Words: Connor Drum

RATH is the COVID-19 bedroom solo project of Sean Bailey (also of LAKES, GRANE and TOL), and his self-titled three-track tape is an excellent gothy response to the extremely grim reality of contemporary Australian life, and an interesting sketch for a concept that boasts a lot of potential.

Before I get into the tracks featured on the new RATH tape, I just want to emphasise that this record was produced in Naarm/Melbourne under the particularly atomising circumstances of enforced isolation provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic. I suspect that the isolation of the Melbourne experience of COVID-19 is why this tape sounds more like a LAKES release than something from any of Bailey’s other bands. In both LAKES and RATH, the guitar work, the vocals and lyrics, and probably a lot of the drums are done by Bailey himself. In contrast, in Bailey’s other bands – where he fills a less central songwriting and performance role (GRANE being a good example) – the sound of the band is very different. Despite the similarity between the music of LAKES and RATH, there are some interesting differences – and without having been in the room during the writing and recording of the RATH tape we’re discussing, I’m tempted to say that the reason for these differences (and for the unevenness of some of the songwriting on the EP) is down to Bailey having done pretty much all of the work except the mixing himself. Even the cover art is credited to him. In other words, not only is this a record that is focused thematically on isolation, it’s also a product of actual isolation, and the lack of collaboration that implies. There’s probably a fullness, or a variance of tone that appears in the work of Bailey’s other bands that is not quite there on this tape. In spite of that, it’s still a really good EP.

The tape opens with ‘Crude Faction’, which itself launches with a very thick wall of sound stippled by layered electronic noise, as opposed to the screeching harshness of live feedback. Distant echoing kick-drum beats filter through it before we’re hit by the flanger-and-distortion-on-12-string that you’d recognise on most LAKES tracks. Those kick-drum beats come back with a cold electric matte tone – regular and perfect spikes that jut out through the otherwise very muddy texture of Bailey’s guitar work – and then his strange, laddish voice barks out of the speaker, dripping with echoes that make it possible to pick up only every third word. It’s a disorientating ripple that lets through an occasional hissed “KNIFE” or “CRACKED”, and then returns back into the aggressive distortion that fills out the body of the song. Excellent apocalyptic hardcore, probably closer to Sabbath than the goth-y punk long-time listeners might have expected.

The long, deep shadows of the cruciform, obscure, reaching and dim.” Assuming I heard it correctly (the creepy echoes on Bailey’s vocals are all through this track as well), the chorus on ‘Rosen Dim’ sings out from the flat plane granted to it by the guitar work, which Bailey modulates with a surprising deftness, given that the same mottled and distorted guitar tone continues to put the muscle on this track as it did the first one. The bassline is a whip crack that keeps the drums and guitar in line – again, probably more Sabbathy than I might’ve expected, but I’m into it. This song eases up a bit after tenseness of the opening track, and in some ways I feel like it’s probably the weakest on the record. Nonetheless, that baseline is very good, and the horrorstruck lyricism gets more of a chance to paint the blasted landscape of Bailey’s imagination. I don’t know if I’m being fair here, but I think those three words at the end of the chorus would have a much stronger hit if I was screeching them back at Bailey during a set. Either way, ghoulish.

The singing peal from the guitar that opens ‘Rotten Blade’ over the clatter of mechanised hi-hats and the complimentary run of the bassline pulls the pace right back up again. This is the strongest track on the record, and closer to the oddly fay tone and urgency of LAKES. Honestly, just more differentiation in the guitar work is a pleasure – the grim noise of the previous two tracks was, and let me be clear here, sick, but it’s also a real rush to have the guitar pierce through with some lilting melodic clarity behind also increasingly clear and insistent vocal lines, which chant with a scornful tunelessness over the top of some extremely tense drum work. I know I said that this is an uneven record, and I stand by that statement, but it’s also definitely worth listening to and throwing down real actual money for. I’m keen to see how this develops over time – I think that the most LAKES-y track on this EP is the strongest, but I also think that Bailey has tried to break that bond a bit on his own terms, and I’m looking forward to hearing what this sounds like when he’s had time to really work out the kinks.

You can purchase RATH’s self-titled cassette EP (also available digitally) via Bandcamp.