I’ve been a huge fan of this band since November 2012, just a couple of weeks after the release of Endorphinia, their latest – and last – album. I can’t exactly remember how I discovered Follow the White Rabbit… Was it a friend’s recommendation? A blog mentioned it? A post on some music forum? I don’t know, but I just want to thank that person. Endorphinia has followed me through three years and a half now, and yet I never wrote a fully detailed review on it. I did mention it a couple times, here and there, but, today, I want to make amends and give this album what it deserves.
Endorphinia is just not your typical release. Sound-wise, it will draw comparisons to post-hardcore, mathcore, and experimental rock, but it also includes a lot of atmospheric passages – the opening track being a stellar example of this -, and progressive metal songwriting. Whilst not being the center of attention, the skills of the musicians are put to the test all throughout the album; most prominently for the drums and vocals, but also for the guitar and bass guitar. Alex Trulala, behind the kit, plays relentlessly and savagely, crafting accurate and aggressive drumbeats that are groovy yet mathematical, and the organic sound of his drums really shines through the marvellous production on the album. Even in softer songs, such as Zzz(Zzz), his drums feel true and live; something we can only rarely say nowadays. The vocal delivery of Dima Vual Dali is one of the best I’ve had the chance to experience. I say “experience” because, through screams and falsetti, among a wide array of other techniques, he builds tension and release, and guides us through the narrative of the songs with ease. He’s certainly one of the strongest points on the album. Alexey Cheeseass, on the guitar, isn’t afraid of using various techniques and effects to enhance his performance. The Eye Light is a great example of that, where the song begins with very ambient, reversed parts, then abruptly changes to high-pitched and almost clean chords, overdubbed with its distortion counterpart, before switching yet again to a legato section. This is followed by heavy chords under a stratospheric lead, and then by some tapping riff backed by the bass. This is only one song as an example, but there are countless examples throughout the album. The bass, by the elusive “Zebra”, is gnarly and distorted, and doesn’t shy away from technical passages either, but its main purpose is to keep the groove alive, which is done more than adequately here. As a whole, the band feels really tied together, closely knit, and with a lot of chemistry between its members. They succeed in creating these eclectic and chaotic songs, all while keeping them cohesive and meaningful.
The Eye Light
The first track of Endorphinia is also the only one written in Russian. It’s where we follow the rabbit into the hole, metaphorically speaking, which seems to be precipitated by incoming headlights. It’s hence we’re rushed into the demented, psychedelic world of Follow the White Rabbit. A repeated and memorable line in the song is “Воздух как вода”, translated to “Air as water”; are we drowning, dreaming? The world of dreams is, as indicated by the album’s title, referring to endorphins, which are compounds, released in the body, that inhibit pain and provide a feeling of euphoria, very important. It was also believed that they played a role in sleep, hence their name. It might then be possible that the songs on this album are a collection of dreams, or supposed to represent dreams. At least, it’s an important part of it. Could these also be hallucinations in the moments before death after a violent car collision? Let’s keep that in mind… Back to the song, we’re shaken by a beautiful 13/8 tapping section with vocal melodies being layered on top to create a really contemplative atmosphere. These vocals give you but a taste of what Dima is capable of, and also what the band is, but it’s all expanded upon during the next forty-six minutes.
Few Stories of a Deserted Forest
Possibly the most experimental and schizophrenic song on the record, the second track welcomes you in its arms with an abrupt start quickly followed by drastic changes in atmosphere, sound and tempo. That’s what the song is about, seemingly: the surprises and unknowns that lurk in a dark forest. They edited a portion of the Disney animated movie The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, from 1949, to match the song and, at the same time, create a thematically fitting music video. Of course, it got taken down from Youtube because of, most probably, copyright claims or DMCA notices, but you can watch it on VKontakte. On the other hand, the lyrics seem to indicate that all of this is oneiric in nature, as point out the lines, “Here I feel asleep like a child / Watching incredible dreams.” It might be that the eclectic structure of the song reflects the surreal nature of our dreams, where unrelated scenes follow one another seamlessly and we, as the dreamer, go along, accepting the ever-changing rules of the game.
Fakeface and Fakeface: The End
The third movement is a two-part suite about another strong thematic on the album: lies. The very dissonant section opening the song, full of minor seconds and tritones, gives way to more and more consonant parts. The second one is still very aggressive, but it then morphs into a very powerful although surprisingly brief musical moment before completely letting go, and entering atmospheric/ambient territory. “And tomorrow your faith will eat you, and I’m not your hope, please do not lean on me, though my doors are open…” I love that part, it’s very minimalistic but also lush and diverse; it’s raw and purely emotional. The effects-laden guitars play chords in the background, while the drums always stay near – until it completely rockets away in a hectic solo -, and the vocals go from low and powerful to high and intimate. After which the more common formula comes back with clean guitar tapping in 4/4 triplets, later joined by the drums and bass. This sets the scene for a great vocal moment. As with everything on Endorphinia, it only lasts a few seconds before heading down below: same tempo but in 16th notes instead, and indescribably more heavy. Even though it’s only four power chords, the I-IV-II-III progression in Phrygian dominant is very effective, and the singer is, yet again, on point. Following this cathartic passage, the eight-minute song slowly ends and fades away, segueing into the second – instrumental – part of the suite. In short, it is a reworking of the triplets theme, but now in 7/8 and with added melodic and harmonic variety. The song gets more and more abusive effects until the music is barely distinguishable from the noise, and ends thusly.
