WAX ON WATER – Ghouls & Fiends And In-Betweens… EP

Wax On Water’s full length album ‘The Drip’ (released in June 2022) presented an interesting mix of electronica, light goth and occasional industrial sounds. With a broad but dark sonic palate linked via a strong vocal, the album’s best tracks brought back memories of a vast array of alternative music from the early 90s . With it’s most mechanical bits not too far removed from something you’d find on Trent Reznor’s vanity label Nothing Records, and a more melodic streak presenting itself as if taking a moody swipe at Garbage, it was a recording that managed to mix the arty with a surprisingly commercial edge.

Although adopting a Halloween theme, this swiftly delivered follow up EP showcases just as much of a thoughtful and varied sound. The title cut explores an even more commercial angle for the band when they embark on a musical journey that blends a little pop with their light goth, working a buoyant rhythm that – almost certainly by coincidence – borrows heavily from the Madness tune ‘Keep Moving’. The way shimmering guitars overlay a dancing bassline is enough to make the track work, but the way the mood changes when the chorus hits and a combination of slight 50s guitar twang and schlocky keyboard evoke old horror and sci-fi b-movies, it really comes into its own. Although every element of the arrangement is on point, it’s vocalist Maya Damaris who steals the show by adopting a slightly affected and very haunting tone that’s very obviously inspired by Siouxie Sioux circa The Banshees’ ‘Through The Looking Glass’ album. Overall, it’s a great opener, very much setting the tone for most of the sounds that follow.

Going for something a little rockier ‘Guanciale (Mark of The Vampire)’ opens with a chunky riff from a fuzzed up guitar. Pre-programmed rhythms add a slight yet still ominous punch, and pretty quickly Wax On Water’s solid goth rock sound can be heard with great effect. At first it seems as if this will dominate the number, but a lighter chorus with a soaring vocal provides a good contrast, and heavy drums underscoring a much doomier instrumental section really add to the mix. Such is the heavy reliance on rhythm in a couple of places, it sounds as if someone within the band’s ranks has been listening to The Birthday Party, but there’s also a strong ear for a melody throughout. Although more concerned with moods than hooks, this still suggests that Maya and guitarist Steven Blessing understand the value of a tight musical structure and how song-based elements should always win out over unnecessary musical flashiness.

Opting for something a little grander, ‘Part of Me’ slows down to allow a crisp sounding guitar to chime against heavily synthesised orchestration. The haunting melodies that unfold are perfect for Maya, and despite being hidden by slight effects and a little reverb, there’s a great emotion in her performance. Although more about mood than big musical revelations, once again, there’s time along the way for an unsettling piano solo that doesn’t quite fit, and an unexpectedly bluesy lead guitar shows yet another side to the duo’s music. Not to forget the bigger, rockier side to the Wax On Water sound, ‘More Than I’ throws out semi-distorted, chopping guitar riffs against a spooky vocal that calls back to 12 Rounds, while a hefty drum beat supplied by session man Matt Chivers gives everything an important sense of groove, especially during the latter stages. In some ways, it’s the least impressive number here – opting for a straight goth rock sound, rather than something a little more cinematic or retro – but there’s no denying that the vocals are superb. The way Maya’s voice swoops in and out of the hefty beats during the climax very much shows a confidence in her role, and looking at the broader picture, it demonstrates how Wax On Water are able to present themselves with a decent amount of crunch when necessary.

Everything on this release is enjoyable in its own way, but The EP’s highlight, ‘Deadbeat Guy’ is far more catchy and memorable in the long term. Part of that comes from the fact that it adds a massive amount of kitsch to the Wax On Water sound when a jangly guitar is played with the rhythm of a tango, bringing the dark and traditional together in effortless form. Taking on more of a Siouxsie styled mantle than ever, Maya tells of the “house with the ghost of the deadbeat guy” before going deeper into a tale of what appears to be a band of ghouls who “play and sing at party time”. If that already sounds fun – or even a bit silly – any wanton quirkiness is amplified via a tune that sounds as if it wants to drop into ‘On Broadway’ (Mann/Weill/Leiber/Stoller) at any given moment. It’s all done with a knowing wink, yet at the same time, it’s never throwaway.

Despite the ghoulish themes, this is far more than a quick and cheap novelty. It’s also more than a stop-gap. Mixed by ex-Fields of The Nephilim guitarist Paul Miles, these five songs work brilliantly in their own right, further adding some great tones to the band’s canvas of moderate darkness. Retro without sounding like a completely irrelevant throwback, poppy without being pop, moody and yet entirely accessible, much like the previous album, this aims to make Wax On Water as appealing as possible to as broad an audience as possible, but without musical compromise. In terms of goth rock, it could be the most fun you’ve had in a long while. Highly recommended.

October 2022