When I was assigned this album, I was told it was by “possibly Nazi neo-folk band” Death in June. That’s one hell of an opener.
Fortunately for this reviewer, if the band does indeed have Nazi sympathies they weren’t especially prevalent throughout this album. Unfortunately, the quality of Symbols Shatter’s lyrics isn’t matched by its music; it may not be obviously neo-fascist neo-folk, but neither is it particularly interesting neo-folk.
Lyrically, this is an mostly fantastic collection of songs. Black imagery and ironic travesties of religious messages abound (four of the tracks are reworkings of ditties by Jim Jones—yes, that Jim Jones), painting sardonically nightmarish visions of a world on the brink of Armageddon. The overall sentiment does fall victim to the same problem I have with the Manic Street Preachers—the sheer determination to wallow in pessimism can come off as juvenile—but there’s enough craft to the songs’ wordsmithery that that can be overlooked.
Alas, the musical accompaniment isn’t equal to the text—it’s hard to distinguish one song from another in my memory because of a relative genericism. There’s an echoey, spacey quality to the production that actively works against it in the worst possible way, taking all the intimacy of the recordings and sucking it away. Combine this washed-out production with a consistent lack of melodicism and preponderance of samey arrangements—lazily strummed acoustic guitar with occasional flourishes of brass—and the songs become obscured by haze. If Douglas P.’s vocals were suitably arresting this could have been overcome, but they like his music are flat and droning. Thus what’s arresting on the page becomes a struggle to pay attention to in one’s ears.
And so, to my most alas, I set aside Symbols Shatter in all likelihood never to return. When it comes to neo-Nazis and music, I’ll settle for a rewatch of Green Room.