If you struggle with multitasking, spare a thought for Gary McGuinness; the driving force behind London-based alt-rock outfit The Survival Code. One glance at the notes accompanying ‘Whispers of Woe’, The Survival Code’s third full-length album, points out that as well as starring in the role of singer/songwriter, McGuinness also played all instruments on the new album. Infuriatingly adept at whatever instrument he turns his attention to, it’s fair to say that McGuinness lived and breathed this album for some time – no doubt in strange circumstances thanks to the pandemic – and given the intricacies surrounding the material (think Biffy with some more progressive tendencies – the towering ‘Choreography & Chaos’ being a prime example) then the fella must have slept like a baby once the album was in the can.
Given how much McGuinness has invested in ‘Whispers of Woe’, it’s a deeply personal album “…that attests to not just the strength, resilience and growth that artists and bands need in today’s music business, but also innovation and adaptability in what are extremely challenging times for musicians.” Written in 2019, ‘Never Knew You Existed’ sums the album up perfectly because if things went the way that McGuinness expected then The Survival Code would not be around today, stating that the song “…was written with the idea that the last EP wouldn’t do well, that none of the songs would click and this would possibly be the last single on the last release for the band…”. But sometimes life has a knack for surprising you when you least expect it and the EP in question, ‘Crosses To Carry, Coffins To Fill’, did indeed “click” and went on to amass over 3 million streams with the single ‘So Serious’ alone generating 1.6 million streams and counting. Morale was given a much-needed boost and the result is album number three ‘Whispers of Woe’.
Opening track ‘The Heart Will Bleed’ is a head-swimmingly grand way to herald in the album. Thick bass licks, choppy guitar tones, and full-on drumming alternate with vocals that melt together uplifting hooks with narrative-like vocals. It’s light in places razor-sharp in others and overall, very Biffyesque. ‘For Right, Or Wrong, For Better, Or Worse’ deals with the struggle of self-doubt and continues to chop and change in tones and pace, and in the modern age of being able to guess what is coming up in a song before it does, The Survival Code displays a deft touch in sinking their hooks into the listener and making them pay attention; in this case, it’s the guitar passage around the 3-minute mark that takes top marks. ‘We Are Just Fooling Ourselves’ quickly follows on and with the simple guitar intro, you could be forgiven for thinking that the song is going down a trad-rock path, only for it to zig instead of zagging and the result is a mash-up of American New Wave/Post-Punk in a Cars-meets-Talking Heads way, with a snifter of Scottish Art Rock (Franz Ferdinand, maybe?) thrown in.
‘Haunted By Myself’ begins in a drum-fuelled jam frenzy before growing into another great example of a song that can combine commercial hooks with alt/indie sensibilities. McGuinness’s vocals constantly change throughout and show great depth and range. With live drummer Simon Hartop alongside him in a concert setting, this one will SLAP harder than the current World Champion of the Slap Fighting Championship. Elsewhere, ‘Digging Your Own Grave’ is one of many big hitters on the album, and has a fantastic 90s Brit Rock feel to it; think Feeder, Dodgy, Supergrass, or maybe even a less-harsh Placebo, and you are on the right path.
‘Whispers of Woe’ is an album full of wonder and despair alike, and an album full of twists and turns that pull the rug out from under the listener’s feet just as they think they are figuring The Survival Code out. And we like that.
Available January 26th via Good Deed Music Ltd, more information here.
Review – Dave