Published Feb 04, 2021We've all heard the cliché about how musicians use art to exorcise their demons. Self-proclaimed "metal for optimists" band Sarin, however, have to relish in major key melodies, specifically because vocalist-guitarist David Wilson is more of a pessimist. Through positivity, he finds escape.
"I've learned through therapy that I have a real habit of only expressing joyful emotions through art," he reveals. "I have a lot more difficulty experiencing more pleasant emotions in my daily life, though not as much as I used to have. Music is the place where it actually all comes out, and where it seems increasingly a necessity for it to come out… It'll usually follow me for a few days, or until someone cuts me off in traffic again."
It wasn't always this way for Wilson, who had to purposely step away from the melancholy that permeated the Toronto group's previous material and characterizes the post-metal subgenre at large. The slow-burning realization came about as his artistic flame was fading to mere cinders, sparking the fire when a new chord shape led to the melody for "Cold Open." He recalls it being the first passage he'd played in a while that got him excited. The upbeat tone was set for Sarin's new album, You Can't Go Back.
That was a few years back, as the album was written and recorded in late 2018. It wasn't just musical fire that had burned out: Wilson went through the breakup of a long-term relationship, and the band separated with members. The LP title might as well be a statement of intent for the now-quartet — Wilson along with guitarist Matt Dakers, drummer Aleks Hara and bassist Andrew Salmon — who truly can't return to the way things were.
Sarin's buoyant sound doesn't mean they can't visit dark places; it just means that dark is always tempered with light, and vice versa.
Wilson explains, "The stuff I write on my own tends to be pretty optimistic, but when we get in a jam space together and we really get into the sweet spot, it tends to be super ugly sounding, very rhythmic, and kind of deliberately wonky, off-kilter and gross. In the future I imagine we're going to be working the extremities a little bit more."
Wilson finds himself at home at the poles. When debating how far to go into euphoric soundscapes, he went all the way. There's always a risk that one might go too far when approaching the outer limits. Wilson, however, found comfort in a long-time favourite band, Radiohead, whom he describes as warm and inviting without feeling like an irritating novelty.
"My answer to every question you have is going to be Radiohead," he jokes. "I just want to warn you."
You Can't Go Back will invite plenty of comparisons to Thom Yorke and company. Opener "Cold Open" is inspired by The Bends and a desire to appease his teenage self's love of big rock songs. Wilson likens the start of closer "Leave Your Body" to "15 Step" from In Rainbows.
The latter comparison was something he realized way after the song was completed, which is kind of what happens with lyrics, too. Sometimes, as on lead single "Reckoner," the vocals are purely an instrument, with no words actually said. They're applied retroactively to the grunts and growls, a delicate balancing act between Sarin's sonic vibe and the reality that the words have to resemble the sounds. This sometimes results in lyrics whose meanings aren't revealed to their writer without some distance.
"I've come back to lyrics for our previous records — and actually this one because it's now two years old — and I understand a lot more about where that was coming from. I'm like, 'No, you weren't just full of shit; you were writing something very truthful and highly personal, actually.' They don't feel very meaningful in the moment."
That wasn't the case with the bookends of You Can't Go Back, poetry penned as intentional statements. The album starts with the vague instruction, "Pull, it's only skin," which ties into the self-transformation theme running throughout the record. It closes with "Leave Your Body" and its question, "Could you come out and be? Just be."
"Anxiety has ruled most of my life thus far," admits Wilson. "It's an overwhelming concern often with how other people see me, and it's really kneecapped my ability to experience positive emotions or experience a lot of emotions generally. It's kind of a rallying cry, like just chill out, like exist inside, just be here. That's all it is."
You Can't Go Back serves as Wilson's reminder to himself: when one is no longer unable to "just be," they can restart by shedding their skin, and so the cycle continues.
Exclaim! has the premiere of You Can't Go Back ahead of its release tomorrow (February 5). Listen to it below.