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Ring Them Bells – No One’s Dead/We’re Just Dressed in Black (Burnt Toast)

Ring Them Bells - No One's Dead We're Just Dressed in Black
24 February 2016

I never got a chance to try the porter/coffee-flavored beer that was concocted by Danish microbrewer Mikkeller (taking a page from the playbook of Delaware’s Dogfish Head, who crafted beers for bands like Pearl Jam and Guided By Voices) to promote this Copenhagen quintet’s self-titled 2013 five-song EP – its recipe was even etched into the vinyl’s flip side. But it wasn’t necessary to get sloshed to appreciate RTB’s strident songs, and that’s also true of this debut full-length. The production on No One’s Dead is not as crude or clamorous as on the EP, allowing you to fixate more attentively on the languid, interlocking guitars of Johannes Nidam and Jan Johansen. And as that EP evinced, their influences are wide-ranging, ensuring no two songs sound alike. The shadowy, sinuous opening title track, highlighted by Nidam’s and Johansen’s reverb-drenched, feedback-saturated guitars, is inspired by Ennio Morricone spaghetti westerns and spacious, sun-scorched desert landscapes. On “Lose Yourself,” you can detect hints of Joy Division and early Cure, along with more recent favorites like London’s Cheatahs and Minneapolis’s Chatham Rise, and traces of motorik and Krautrock, in its riveting, repetitive rhythms.

Elsewhere, the thunderous, trudging grooves on “Time to Kill” conjure up lumbering leviathans Swans and Flipper, as well as Quebec newbies Jet Black and No Joy. And the meditative, mysterious “Jagati Sapana,” with Dybkjær Andersson’s threatening, tribal jungle drums encircled by drifting, deliberate guitar effects and secluded, squealing horns, is like Savage Republic or 17 Pygmies covering The Doors’ “The End.” (I kept imagining the song as a substitute soundtrack to the claustrophobic concluding scenes of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 war epic Apocalypse Now, as Marlon Brando’s crazed Colonel Kurtz meets his demise.)

Finally, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Stooges, and Spacemen 3 similarities I heard on the EP also resurface, especially on the spiraling, cinematic “Snow on Snow,” the searing, swaggering “Napalm Makeup,” and the smacking, swirling closer “Sweet to My Soul.” (The latter’s Bob Dylan-referencing line “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more” seems to settle speculation on where the group’s moniker came from; Dylan’s 1989 LP Oh Mercy featured a song called “Ring Them Bells.” However, Duke Ellington and Liza Minnelli also recorded original tunes by that name.) Furthering the J&MC comparisons, that band’s singer Jim Reid is manifest in the mellow, menthol voice of Nidam, whose croon is cool and collected throughout. Once again, RTB’s music can best be described by the make-up of their EP’s specialty brew: “robust, dark, and atmospheric.” (



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