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With Ire: The Great Discord Go Down The Rabbit Hole For Album Two

Wednesday, 01 November 2017 Written by Alec Chillingworth

When someone says ‘pop music’, you now fear the worst. You think of the Black Eyed Peas. You think of Justin Bieber before he started getting tattoos and being pwopa nawty. You think of ghostwriters, lip-syncing and Simon Cowell. You don’t think of the Great Discord.

Born four years ago in the Swedish city of Linköping, this band is different. This band is weird. Dubbed ‘progressive death pop’ by its own members, their 2015 debut ‘Duende’ was definitely rooted in prog rock, but it bounced from the speakers alongside scathing screams and irresistible melodies from vocalist Sofia Kempe.

The record’s touring saw the band trail around in support of fellow Swedes Dead Soul, playing to sparse crowds. But Kempe’s wild-eyed, hypnotic performances transfixed anyone who bothered to turn up early.

Sporting black contact lenses, a ghostly white face and a feathered headdress, she writhed to the rhythms, alien-like, bestial. And that was in front of about 30 people in London on a weekday. She didn’t so much make an impression as brand a permanent reminder: watch out.

“I wanted something more androgynous, neither a man nor a woman,” she says of the persona dubbed ‘Fia’, which she assumes when performing. “It’s an entity that personifies the music and lyrics. If you want to go watch a show or listen to a band, it adds so much more when you get something for the ears and the eyes. It’s like the theatre.”

Sat on the other end of a crackly phone line, Kempe’s eager to talk about the band’s sophomore effort, ‘The Rabbit Hole’. On this record their palette is condensed, wrapping their proggy leanings and sharp pop hooks into concise, instantaneous bundles of electricity.

Conceptually, it delves deeper than ‘Duende’ ever did. Rather than a disparate hodgepodge of stories, this album offers a through-line and an antagonist: Ire. Following a black bubblegum, dark narrative akin to Alice In Wonderland, ‘The Rabbit Hole’ provides an ideal backdrop for the Great Discord’s racket.

“Ire, well, she’s an evil motherfucker,” Kempe says. “She’s a personification of everything the colour red stands for: passion, anger, wrath, love. Everything aggressive and…explosive. This state of mind is the representation of Ire. And the persona from ‘Duende’, Fia, is the representation of the human mind – all different kinds of demons people live with daily.

“Fia gets lured into the rabbit hole by Ire, and at first they’re having the time of their lives. Just fucking things up and, y’know, playing with each other without considering the consequences. After a while, Fia feels maybe this isn’t the right path for her, and tries to get rid of Ire. Ire is not pleased, they have this struggle, and Fia lures Ire back into the hole while she climbs back out.”

It sounds like a folk tale rather than an album, and that’s reflected in the presentation. Aside from the gorgeous artwork by Mattias Frisk, there’s a small hardback book to accompany the LP. Also titled The Rabbit Hole, it tells the story in verse, with each song accompanied with a few lines and a corresponding illustration. It’s a luscious work.

“It’s like a children’s book,” Kempe says. “It goes with the Alice In Wonderland theme. It’s not a long book, but it gives you a little extra if you want to dig into the concept.”

It’s things like this that make the Great Discord shine, but they’re backed by songs like Tell Tale Heart: jumpy, freakish, zealous blasts of brilliance that take inspiration from Devin Townsend’s ‘Infinity’ in their eccentricities, poppiness and wall of sound barrage.

At the mention of Townsend, Kempe’s voice picks up further. “There’s no fucking end to that guy’s talent,” she says. “His vocal range is out of this world. Everything from Ziltoid’s ridiculousness to really emotional, destructive pieces like ‘Ghost’ – everything he touches turns to gold. When he performs, for him, it’d be unnecessary to assume a character, because he is a character. He’s a musical genius.”

Kempe also notes Mike Patton – “the guy sounds like ten different people in one song” – and Björk as natural stop-off points. While discussing the Icelandic legend’s work, she also neatly describes the appeal of her own band. “She uses her voice as an instrument, rather than making it sound a certain way to fit a certain genre,” Kempe says. “She just does her own thing. It’s more important to get a feeling through rather than get the perfect take.”

She goes on to cite the near-departed, inimitable Dillinger Escape Plan as a group that’s influenced the energy of her band's live offering, hinting at something else to aim for: the fact that Dillinger’s records always challenged the fireworks of their shows. And the Great Discord have now penned a genuinely exciting, end-of-year-list-bothering opus. Their music is developing, and that means the live show, the visual evisceration, must evolve too.

“We have so many fun ideas,” Kempe says. “We did photos where the guys wear the rabbit masks. Maybe we won’t do that live, but we’ll be able to open up the concept further. But since this album has such a focus on Ire and Fia, that’s the centre of attention – the guys back down, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t rocking their asses off on stage. It’s already circus enough with me playing these two personas. They’re more like Ire’s army standing behind her, pushing her over the edge to do this crazy shit."

Up next for the band is the imminent Damnation Festival on November 4: a primarily death and black metal shindig in Leeds attended by people who prefer their lyrics indecipherable. The Great Discord are poised to own it, even though they stick out on the line-up like a sore thumb. A severed, bloody thumb on a blanket of snow.

Kempe is a personality on and off stage and, increasingly, an ambassador for heavy music. Maybe the Great Discord’s appeal will never reach beyond prog fans and a few stragglers, but with ‘The Rabbit Hole’, they’ve certainly got grounds to give it a right good go.

'The Rabbit Hole' is out now on The Sign.

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