Drenge have always had a sense of the dark about them ever since they came careening into view in a flood of sludgy riffs and acerbic lyrics back in 2012. Now on their third album, the Loveless brothers (singer and guitarist Eoin and drummer Rory) are revelling in noirish drama and nocturnal sounds. That’s not to say they’re not changing things up, too – as last year’s ‘Autonomy’ EP teased, Drenge are now a band that dabble in electronics and writing proper choruses.
‘Strange Creatures’ is like a trip through a dark, weird, small town where outsiders stick out like sore thumbs. It’s a place that’s dimly lit by fading fluorescent lights, letting the shadows encroach more and more; a perfect horror movie setting where otherwise normal scenarios seem fated to turn sour. There’s the innocent high school prom that transforms into a blood-soaked massacre (‘Prom Night’) and the borrowed imagery of a diner where teenage love goes from “a whisper in the ear” to something that “cares not for” our chronicler (‘Teenage Love’). The former is a masterpiece of narrative songwriting – shady and powerfully evocative, twisting even mundane descriptives into something gripping – while the latter bounces on bucking, ‘80s sci-fi synths like a lurching monster from the past.
‘No Flesh Road’ pulsates with needling, subtle drones and rickety bass, sparse and slow-building as Eoin sketches out a night drive that feels like you’re on an endless road into pitch black. ‘Avalanches’, meanwhile, begins sounding like it’s set to be a grungy ripper before it finds its balance and spins out into something slower, still distorted, but beautiful. It’s the grandest thing Drenge have attempted so far and, like a mass of crunching snow sliding down an icy mountainside, sees them become an unstoppable, frosty force.
The pair’s third album has plenty of peaks but it also has its troughs. Interestingly, they come in what are probably the two most accessible points on ‘Strange Creatures’ – the wiry new wave of ‘Autonomy’ and the laser-sharp guitars of ‘This Dance’. They’re hooky and poppy, but something about them feels off and, placed next to each other on the tracklisting, they feel too repetitive to belong on a record this daring and bristling with ideas. Still, nearly a whole four years since their last album, ‘Strange Creatures’ is an audacious and gratifying return that makes you want to envelope yourself in its gloom.