Billing themselves as “pop core”, Danish band A Road To Damascus set out – in their own words – to create music that was “catchier than your average rock song” and yet “heavier than your average pop song”. Since there’s a lot of catchy rock based stuff out there (try resisting the huge choruses on Black Star Riders’ ‘Finest Hour’ or those gang vocals on The Fratellis’ ‘Chelsea Dagger’), they’d automatically given themselves a tall order, but one listen to their music is all that’s needed to understand what they mean.
Their 2019 EP ‘No Man Is An Island’ takes in all manner of twenty first century pop and lighter rock influences to create something very friendly. At its very best, it sounds like hugely sophisticated pop music aimed squarely at an adult market, but by keeping one foot in a vaguely rock-ish camp, they’ve created four songs that – although unashamedly pop – have a pleasing weight to them; a general oomph that would normally be absent from radio pop. The presence of vocal filters throughout is a constant reminder of their love of actual pop fare, but if you can make it past those, the EP has a lot to give.
Particularly striking, ‘Pieces’ opens with a crisp piano refrain that sounds like it could drop into The Adventures’ classic ‘Broken Land’ at any second, thanks to a shiny sound that pushes it above the selection of semi-electronic treatments also on display. Moving into the main melody, the verse blends a very emo influence with a layered pop that often makes A Road To Damascus sound like the true heirs to the Linkin Park legacy. Upon hitting the chorus, vocal filters aside, things elevate further as the guitars crank into some prime rock delivered in a lightly alternative way. The effect is like hearing something from Linkin Park’s poppy end colliding with ‘brand new eyes’ era Paramore and then bathed in a wash of synths and filters to create a contemporary pop sheen. The treated guitars and echoing drums that pulse throughout ‘No Man Is An Island’ suggest there’s something for fans of Twenty One Pilots emerging and those feelings are more than confirmed once a spacious melody loaded with shiny filtered vocals takes centre stage. If you approach this as a piece of sophisticated pop, there’s actually a lot to like. The way the guitar joins with a solid drum to add a semi-chunky sound to the chorus reinforces the band’s desire to add a little weight to their pop songs before the instrumental break takes a cue from long forgotten darkwave bands of the late 90s. That, obviously, comes as a little more unexpected. There’s nothing here for anyone hoping for the slightest concession to harder rock moods of course, but in terms of pop and radio-friendly hooks, it’s a real winner.
‘Sundays’ builds a lot of atmophere by taking a melodic rock base and stretching that to allow a warm bass rumble to come through, before dropping the listener a pre-chorus loaded with whoas. This has the effect of teasing everyone into thinking the chorus will be absolutely huge…and it isn’t. What transpires, though, is a moody pop-rock hook that takes an old AOR melody and dresses it in light alt-rock clothes, drowns the sing-along bits under filters and ends up like one of Linkin Park’s most naval gazing affairs. That doesn’t make it bad – the playing is solid throughout and the arrangement delivers another made-for-radio tune, no question – it’s just on first listen, you might feel a little underwhelmed. A couple of spins puts that right. The main melody is actually superb and the way the band seems to pull together for the good of the song ensures this is first rate pop. What’s more, there just enough guitar to lend that broader appeal that ARTD feel is all-important. After three strong offerings, ‘The Last Straw’ changes tack and A Road To Damascus choose to blend their pop-rock with more of an R&B melody on the vocal. The tune is nice enough, but if you’re not a fan of the style, it really won’t appeal. With no more than a programmed drum loop and slighly jazzy guitar to back that heavily filtered voice, it is particularly bland. With that in mind, it seems rather strange that the band would’ve chosen this as a digital single ahead of the EP release… It’s not at all representative of their best work.
A Road To Damascus are a decent rock-pop act and their ‘No Man Is An Island’ EP definitely helps an audience outside Denmark understand how they became a huge domestic act over the course of the five or six years leading up to this release. The use of relentless vocal filters will certainly be the most divisive element here for first time listeners but, in the main, their songs are top grade pop. For anyone looking for an alternative to Paramore, Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy or maybe even hoping to find a chunkier take on bands like Ghosts or Twenty One Pilots…your journey should begin here. With at least two of the songs resembling A Road To Damascus at their best, you won’t be disappointed.