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Grin Through The Dark Stuff: The Dirty Nil Return With The Mighty 'Master Volume'

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 Written by Huw Baines

Towards the end of Pain of Infinity, one of the singles from the Dirty Nil’s new record ‘Master Volume’, Luke Bentham drawls “and another thing, baby...” before ripping a guitar solo. He gets back to the microphone in time to yell: “I never loved you and I hate your friends.” The frontman is inconsiderately handsome, and has been known to play a Gibson Les Paul mid-knee slide while chewing bubblegum and wearing a star-spangled denim cowboy shirt.

I mean...fuck this guy, right? 

Well, no. Honestly, the whole deal is just fantastic. Bentham’s tongue is lodged firmly in cheek, like he’s laughing at the sheer, giddy absurdity of it all, and the Dirty Nil are never anything less than a ferociously loud, boisterous, scream-along power-trio. They are fun with a flaming capital F. They are the real McCoy: a rock band without the accompanying stench of desperation.

“Whenever you’re using that kind of imagery you’ve got to have a sense of humour, because it’s obviously ridiculous on so many levels,” Bentham says. “To me, it was a very natural extension of my personality. I was never a wallflower on stage, even when I was playing in cover bands when I was 13. I was always trying to see how physical I could make it.

“A lot of it is the music we grew up on: the Who, the MC5, and Refused videos. Most of my favourite rock ‘n’ roll bands have that grin to them, even the dark stuff. I always connected with that. We came from a scene where there were a lot of sad pricks on stage trying to be Nick Cave. It doesn’t work unless you’re Nick Cave. There are a million different ways to have fun, but that seemed the most natural one to us. We love being up there.”

‘Master Volume’ is the Dundas, Ontario band’s second LP and, for all its power and shit-eating theatrics, it’s a document by musicians who take their craft seriously. Its 10 songs were written and perfected during a gruelling touring schedule in support of 2016’s ‘Higher Power’, with multiple rounds of demoing slotted in amid shows. Like Roddy Piper, another larger-than-life Canadian hero, in They Live, the Dirty Nil came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass.

There were a couple of notable changes this time around, though. Firstly, dungareed bassist Ross Miller tagged in following the exit of Dave Nardi, completing a watertight rhythm section with drummer Kyle Fisher, while they also recruited seasoned Seattle producer John Goodmanson to help fully realise a slate of tunes that appeared to have a little more patience and swagger than their predecessors. He was also happy for them play loud, which remained a prerequisite.

“He was a kindred spirit in terms of touchstone recordings we referenced in terms of what we were going for,” Bentham says. “We had a long correspondence in the year leading up to recording. He was adamant about maintaining certain aspects of our live presentation, but we were also open to surrendering ourselves to his ideas and methods. The last time we were certainly more dogmatic: ‘This is the way we do things. Fuck you.’ The obvious implication is trying to find the right person you’re willing to follow. John was that guy.

“The one recording that really convinced me was Blood Brothers’ ‘Young Machetes’ and Set Fire To The Face On Fire. Anybody who was a part of that song, I’d like to work with. It’s always strange bringing somebody in on three-part chemistry, especially one that’s been cooking away in a jam space and in a tour van for a year, but John fit perfectly. He’s such a veteran that he got the best out of us.”

‘Master Volume’ is resolutely gnarly, but it gets the job done in a different way to ‘Higher Power’. Nardi’s 30 second punk ragers are absent for obvious reasons, but elsewhere the focus has also shifted towards dynamics, groove and stacks of outsized melodies. Only a couple of times do things tick over into bug-eyed rage, with Miller’s extensive studio experience helping to keep Bentham and Fisher on an even keel.

“There was a lot of communication - we had always talked a lot when Dave was in the band about how we’d work through things - but Ross definitely brought in familiarity and comfort, and humility, in the studio,” Bentham says. “He had had his ass kicked more times than we had, and he was relaxed. He made us relaxed, too. Most of the times we’ve recorded we’ve been a bit highly strung because we haven’t done it that many times.”

If ‘Higher Power’ was the sound of a killer basement band trying to channel that sweaty energy into a cohesive whole for the first time, then ‘Master Volume’ is something engineered to look at home under a vaulted ceiling, or with pyro relieving the front row of their eyebrows. It’s no longer simply a case of playing hard and getting the hell out of there. Even its title suggests some kind of brokered truce between functionality and creeping, thrash metal evil.

“I would say focusing the tempos was a reflection of confidence and the idea that you don’t need to speed through things,” Bentham says. “You can really take the time to present things the way you want to. If the song demands a crystal meth tempo then sure, why not? But we were listening to a lot of Turnstile, Culture Abuse, Queen, even Refused and Metallica, and all of their heaviest moments are slow. They’re cold, calculated, confident tempos rather than breakneck ones. Those are super fun, too, but once you’ve made an entire album doing that you look towards other avenues.”

The flipside to that coin is found on Bentham’s lyric sheet, which is crisscrossed with 100mph references to death, destruction and mayhem on the road. The album’s lead single, Bathed in Light, set the tone early. “The last time I saw you must have been the night I fell asleep at the wheel and died,” Bentham sings. On I Don’t Want That Phone Call, he’s pleading with a friend not to slip into the driver's seat: “You said you’d straighten out after your DUI.” On That’s What Heaven Feels Like, he screams: “Caught up like a canine, howling in your headlights, rolling through the windshield.”

Delivered over roiling, addictive riffs and pounding drums, or between high kicks, Bentham’s words come off as grisly fun. That feeling is only underlined further by the mix of vehemence and louche cool with which they’re delivered. The reality, though, is that they spring from a very real anxiety that follows anyone who spends the majority of their time cheek by jowl on their way to the next show.

“Not to get too self-indulgent, but there’s something funny and romantic to me about that entire idea,” Bentham says. “It’s some bit of intellectualising and rationalising the fact that we travel in a van for a living, six to eight hours a day, 250 days out of the year.  

“When we’re working the American interstate system, especially in the south, almost every day we’ll pass a horrific car crash. You’re like ‘Wow’ and then you move on. The implication is: ‘That could be us, any day.’ Through no fault of our own, that could happen to us. This record was written on the road. Death is all over it, but it never loses that grin towards the entire thing, or the funniness of life in general.”

‘Master Volume’ is out on September 14 through Dine Alone.

The Dirty Nil Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue September 25 2018 - NORWICH UEA Waterfront
Wed September 26 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Flapper
Thu September 27 2018 - SOUTHAMPTON Joiners
Fri September 28 2018 - LONDON Boston Music Room

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