It was pretty clear after the release of their latest EP Heavy Dancing back in 2015, that Swain had decided to follow a different path, one that eventually lead them into new sonic territories. The facts were simple: This Routine Is Hell was no longer going forward. Lack of motivation and various life vicissitudes resulted in many uncertainties within the Dutch band. Relocated in Germany, Noam, Boy & Boris (Bram previously left to pursue his donut shop project) had to reinvent themselves as musicians to perpetuate the legacy of what once was one of the European hardcore punk scene’s most talented bands.
Released via End Hits Records on September 9th, The Long Dark Blue is the result of 20 days of work in Baltimore, USA and it definitely sounds like a step forward recording wise. On these 13 new tracks, Swain have decided to push themselves out of their comfort zones with a renewed but extremely interesting sound and approach. It definitely paid off.
‘Hold My Head’ kicks in without a warning and brings new elements in Swain’s music such as these delicate piano notes at the end of the track. ‘Half Asleep / Half Awake’, a track whose guitar cords will instantly make you want to sway your hips, leads to ‘Punk-Rock Messed You Up, Kid!’ previously released as a 7 “, which gives a better insight of the band shift in sound. Noam’s throaty vocals perfectly combine with Boy’s more melodic singing but there’s also still plenty of room for the band to churn out the grungy riffs.
The album then shifts into ‘Never Clean My Room’, a song that nods to Smashing Pumpkins at times with a real catchy chorus. In a departure from the primitive aggression of albums past, Swain has definitely incorporated more melody and diversity in their song writing, which really adds a ton of dynamic to this record. A few tracks such as ‘It’s Hard To Make Friends’, ‘Seen a Good Man (In a Bad Mood)’ or ‘You’re Not Special’ may definitely confuse the listener but they fit in perfectly with the rough moments that have defined This Routine Is Hell in the past. Rest assured they haven’t completely lost any kind of ferociousness. Tracks like ‘Kiss Me Hard’ or ‘Hoping For It’ are quite sharp and reminiscent of the band’s old wildest days.
Still, as Noam shouts it on ‘Faze Me’: “If it does not scare you, you’re not doing it right, if it does not faze you, you’re doing nothing at all (…) and I want to be scared again.” And that’s all what this record is about. Being scared and excited again for what you can accomplish both as a band. Leading Swain into uncharted waters was a good choice. In the end, there’s just no point in comparing this record with TRIH’s previous material, as it sounds totally different and unique. As a follow up to Howl which was a total banger, The Long Dark Blue sounds less straight forward but it’s perhaps their best output yet. Their sound is still firmly rooted in a punk vibe and it’s just impossible to get bored while listening to these songs. It certainly is a more approachable sound, one that might also get them more exposure. Swain have taken risks and came back with a completely accomplished, stimulating and dense record under the belt that really depicts their mindset. After such a doubtful period for them, it’s nothing short of stunning.
Track list – The Long Dark Blue:
01. Hold My Head
02. Half Asleep / Half Awake
03. Punk-Rock Messed You Up, Kid
04. Never Clean My Room
05. It’s Hard To Make Friends
06. Kiss Me Hard
07. Faze Me
08. Secrets Inside
09. Seen A Good Man (In A Bad Mood)
10. You’re Not Special
11. Hoping For It
12. Strange Way Down (The Underwater Song)
13. Rid Myself Of You
Written by Alex Tabankia