to it, there is a charm in the feeling of “live” that the band has captured. The story sections are well placed and offer listeners reprieve from the big and heavy tracks, while driving a creative and unique narrative behind the albums flow. What’s impressive is the sheer ambition and execution of this project, truly highlighting the drive and dedication this band has to garner a reputation as one of New Zealand’s hardest working rock bands.

3 / 5