Armed with a pseudonym and a musical ear as refined as any Vancouver rocker, artist Bill Hardman has unleashed a dynamic, tightly-crafted, DIY experience in Combustion of the Guard’s V. The simply, yet appropriately, titled five-song EP is a haunting, and nostalgic, venture through the dusty remnants of rock’s last half-century. Hardman carefully sifts through sounds for his music like an experienced art collector would for her studio.
David Bowie’s vocal delivery and synth are most easily identified, but listeners can also hear shakes of Black Sabbath and Metallica sprinkled throughout most of the tracks. There’s even a Revolver-esque guitar on the closing track, “Dynamite,” and what appears to be an homage to the most famous band with the title of V’s opening song.
The shared of assonance and rhyme scheme of “Shelter Smelter” with the infamous Beatles’ song will send the listener on a wild goose chase in search of contrived illusions, comparisons, and coded messages that simply do not exist. Though Combustion of the Guard does tip its cap to the Beatles at the end of the album, the only element this song shares with “Helter Skelter” is a thumping bass. Comparisons to Arcade Fire or The Black Keys are more apt. Hardman overlays his vocals to give the song a chanting, marching feel, with a subtle growl in the song’s chorus.
His tightly packed lyrical message throughout the album is tied to themes of nature, innocence, and deceit. And the poetic consonance of the following line in “Shelter Smelter” is as strong an indication as any that Combustion of the Guard committed to making great art. He sings “I felt the branches crack from the skin tearing, bone breaking, pain in my back.”
The overall effect of the poetry and instruments on this song, specifically, is incredibly haunting, though short-lived— the song barely covers two minutes. And here lies the greatest pitfall of what is otherwise a remarkable debut: though it has five songs, the EP is barely thirteen minutes long. Four of the five tracks hover around two minutes in length, which compromises the atmosphere, tension, and build-up that would make this strong release even more memorable. If Hardman learns to let his songs breathe a little more, he’ll surely be an artist to look out for. Until then, V makes Combustion of the Guard an artist well worth the listen.
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