In Review: OCCULTS – CELEBRATION (INDEPENDENT RELEASE, 2020)

Words: James Frostick

Brisbane goth-punk trio Occults are finally releasing a new seven-song LP comprised of tracks recorded back in 2017. Celebration is the final word from the leather-clad crew, capturing the band’s bleak and critical worldview that positions them as eerie prognosticators of what was to come. 

When I think about it, the year 2017 seems like it took place in a distant age – a distant speck buried deep in the past rather than a mere three-odd years ago. A lot has changed between then and now, and as we sit in our homes isolating from the current pandemic it’s hard to refrain from reminiscing. Brisbane punks Occults have unearthed a little bit of a time capsule from 2017 – a bunch of recordings from the latter half of that year (although some of the tracks had existed for years prior), electing to put it out now as a sort of epitaph. From what I can gather, it’s the final statement from the group, which has now been placed on the back-burner in favour of other projects. The trio – comprised of Jasmine Dunn (Pleasure Symbols, Bloodletter), Sam McKenzie (Lexicon, Woodboot) and George Browning (Velociraptor, Corporate Vibes) – are proponents of solemn and flinty post-punk, the kind that flirts with goth in the same vein as excellent Adelaide groups Rule of Thirds and Nylex, and even a bit of Melbourne’s Bitumen, just without the latter’s industrial chaos.

Sonically, the songs boast all the hallmarks of bleak and sinister post-punk – dread-laced bass throbs, uncompromising percussion and pointed guitars. The riffs, though, are actually pretty multifaceted – at one point they glide like a knife slicing through shimmering black silk (wickedly sharp and cold), and other times they are rougher, more like a serrated blade shearing tin. At their loudest, Occults are a vicious storm in the night, but when subdued they’re a menacing presence lurking in the shadows. Jasmine and Sam’s vocals are always echoed and ominous, with a haunted quality couched in shadow. Excessive these descriptors may be, it’s hard to deny Occults’ finely honed aural aesthetic – indebted to the forlorn goth icons of the past, but with enough grit to make it sufficiently modern and fresh.

Conceptually, Occults cast a wide net for lyrical fodder, reeling in observations on the state of the world around them (at least as it was in 2017) and their own personal demons. Snappy opener ‘Video Cult’ touches on all-encompassing power of screened content and the subsequent societal disconnect, the struggle to dismantle oppressive systems in order to build a brighter future seems to be the crux of ‘Celebration’, while ‘Blackout’ dissects relationship breakdowns and the despondency and identity crises that can ensue. Overall, Celebration is a succinct encapsulation of Occults’ knack for penning exciting gothic post-punk rippers. While all members have gone on to exciting new creative vehicles, there will always be a lingering affection for the unabashedly dour sound that Occults excelled at. Listen and look back fondly to a time when we had no sense of the true chaos ahead.

BANDCAMP / SOUNDCLOUD