Not a band to be caught standing still, The Virginmarys continue to have a lot to share with the world. Their newest offering, Northern Sun Sessions (available Nov 16), includes 11 songs recorded and engineered by both Ally Dickaty (at Preach Studios) and Mark Winterburn (drums and big guitars at Edge Studios). The album was mixed by Kemble Walters in Los Angeles and mastered by Mike Kalajian at Rogue Planet in New York.
The album features anaglyph artwork along with a pair of 3-D glasses for viewing. This non-traditional approach to the album art falls in line with the band’s desire for a strong graphic to be the main imagery. Drummer, Danny Dolan has previously commented on their subtle inclusion of the Manchester worker bee, firstly, as a tribute to the bombing at the Manchester Arena in 2017, “…but also the constant never giving in ethos that has been at the core of me and Ally making this album.”
Dolan on the 3-D concept, “I always loved the crappy cardboard glasses as a kid.” He described working with recent band images, turning them into 3-D, and thought it would be pretty cool to have the entire album art anaglyph. “It’s probably just the kid in me but I know (pre-Spotify and YouTube days) if I’d of seen a band’s album art for sale that was in 3-D and including the glasses… I’d of been having that without any recommendations from anyone.”
[Editor note: While the entire L.A. Guns Hollywood Vampires CD is not full anaglyph, I wonder if Danny came across this version in his search, which included mini 3-D glasses to view the portions that were.]
“I don’t think anyone will hear another rock album like this all year.” -Ally Dickaty
The power of “the quote.” I’ll admit, I have recently wondered who and why people read album reviews. Are they fans looking to read other people’s comments about their beloved band? Are they music fans in general looking for new music to discover? As a reviewer, what responsibilities do I have in giving my honest opinion? Before I continue with this review, I have a question for you.
When is the last time you gave your undivided attention to any one thing?
Nowadays, we are so distracted or busy multitasking that we tend to divide our attention into small segments across multiple things versus focusing all of our attention on one thing. As a result, we may miss some of the beauty and or genius going on right in front of our very eyes, or in the case of listening to music, our ears. As a result, you may not fully grasp the intent an artist has for you, the listener, when they created their piece of work.
Again, I will admit, I tried to listen to this album while doing other things. You know what? Initially, I couldn’t relate to any of the songs. Which was odd for me, because that is not something that happens often. However, when I actually took the time to stop, focus and listen to what Ally Dickaty and Danny Dolan had to say, the puzzle pieces immediately fell into place. I was able to connect and hear the songs for what they were; a result of the band’s hard work, determination and perseverance.
With the album’s lead track and first single, Look Out For My Brother, the upbeat music, along with Ally Dickaty’s unique sounding vocals, grabs you immediately. The catchy chorus, which lyrically encourages unity among people, “Look out for my brother, mother, sister, father, friend and lover,” speaks to much bigger thoughts by Dickaty. “I’m still very much haunted by the Divides of our society and [I’m a] firm believer that ‘love is the only engine of survival’ to quote Leonard Cohen.” Watch the video directed by Paul Wright below.
SOS4UNI, which stands for SOS For You And I, is a fast-paced blur of drums, guitar and guttural sounding vocals. This welcomed side of chaos is a prime example of what The Virginmarys can bring to the table and even more so in a live setting. Eye For An Eye continues the more aggressive side of the band’s contribution to hard and heavy punk angst. While the song has some angrily spewed lyrics, Dolan’s rhythmic, almost hypnotic drumming is what really sets this song on top.
If you’re new to The Virginmarys catalog, it won’t take long before you start to realize the power Ally Dickaty has as a lyricist. The way he strings together words into verse and chorus, certain lines tend to jump out and demand your attention. In the instance of For The Two Of Us, the description painted below immediately stood out as a powerful statement.
“I paid the price for misplaced trust
I watched your fire turn to ashes, I watched your ashes turn to dust
I gave you everything, I tore myself from limb to limb
For the two of us, I did all of the suffering”
Dickaty on the new songs, “I love the imagery that lyrics can place in the head. It’s something I miss in a lot of new rock music. Rock Music is always going to be my first love and I’ll never get away from that, I just wish that sometimes there was more emphasis into original and honest lyrical content. I guess it’s just what you’re into, but I’d far rather spend all my time with the words rather than a guitar solo.”
On Blind Lead The Blind, initially the listener is drawn into the mellower side of the band. However, it doesn’t take long before they punch it up and we hear Dickaty’s signature vocal sound as he belts out his conviction wrapped around what the song means to him. Watch an acoustic lyric version here.
“I’m proud to be in this band, I’m proud of what we’ve created and the fact we’re still doing it independently, like a force that won’t be stopped.” -Ally Dickaty
Almost immediately, Get Me Back Home takes you on a different journey from the rest of the album. With its very distinct Bluesy intro, slide playing and what I believe is the use of an alternate microphone, you may wonder if you’re still listening to the same album. Trust me, you want to play this song over and over. Dickaty on how he achieved the sound, “I bought an old Vox guitar from a pawn shop, cleaned it all up and put in open D tuning for slide. I love that aggressive almost trashy sound with it. It’s closer to the Strat sound, which is a nice contrast as I always use a Les Paul.” Dolan’s drumming is also a huge accentuation to the style in this song. I would like to see the band head in this direction on another song in the future.
Northern Sun, a song that just missed being a part of the Divides album, according to Dolan, is a very well-crafted song. The music slowly builds to a crescendo alongside Dickaty’s vocals as he bares his soul through his lyrics. I would have to assume this is a very freeing process and the payoff is well worth the time and effort put into this song. By the time you get to Flags, you can’t help but be fully engrossed in the band’s latest offering of new material. With a variety of topics, experiences and thoughts shared, you can’t help but feel, somehow, a small connection to the band. It’s that fine line of subconscious versus being alert of your surroundings as you listen to music. Your brain processing similar feelings and situations that lend a hand in how you connect with a lyric or the music itself. Oh, the power of music.
Dickaty again on writing, “The lyrics have always been a focal point of this band and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of. I don’t profess to be amazing at it, the fans love them and that’s enough, but I like to add layers, honesty and depth to them. Each album we release we get a lot of new hardcore fans because the honesty of the lyrics has resonated with them in some way. If I could have that as my inspiration to younger rock bands I’d be happy.”
The final track, All Fall Down, wraps up the album on a high note. The song itself has such an unsuspecting progression, it slowly creeps up on you, so much so, that once the song is over, it leaves you wanting more. If The Virginmarys are one thing, it’s true to their art. Dickaty on their third album and his favorite work to date, “I’m more excited about this record than any others we’ve done. We’ve created a beast that sounds massive. There’s a lot of freedom in this record, I’ve felt liberated and closer to the spark that had me writing in the first place. We’ve been working so close with these songs from start to finish and it’s felt right pouring ourselves into them. It’s a very special record that feels closest to the energy of our live performance than any before.”
Whether you decide to listen to Northern Sun Sessions by The Virginmarys or new music from any other band, set aside the time to really focus and give the artist your undivided attention. More times than not, I think you’ll enjoy the experience.
Northern Sun Sessions is available in multiple formats including digital, CD and colored vinyl along with 3-D glasses to view the artwork. Other options include a special bonus disc of all demos and outtakes, a limited edition poster and if you order from the band’s website, autographed options are also available. Check out The Virginmarys store, iTunes and Amazon.