They formed in 2000 and released their self-titled debut full-length earlier this year through Spinalonga Records, but if you told me that Athens four-piece The Dive spent the whole of those 11 years working on the cover art for their album, I’d believe it. The 11-plus-track CD comes in a gorgeous fold-out digi-sleeve, six panels on each side, to unveil the full picture of which the running wildebeest cover art turns out to be only one-twelfth. The artwork is a narrative in itself, and with it, the band immediately sets a high bar for creativity. It’s not every album that has to live up to its cover, but The Dive’s The Dive is clearly working to attain a standard, and for the most part it does. The band specializes in a kind of progressive desert rock, at times inflected with a grown-up punk feel, as on the perhaps misplaced Social Distortion-esque opener “Fresh Blue Coffee,” and rounded out through the fuzz tones and interplay between guitarists Titos and Monkey J. – the latter also vocals – and the sometimes Toolish rhythmic churn of bassist Livy and drummer Taz. If it’s taken The Dive 11 years to put a record together, they’ve got a complex creative range to show for it. I don’t know the disparity in how old some of these songs are versus others, but despite a few missteps here and there, they by and large remain consistent atmospherically and in terms of quality.
The reason I say “Fresh Blue Coffee” is potentially misplaced because it works outside the tone of much of the rest of the album, which is more rock-driven than punk-based. Certainly those elements show up again later on “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” but even there, the effect is more like Totimoshi taking on Fatso Jetson than trying to shirk off the desert aesthetic as much as the opener does. Right from “Lockjaw,” The Dive takes a different turn, Monkey J. adopting a different hue for his melodic vocals – he stays clean for the most, though a few choice screams in “Fabio, Fabio…” to well to play up the dynamics – to better match the darker and more cerebral overall vibe of the music. His and Titos’ guitars complement each other well, and rarely get locked into the same riff or break when they don’t want to be. Noodling abounds on “Lockjaw” and continues through “Billie Jean” (not a Michael Jackson cover) and most of the record, adding to the prog feel. At times, they come off like a sped up Kyuss, and “Lockjaw” definitely has a ‘90s atmosphere, but particularly after “Fresh Blue Coffee,” it’s hard to get a handle on where The Dive are headed next stylistically. Maybe that’s the point. Either way, “Lydia and the Pigheads” finds Livy stepping to the fore as the guitars drop out, and his Justin Chancellor-style runs prove a solid foundation for the song, Taz filling the space creatively on his toms. The earthy tones of The Dive’s artwork suit well the deep atmosphere and the dark but by no means bleak vibes of the music, and though “Desden” is one of the more forgettable tracks on the album, that might be due in part to its being situated next to the standout “Fabio, Fabio…”
Monkey J. gives his highlight vocal performance on “Fabio, Fabio…,” engaging a bolder melody than elsewhere on the album, and with the six-minute “Pets in Rabbies” following, it’s easy to see The Dive wanted to highlight the middle section of the album, using, as they do again later in spacing out the hidden bonus track from closer “Floating,” the CD format to its full potential. “Pets in Rabbies” crosses grunge with Eurometal progressions – seriously, take that riff, dress it in furs and you’ve got Viking metal – but make it work, breaking just before the three-minute mark into one of their most Tool-derived stretches, which they then develop for the remainder of the track, gradually paying off the build until cutting to silence before the feedback intro of “Iguana.” Like “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” which follows, “Iguana” is steeped in a kind of punk-ish drive, but at 2:12, the song is too short to really develop and go anywhere, so it just kind of collapses and falls apart. “Plan 9 From Outer Space” might be the best blend of the punk and prog sides in The Dive’s approach, but it’s also probably the only real attempt at blending them, as everywhere else but the opener they seem to stick mostly to a riffy interpretation of the latter. A guest spoken part provides a momentary twist to “The Field,” but otherwise the method stays pretty much the same as most of The Dive. It’s atmospheric progressive desert rock with a killer rhythm section and an affection for Lateralus. No complaints.
“The Field” ends too soon after getting heavy again, but “Floating” picks up the momentum and skillfully brings thick guitars in and out of the mix while Livy’s rumble again builds the floor. It’s a suitable close to the record, but not really anything The Dive hasn’t done already, and the hidden track, which comes after a give-or-take 25-minute pause, sounds like it was recorded live and un-retouched. Probably good fun for the band. On the whole, as much as I appreciate the creativity involved in The Dive’s The Dive and certainly admire the band sticking it out 11 years to get an album done, I think it’s easier to get lost in this material than the band intends, so that in some of the less engaging tracks, they come across as a wash of progressive churning and noodled guitar. That, coupled with the confusion brought on by the opener, makes it a record that takes some time to develop in the ear, so if you’re going to listen, make sure you can invest properly. It’s worth checking out, though, and will probably hit really hard on a few listeners who can engage it properly. Hopefully The Dive use it to launch a more prolific period that sees a follow-up before 2022.
Tags: Athens, Greece, Spinalonga Records, The Dive