If there’s one rule people should follow when approaching the Dirty Nil, it’s this: Never tell them how to rock ‘n’ roll. Ontario’s Juno Award-winning trio is a finely tuned rock machine that is at its best when the members are pursuing their penchant for thrashy riffs, bashed out drums, and levels-to-the-max volume. And on their fourth album, Free Rein to Passions, the band followed their instincts down to the note to produce their most authentic work to date.
The Nil’s back-to-basics approach was a direct reaction to their previous record, 2021’s Fuck Art, a creative process that brought too many industry people whispering in the band’s ears, telling them how to polish and tweak their songs to fit on the radio or streaming playlists or whatever other arbitrary whims the modern music machine demands. “There were all these expectations and pressures, people telling us to try this or that,” says frontman Luke Bentham. “We’re by no means the biggest band in the world, but in our ecosystem it became hard to try to make all these people happy. We were given challenges, and I think we met them, but getting to that place, it made me realize: ‘If we go any further in this direction, then I don’t know what we’re doing anymore.’ It had gotten to a point where the creation wasn’t very fun.”
In order to incinerate their apparatus, they had to destroy it completely. So as soon as Fuck Art was in the can, the Nil got back to having fun and doing what they love. They jammed away in their practice space for weeks, not overthinking anything or taking any external input. They didn’t sweat the small details or fret over transitions and arrangements. Less second guessing, more reckless abandon. It’s the same approach to rock they’ve taken since they were kids. “We had the best time pulling these songs together. It made me feel like a teenager in my parents’ basement again,” Bentham says. What came out was the appropriately titled Free Rein to Passions, a palate cleanser for the Dirty Nil, and a reminder for them to stick to the fundamentals of rock and stay true to themselves. “What was it LCD Soundsystem said about trading in guitars for turntables and synthesizers?” Bentham laughs. “I’d say that’s unlikely for us.”
Their youthful rock-worship approach is immediately apparent on the album’s opener “Celebration,” which cuts in via a chugging metal riff, a subtle ode to one of the Nil’s influences, Power Trip’s late frontman Riley Gale. From there, the band indulges their loudest, gnarliest inclinations, making casual nods to their more chaotic favorites, including everything from the Jesus Lizard to the Blood Brothers. And on the album’s catchiest single, “Nicer Guy,” the Nil reminds listeners that they also still wield the power to stitch a perfect, infectious pop hook into their rock fabric.
Free Rein to Passions keeps things simple lyrically as well, and doesn’t get bogged down with overly complicated messaging. Nothing overwrought, nothing didactic. Just songs about working soul-sucking jobs, shredding on guitar, and striving to be a kinder person. “The only real central theme of the album is an acknowledgment of the crazy circumstances that we all occupy at this point in time, and being nice,” Bentham stresses. “It’s about being nice to everyone around you, and enjoying your silly little life and not getting too smashed down by prevailing negativity in the air.”
The Nil again recruited longtime collaborative producer John Goodmanson to capture their sound at Jukasa Media on Ontario’s Six Nations Reserve. They also brought in new blood with bassist Sam Tomlinson, a friend and fellow product of the Dundas scene. “In some ways it feels like going back to our roots in Dundas, and Sam knows what that’s like,” adds drummer Kyle Fisher. “He’s cut from the same cloth as Luke and I.” That hometown feeling was the inspiration for the song “Blowin’ Up Things in the Woods,” an ode to the simple joys of fireworks, explosions, and pyrotechnic annihilation.
Staring into the abyss of entertainment serfdom, the trio spat on it. They smashed the chalice of poison brought to their lips, grinding the shards under their heels. A rock and roll band is part religion, part small business and part pirate ship. Sabres were wielded and planks were walked for The Dirty Nil to bring Free Rein to Passions into this world. It was a battle well worth fighting.
Copyright © 2015. Auteur Research, All Rights Reserved
Site By: Blake Bowman