Wasabi Fire Alarm are a band hailing from York, England with quite a unique history and formation. They formed in 2017 when vocalist Sue Egypt (a moniker inspired by the Captain Beefheart track) decided it would be fun to form a band at a Musication course, which inspires ‘recovery through music’ for people with major life issues including homelessness, addiction and mental health difficulties.
This resulted in their first incarnation as Resistance. One early band member, Sin Bad, had made the news in his own right, from living in a tent next to a main road, captured in the song A Dying Man Lies Homeless. When Sin Bad left to pursue his own career, the remaining members formed Wasabi Fire Alarm in March 2018.
The title track begins the album, which I gave a glowing review to a few months back. It’s the perfect introduction to the Wasabi Fire Alarm sound and style. Fundamentally, they belong in a lineage of alternative/post-punk groups like cited influences Pere Ubu, Siouxsie Sioux and Portishead, along with rock/metal bands like Deftones, Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine.
You can also hear elements from diverse artists such as Captain Beefheart, Public Image Ltd., Elastica, Wire, and Slint to name but a few. On paper, it might sound difficult to imagine how a group could combine these disparate influences into a cohesive sound but Wasabi Fire Alarm pull it off with aplomb, forging their own unique oeuvre in the process.
Two Fingers In A V captures their signature strengths; Sue Egypt’s emotionally honest, often troubled lyrics and naturally melodic voice combine with the band’s taut, muscular musicianship. Wiry, precise guitar lines interweave over a tight, solid rhythm section and aggressive male backing vocals provide further contrast and variety. Lyrically, this song is a classic outsider’s anthem that many will relate to.
New Start is another honest lyric about trying to face the future positively, but struggling with memories of past experiences. Built on a foundation of chugging, crunchy guitar, moody bassline and a focused, circular drum pattern, Sue Egypt delivers a nuanced and emotive vocal performance, singing words that many will relate to: “The art of the easy smile is mine, in the bag, got it covered…even if life, again and again, turns out the same as it was before…”.
Third track 5&4 opens with haunting, saturnine piano that forms a bedrock for the song, which incidentally is in 5/4 time. This gives it a subtle feeling of displacement, as if the ground is constantly shifting under your feet. The beat is pure drum ‘n bass which is both unexpected, yet consistent with this group’s musical versatility. The lyrics have a disjointed, abstract quality which fits with the dislocated rhythm, bringing to mind William Burrough’s technique of cutting up words to create original phrases.
The following Numb is much more lyrically and musically direct: “System shut down, shutters in place and I am not facing this anytime soon…”. Starting off with a brooding, restrained verse, it explodes into an angular, dissonant but thrilling chorus with anguished male vocals (by D.Ni.L who I also reviewed) taking precedence. It’s a rollercoaster ride through emotional neurasthenia.
Endured is another brutally heartfelt song, this one a contemplation about being a survivor when others have fallen by the wayside: “The years are a barrier to the abyss, but there’s nothing there, no signpost of rulebook, just a belief we will endure…”. Musically, it’s another contrast with a lilting 6/8 rhythm and blends melody with restrained aggression in a powerful way.
Self Doubt is the epic of the album at five minutes and is perhaps their essence distilled. Based around a dark, skeletal riff that Slipknot would be happy to have written, it develops into an intriguing fusion of dissonant post-punk and modern metal with Sue Egypt bringing the whole track into cohesion with another insightful lyric about battling one’s inner demons: “My dark hour of the soul – the same time as it always is….”.
Not The Whole Truth (Twisted Dream) explores the dysfunctional relationship between a woman and an addict lover. Whether autobiographical or not, it’s a gripping narrative with a perspicacious perspective on this affair and relationships generally: “I loved the image of you in my head, you loved a version of me projected just for you…”. Special credit should go to the driving bassline on this, though this applies throughout, along with some superb drumming.
Eighth track Control is a masterclass in building musical tension. Built on a fraught, repeating guitar figure, Sue Egypt lays out a defiant stance about not allowing herself to be pushed around: “I will not ever be controlled, and will slip and slide even when the game is up….”. Shake That Bunny Tail is a nice contrast with a lighter tone, and one of the more traditional song structures on the album. It’s a positive song about being yourself despite personal hang-ups, with a superb vocal arrangement featuring lush harmonies.
The closing song Wrong is the closest thing Wasabi Fire Alarm come to a piano ballad, with a musical backdrop of nuance and subtlety. But rather than the insipid sentimentality of much chart music, it’s a poignant reflection on the difficulty of human relations, dealing with criticism and wanting to be the best person you can be for someone: “My biggest fear is letting you down…”. Aptly, after an album of such unflinching self-examination, the last lines show resolution through self acceptance: “What a lucky thing it is that I am happy with what and who I am….”.
Overall, this is another classic album to emerge from the Musication camp. Instrumentally, they are a very tight unit and Wasabi Fire Alarm are able to traverse disparate genres with consummate ease whilst remaining cohesive. In Sue Egypt, they have a unique vocalist and lyricist; astute, unflinchingly brave and emotionally open. With their forces combined, they make music that is vital and hugely relevant to our turbulent times. Two Fingers In A V is the sound of authenticity and I only hope it gets the widespread acclaim it deserves.