Album Review: Ask The Dead – Signal To Noise

Ask The Dead

In only a few short years, Providence punk rockers Prayers For Atheists released two full length albums and toured the country four times. In 2010 they were named Best Breakthrough Band by the Providence Phoenix. But then in early 2012, guitarist Alan Hague left the group to pursue other projects.

It didn’t take long before he returned.

Alan’s back at it with his new group, Ask The Dead. Their debut E.P. Signal to Noise is a five song testament to what rock and roll is supposed to be: distorted, primal responses to the lemons life hands you. And Alan doesn’t disappoint. His lyrics handle topics such as losing friends and working to the point where the banalities of work infiltrate one’s dreams.

Their first song “So It Goes” gets its name from a phrase Kurt Vonnegut used ad nauseum to describe someone’s death in his 1969 classic Slaughterhouse 5. Setting the tone for the rest of the album, we get the impression that the band is channelling the hardcore hooks of Toronto’s F*cked Up and the articulate, southern growl of Thomas Gabel from Against Me!.

The lyrics in the next song, “Get Through”, illustrate the effects of late-stage capitalism and the brainless zombies it produces in today’s society. “Pay no mind,” Hague writes, “to the living dead / Food for thought’s not what they’re after.” The energy expended in the final chorus is a cathartic supernova, one that should not be missed live.

“Vampire Hours” and “Human Resources” are two driving ballads dedicated to those who work more than forty hours a week and feel like cogs in the machine. But it’s “Vampire Hours” where Ask The Dead differs so much from Alan’s former band in letting lead guitarist, 21-year-old virtuoso Brandon Perkins, loose on the fretboard during the bridge. This is proletariat post-hardcore at its finest. The unrelenting hooks buried in this ode to working overtime makes it ironically perfect to play on repeat during an hour long commute home from work. On “Human Resources”, Hague tips his cap to blues legend B.B. King by keeping his vocal and guitar parts separate before launching into a Hendrix-inspired bridge.

But the strongest song in this collection is a tribute to a Providence musician who died too soon. In “Song For Jesse”, Hague’s voice grows somber as he sings the verse, his words strained with sorrow over the loss of a close friend. Bassist Steve Ellis and drummer Dan Guedes keep the rhythm moving. As the prechorus transitions to the chorus and dissonant chords ring out, Alan reverts back to the hair-raising vocal style that makes Ask The Dead’s debut sound so passionate and visceral.

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