The Great Discord - The Rabbit Hole

The Great Discord – The Rabbit Hole

Imagine that Lady Gaga and Alice Cooper collaborated with the creative minds behind American Horror Story on a musical retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. You’ve just imagined The Rabbit Hole — the sophomore album by Swedish “progressive death pop” band The Great Discord.

The Rabbit Hole is a three-act musical drama that follows Fia, a carryover persona from the band’s first album (Duende) and her interactions with a Valkyrie named Ire. The opening track, Dimman (Swedish for “fog”) is the overture to the drama. The ethereal vocal harmonies and pedals create the scene of a foggy forest in which Fia encounters Ire emerging from a mysterious fire. This leads into Noire, which represents Ire’s attempts to lure Fia down the rabbit hole. The lyric is written in the voice of Ire and tells Fia how important she is and how long Ire has cared for Fia. Musically, this is a true rock opener with bass piano notes and crunchy guitars leading into the vocals. Arpeggiated guitar riffs underlie the chorus to give a sense of energy and urgency to the vocals. Vocalist Fia Kempe demonstrates her full range of vocal skills in this song, from smooth lyricism to agile vocal arpeggios to full-throat screaming. One of the signatures of The Great Discord is the changing of moods and tempos within songs, and nearly all the songs on this album build in intensity, relaxes that intensity just before the climax as if gathering energy for the final push to the end.

Gadget almost sounds like an audition to be the house band for Moulin Rouge. The frenetic pace of the instruments under the smooth, legato vocal lines creates a chaotic atmosphere that represents the madness Fia witnesses when Ire shows her the rabbit hole and draws her into the spirit of adolescent, self-absorbed freedom where she gives into the madness and lets it take her wherever it leads. Darkest Day opens with intense, driving guitars, but relaxes quite a bit for the entry of the vocals, which voice Fia’s realisation that she has stepped into the rabbit hole. The chorus picks up the intensity once again to represent her determination to dare herself to stay on this dark path despite her fears. The intensity of the music gives that determination more of a defiant edge, as if she knows she is on the wrong path but decides to stick with it anyway. We get another change of mood and tempo with an almost stop-time feel about halfway through the song. This gives way to a melodic guitar solo and eventually, in the spirit of the theatre, an act-closing duet between Fia and Ire (both voiced by Kempe) in which Ire dwells on the darkness and Fia reflects on the consequence of her decision.

Act Two opens with the synth pads and the folkish-sounding riffs of Tell-Tale Heart. At this point in the story, Fia has been in the rabbit hole for a while. The excitement of the passion and madness she experienced at first have faded and Ire’s true controlling nature is emerging. Lyrically, the song is a dialogue between Fia and Ire as Fia expresses her desire to leave the rabbit hole and asks Ire if this is possible. The rhythmic interplay and cross rhythms create the feeling of conflict and building fear and anger before the guitar riffs that have been driving the song drop out, leaving the keyboards, drums, and a legato solo guitar to underscore Ire’s building response that she will never let Fia go. This leads into The Red Rabbit, which is the full revelation of Ire’s malicious nature. Ire is offended that Fia would want to turn her back on all that Ire has given to her. The low, heavy riffs of the opening feel like the rumbles of an impending eruption, an eruption that plays out over the course of the song in the full unleashing of Ire’s wrath. The juxtaposition of erratic melodic lines with smooth, lyrical lines further enhances the feelings of madness that surround the character of Ire. The closer for the second act is the album’s only ballad, Neon Dreaming. The rhythmic character of the guitar gives the song the feeling of a lullaby. It is an intimate song with just Kempe’s vocals and the guitar carrying the weight. Synth pads give it a blurry, dream-like atmosphere. The song is Fia’s recognition that she made a mistake following Ire down the hole and she gives voice to her sorrow. The next-to-last presentation of the phrase “neon dreaming” is the only one that ends with a major chord, representing her understanding of what she will need to do to make it out, however the final utterance, returns to the usual despairing, minor sound, a recognition that for now, she must live with her decision.

The third and final act begins with an instrumental track called Downfall. The repeating synth bass eighth notes give the feeling of resolve building in Fia to put her plan into motion. Downfall serves as an introduction to Cadence, which capitalises on that optimism by building into an arena rock-like anthem: “Yeah! We’re invincible, indestructible!” This is part of Fia’s attempt to outsmart Ire into believing that Fia wants to be with her forever. The anthemic chorus gives way to a soft piano-accompanied section where Fia gently appeals to Ire to “reach for hope alone”. One final screaming of the chorus leads into the penultimate track Omen, which is Fia’s moment of action. She expresses what it was that drew her to Ire in the first place, but that that initial attraction has faded and that it is over. Following a guest guitar solo by Mark Holcomb of the band Periphery, Fia announces her intent to leave the rabbit hole. Persona starts acoustically before the guitars enter to accompany Ire’s final attempts to break Fia’s spirit and guilt her into staying in the hole. When her attempts fail, represented by a mellowing of the music and drive, Ire breaks down into despair and begins to beg Fia to stay. In the end, although Ire has been telling Fia that Fia needs Ire to survive, it turns out that it is Ire who needs Fia. The despair is again evident in the piano and synth pad outro to the song. Kempe returns briefly to give us Ire’s parting words before the song just ends as if in mid phrase, symbolising the perpetual state of despair in which Ire is left by Fia’s departure.

As dark and despair-filled as this album is, it is really fun to listen to. I guess that’s the paradox of “death pop”. This was my first exposure to The Great Discord, and I cannot get enough. If you are a hardcore prog rock fan, this probably will seem a little too mainstream for your tastes. If you are a goth rock fan, it will probably be too light and “pop” for your tastes. But if you are fan of hard-edged music with a dramatic flair, you will definitely want to look into this album.

01. Dimman (1:18)
02. Noire (4:06)
03. Gadget (3:31)
04. Darkest Day (4:32)
05. Tell-Tale Heart (4:28)
06. The Red Rabbit (4:15)
07. Neon Dreaming (4:47)
08. Downfall (0:51)
09. Cadence (3:51)
10. Omen (3:40)
11. Persona (5:19)

Total Time – 40:38

Fia Kempe – Vocals
Aksel Holmgren – Drums
André Axell – Guitars
Gustav Almberg – Guitars
Rasmus Carlson – Bass

Record Label: The Sign Records
Country of Origin: Sweden
Daye of Release: 8th September 2017

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