“I lost an eye to an albatross with mischief in his heart” sings Mathias Kom on The Bird Queen of Garbage Island. It’s one of the many beautifully absurd passages of lyrical acrobats on The Burning Hell’s latest long-player, Garbage Island: their first in six years.
Keeping up with Kom’s untamed storytelling is like trying to unravel the endless complexities of Ulysses. Backed by multi-instrumentalists, Ariel Sharratt and Jake Nicoll, The Burning Hell blend many genres together, and with Kom’s stirring wit which proves to be the band’s chief weapon in their arsenal, they produce something that is wildly their own. A stern examination of the world circa 2022.
It’s clever, perceptive, and catchy. You only have to take a look at the Garbage Island’s closing track, The End of the End of the World, to realise that The Burning Hell try and make the best out of the chaos that envelopes the world.
It all starts with the luscious No Peace. As Kom references Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers saving the world with images of world peace forming in the listener’s head, we soon realise that we’ve been caught up in The Burning Hell’s fictitious world and surreal imagery.
As does Garbage Island’s artwork, Nigel the Gannut and Birdwatching tackle environmental decay as Kom’s spellbinding wordplay almost takes its cue from a Christopher Moore novel (“Here lies Nigel the Gannet: alone but never lonely”).
The sweet serenade of Dirty Microphones illuminates the state of independent music and the peanuts in which bands get paid (“It’s not like we can’t live without it / It’s just music / We used to play music). It hits hard, and The Burning Hell aren’t afraid to share a story many of their contemporaries only know too well.
And the lovely turns of phrase continue on The Last Normal Day, as Kom sings, “Kids in courtyards burning their report cards.” While Kom’s lyrics are The Burning Hell’s hallmark card, that’s not to say there are moments that catch the ear sonically. Melding indie-rock-inspired chords with saccharine melodies during Empty World, a song centred on yearning for nostalgia, here we are met with one of Garbage Island’s catchiest moments.
Meanwhile, Sharratt’s vocals during the almost-ballad, Swan Boat, takes things down a notch, allowing us to catch our breath from the preceding mind-bending sermons of her fellow band mate.
Kom returns on Speechlessness parting with perhaps the most crucial point on Garbage Island (“We’re losing language to describe these things somehow/ We’re acquiring an apocalisp now”). It’s an album that pits playfulness against the alarming state of our society. But unlike a lot of bands out there these days, The Burning Hell don’t preach to their audience, instead parting with their message in clear insightful ways that don’t feel forced on the listener.
While music may not have the power it once had to spark the necessary conversations we as a society continuing to shun, that’s not to say that the messages The Burning Hell dispense aren’t any less powerful. They are only playing against what’s in front of them, and from this vantage point it feels central.
Garbage Island is out now via BB*Island. Purchase from Bandcamp.