All Night and Day
Before writing about All Night and Day, I must say that I have a strong bias towards the song. I feel very emotional when it plays, as I’ve connected with it firmly during a harsh time. It might be the simplest song of them all here; basically, it’s just a build-up, a crescendo on a single repeated riff, but with each repetition getting stronger, more defiant. Each instrument really brings their own contribution to that strong buildup: the drums get more and more eloquent, every hit helping to feel the increasing tension; the bass goes lower and lower, getting really gnarly at about two thirds in; the guitars begin clean and almost evading the dissonances of the chord progression, but later insist more and more on these smaller intervals and get more distorted; and finally, the focal point of the piece, the singer, doses perfectly his delivery. Mid-range here, feeling comfortable, with a few harmonies here and there before going at the same time lower and higher in registre, pushing stronger with each new line. However, he doesn’t fall into the trap of finishing it with only harsh vocals, but instead uses the two to create memorable melodies as well as completely unravelling his guts with the screaming. Once the immense pile of tension stacked through the whole song releases at the end, we feel relieved and accomplished, serene. It definitely is one of the most perfect buildups in music.
Without a moment’s notice, we’re thrown back into the almost mathcore side of Follow the White Rabbit. Panic Attacks is the shortest song of the album, if we put aside the end of Fakeface, but it packs quite a punch. It’s a relentless assault that wouldn’t feel too out of place on a Dillinger Escape Plan record. There is not much else to say, it is in your face and it works.
The Great Worm
At first, we might be lured into thinking this song continues what Panic Attacks started, but we quickly find out that this would be wrong when the first odd-timed tapping riff comes in. Before long, it too cedes way to another completely different part, and then we know we’re back to that Follow the White Rabbit sound, where sections succeed each other every thirty seconds or so. This one in particular is fast and pissed off, and it shows! The tapping licks are flourishing until we’re about a third in. At this point, there is a major step down in terms of aggression, and most of the lyrics are behind us. In fact, only a few lines are repeated in this lull. Unsurprisingly now, the wind changes and brings about a new upheaval with lyrics painting quite a haunting picture of the eponymous creature: “And it slowly creeps in me / sparkling lightnings from eyes / located on its back.” The Great Worm ends with a distorted bass and drums groove, quite simple but working in for the atmosphere that’s being created with the vocals and guitars.
Oh, War Song… This beautiful elegy, a dirge to soldiers who fought and were forgotten, is almost entirely acoustic. It plays a mournful melody, ambiguous as to its intentions: is it praising the exploits of those who laid their lives for their country or critiquing the futility of war and all the lives sacrificed for it? It can be interpreted both ways, but either one you choose, it’s the music that’ll move you. The third and last part of the album is much more tranquil and the distorted section in War Song is the last true one on Endorphinia. Leave your anger behind, and let’s finish that trip.
First of all, I have to mention the drums on this track. Listen to them carefully. They feel whole, organic, like you’re there, in the same room as them. Feeling each drum resonate to its full capacity. If you didn’t notice already, the production of the drums on Endorphinia is divine. They sound so natural, tight and crisp, and at the same time living and breathing. The rest of the band is not to forgo either. We get the last shining moment of Dima, who sings without uttering a word for most of the song, only doing his part to thicken the atmosphere as he so often did on the album. The guitars begin as acoustics but transform midway through into electric guitars with various effects on them. The bass is quiet and minimal, acting in support of everything so that we’re not distracted from the experience. Lyrically, the song only has four lines, but they are very important to understand what’s going on, thematically, on Endorphinia.
Have you seen this sky?
Would you like to fly?
Leaving everything behind,
looking through the light
Remember, in The Eye Light, how we wondered if it was a dream or death we were experiencing? Well, it seems not to matter, as this song puts the two together as one. The title is the widely-known onomatopoeia for sleeping, or snoring, but the lyrics seem to euphemize the process of dying, by suggesting flying in the sky, leaving everything behind, and looking through the light. We rarely, if ever, use those metaphors for someone falling asleep or waking up, but for someone dying, it’s pretty common. Perhaps they see dying as not too dissimilar to dreaming, and we awake in another life as a new person. The most important thing is that it’s up to you, open to interpretation, so you can all go through the album and end up with a totally different view on it.
Endorphinia is an ambient track, a wonderful closure to the album of the same name. Quite simply, it is a reversed recording of some clean guitars, with some effects added to it and another one playing soaring high notes. Underneath everything are quiet, barely noticeable and pretty much undecipherable whispers. At the very end, the same guitar part is played, but forwards this time, and… c’est la fin.
I really hope I have been able to communicate to you my love for Follow the White Rabbit and Endorphinia. Through competent and varied musicianship, they were able to craft an album unlike any other. It’s raw and emotional, and perfectly balanced with its chaotic and aggressive counterpart. It’s experimental and progressive post-hardcore, crossing many boundaries into the territory of other subgenres. Everything on this album is perfect to me. It really is an experience in which to immerse yourself, but each song nonetheless stands on its own. I strongly encourage you to get the album, either on bandcamp for a digital version or on We Are Grains of Sand Records for a physical one while they are still in stock. Unfortunately, the band is today no more. However, I am comforted to know that they left an unforgettable heritage in the form of Endorphinia. I recommend it to all of you, and all of your friends and family.
1. The Eye Light – 7:32
2. Few Stories of a Deserted Forest – 5:14
Fakeface – 10:30
3. Fakeface – 8:21
4. Fakeface: The End – 2:09
5. All Night and Day – 5:25
6. Panic Attacks – 3:18
7. The Great Worm – 6:29
8. War Song – 4:39
9. Zzz(Zzz) – 6:01
10. Endorphinia – 4:46
Total running time: 53:34
Filetype listened to: CD/MP3
Bitrate: CD/320 kbps CBR
Sampling frequency: CD/44,100 Hz, 2 channels