Texturally kaleidoscopic, sonically compelling, and emotively captivating, Dreams and Devastation is quite simply one of the year’s most fascinating and thrilling encounters. The album is a stunning introduction to US trio KnightressM1, more specifically the creative craft and imagination of violinist, vocalist, pianist and composer Emily Palen, and one of the most impressive debuts of recent times.
The sound of KnightressM1 is described as power rock but as their first full-length swiftly reveals music and invention embraces a far richer and diverse landscape of styles and inspirations. Hues of gothic and Celtic metal align easily with progressive and post rock essences just as alternative and art rock enterprise inventively courts melodic metalcore and classical spicing. Even that only suggests part of the creative canvas at the heart of Dreams and Devastation.
Formed in 2011 by Palen, Oakland based KnightressM1 is completed by drummer Rob Ahlers (50FOOTWAVE, Kristin Hersh) and bassist Uriah Duffy (Whitesnake) for its first studio album. Co-produced by Palen and John “Lou” Lousteau (Foo Fighters, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett) Dreams and Devastation also features guitarist Mick Murphy on certain tracks and fair to say from the first breath of its 12-song concept exploration of the emotional depths of personal transformation and the journey of cosmic awakening, it seized complete attention. At its heart there is an emotional intimacy which just as quickly transfixed, personal experiences and pain fuelling what feels like a cathartic release for its creator. Indeed Palen revealed, “This is also a tale of my own healing, songs that helped me to get through impossible places.” That intimacy is also shared by the listener, the album’s songs easily relatable to one’s own personal demons and the anguishes that no one can escape in life.
Musically the album is equally as enthralling, at times sublimely hypnotic and it all begins from the moment Palen’s riveting violin prowess lures ears to opener Butterfly. Its plaintive chords are soon bound in the atmospheric embrace of keys and joined by the strolling moodiness of the bass. It is a magnetic draw into the song which only escalates its captivation through the striking tones of Palen, her voice as alluring and absorbing as the sounds sharing her presence. Already there is so much going on in the track, every second a web of temptation and craft as unpredictable as it is bewitching. It is a template to every song to follow but a seed bed to nothing but individually unique proposals of intimation fuelled adventure.
The two lead singles from the album follow, Polarity Integrate first up and rising on a sonic spiral it is soon swaying in temptation through strings, keys and voice. Like a temptress its wraps the senses, fire in its blood veining a touch as potent as the animated rhythms inducing their own captivation. Again, the voice of Palen draws and grips ears and appetite as the earnest cries of her violin and the emotive sighs of her Hammond borne keys cast a reflection of an open heart. As the following Lock & Key, the song just held the surrounding world at bay, its successor a rousingly contagious incitement thick and busy in creative theatre and absorbing enterprise.
As the likes of the cosmically lit, melodically seductive Supernova and the funk crafted Force of Nature envelop the imagination, KnightressM1 shares new planes to the myriad character of their sound, both tracks unique in their bodies and imaginations and united in their captivation of our ears and an increasingly lustful appetite. The second of the two is also unafraid to embrace pop rock inclinations to its infectious breast, an essence just as virulent in the cosmopolitan dance and flirtation of Raising Light. The track is a thrilling union of dark and light, shadows and radiance united in their creative charisma and beauty to forge another peak in the album’s lofty landscape.
The beauty of Minutes has an irresistible tainted stain to its emotive reflection next, the track increasingly tempestuous yet progressively seductive and another beguiling slice of the multifarious richness in songwriting and imagination of Palen, both Fire and Desolation Heartbreak echoing that in their respective blaze of drama and invention and mesmeric melancholy. As unique as they are to each other and those around them each only stoked the passions as if we were not besotted enough by Dreams and Devastation this point.
That Hammond organ temptation again had us greedily feasting, this time on Gates of Dawn from its first seconds, the swing of the song alone enough to get under the skin before it’s My Baby-esque blues saunter sealed the addiction. As with all tracks our words can only offer a glimpse at the artistry and invention hosting our imaginations and unbridled pleasure, both and the unorthodoxy of Palen’s creativity highlighted by the final pair of the cosmically and unsettlingly haunting Stars From My Sky and the equally soul-stirring Zero Point. Both weave provocative ambience into their emotively intense soundscapes and each bear their deepest intimacy with elegance amidst darkness wrapped beauty.
Together they provide a poignant end to one stunning encounter, one which reveals new pleasures listen after listen and is easily one of the year’s finest releases and indeed one of its most essential debuts. Dreams and Devastation is recommended for those with an appetite for the likes of Architects, Queens of the Stone Age, Florence and the Machine, Tool, Perfect Circle, Gojira, and Bring me the Horizon. We are not going to disagree with the suggestions but truly KnightressM1 stand alone and deserve our explorations whatever predominant tastes.
Dreams and Devastation is out now; available @ https://knightressm1.bandcamp.com/album/dreams-and-devastation
Pete RingMaster 06/11/2020