erasing clouds

New Radiant Storm King, The Steady Hand

reviewed by dave heaton

You remember New Radiant Storm King, right? You saw them play back in 1990something, opening for somebody. Or maybe they did a split single with your favorite rock band, the band you were obsessing over. You liked their style, the wall of guitars, the melodies that were catchy but kept their distance. So you bought one of their albums, or meant to, but for some reason never really kept up with them. "They're still around?", you'd wonder upon hearing their name...

Well, it's 2006, some 16 years after they formed, and New Radiant Storm King aren't just still around, they've made their most accomplished album yet. It's a substantial album with a full sound, It's distinctly in the band's tradition of 90s-style "college radio", guitar-driven rock, yet doesn't sound dated in any way. Instead it's like a honing of their sound, doing what they've always done but crisper and more forcefully. Much of the album marches forth with determination, but there's also moments of true grace, songs like "View of a Wedding Part II," where the music slows down to a gorgeous, harmonious sway.

New Radiant Storm King's story is one of missed opportunities, disappearing band members, and new beginnings (read the timeline on their web site to get a glimpse into it all). Their latest album The Steady Hand is another new beginning - their first album on Darla, who is not just releasing this album but reissuing previous albums.

"The feeling is back again, it was never really gone / a hammer is poised above your head and you wait for it to drop..." - New Radiant Storm King, "Come On and Let Yourself Win"

The Steady Hand is a fitting soundtrack for a band that biographically often seems to stand at a crossroads. The album opens with a brief cinematic "Overture" that expresses this feeling musically with drama and beauty, a synthesizer weaving a cloud of suspense in the air as guitars swirl open like a rustic version of My Bloody Valentine. Then the rocking begins, and the existential crisis is laid out, with the opening line's consideration that we're here on our own, to fall or rise on our own: "is this red sun brought to you by no one?" Sharp but still tuneful guitars stab forward and then give way to a dream-state, with these words hovering: "Only after all things fade away / the sum of every choice you made remains."

The Steady Hand is filled with people wondering how they've reached the place they're at - the "Accountant of the Year" who's a slave to the office, the birthday celebrant pondering where the decade has gone, the person left hanging by a friend, someone sitting on a bed contemplating the lifetime of memories that's packed away in closets and basements. Choices, decisions, and their impacts hang over nearly every song - the decisions, and the music that frames them, are sometimes filled with tension, sometimes sadness, sometimes humor, sometimes a strange feeling of synchronicity.

The song lyrics thoughtfully detail human dilemmas and quandaries, while the music echoes the feelings, through mood and melody and the ever-ringing of guitars. It's a substantial, fully realized rock album, which is more of a rarity these days than you might imagine. Here's hoping that the public gives this album the chance it deserves, that The Steady Hand is recognized as the intelligent and dynamic album that it is.


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