Obviously, we all love specific things about whatever music happens to satisfy our desires. But collectively, one thing we all share, whether knowingly or not, is a deep appreciation of music’s universality. Myriad musical genres, no matter their point of origin, are reinterpreted or reimagined time and again all around the world. That’s exactly how and why we get to enjoy the music of Sydney post-punks Sounds Like Winter. A group whose ice-cold sound is indebted to post-punk’s birthplace a couple of decades and half a world away.
But that’s the thing about music like Sounds Like Winter’s––music that calls out to the alienated and estranged. It’s not hindered by the passing of time or restricted by any geographic location, because it’s music that speaks to an inescapable yearning to create and relate that’s universal.
It might sound a little lofty to say that a band like Sounds Like Winter—who’ve only very recently released their full-length debut, Initiate—have universal appeal or aspirations. But it’s worth noting the band formed as a songwriting venture between dark rock mainstays Ant Banister and Ash Rothschild (Rothschild having moved on to a ghost writing role with Sounds Like Winter these days). The band certainly put all their experience to excellent use when balancing their audio and aesthetic elements. And if there’s one thing Initiate underscores, it’s that as icy as Sounds Like Winter get in sonic terms, the band are never unwelcoming or inhospitable.
Initiate is, as the band say of their music, “a soundtrack for the disaffected”. And their album has a melancholic essence that’s captivating and cathartic. It’s a sound and feel that clearly recognises that sorrow, longing, frustration, or heartache are not isolated concerns. And neither is our desire to find music that evokes and meditates on that, whatever its origin.
Of course, as aficionados of dark rock well know, Australia’s sunbaked shores have birthed swarms of brooding bands like Sounds Like Winter. Many of those bands create bitter sounds indebted to progenitors on the other side of the world. Many are also strongly influenced by homegrown and legendary Australian acts like The Birthday Party or the Wreckery. Certainly, like other Australian bands from the nation’s contemporary gothic rock revivalist camp, Sounds Like Winter have a sound that’s an amalgamation of influences from home and abroad.
That sound encompasses the early years of post-punk, ’80s synthwave, and bass-heavy gothic and deathrock. In fact, it’s easy to point to moments on Initiate where bands like Wire, The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, New Order or even Sisters of Mercy make an appearance. But far from ripping those bands off, or even riffing on what’s been done many times before, Sounds Like Winter’s songs exhibit a welcome fusion of wide influences, rather than mimicking any particular strain of dark rock.
For example, Initiate opener “The Boneman” features as much majestic gothic rock polish as it does bitterly cold post-punk propulsion. Skittery post-and-gothic-punk turns up on the magnificently shadowy “Black Caverns” and “Aberrations” as well, mixing with echoes of ultra-grim deathrock. Meanwhile, the fantastic and best track on Initiate, “Ishmael’s Bones”, heaves itself to and fro off the back of swampy gothic rock stomp.
“Sanity Is Calling” is also fuelled by arctic, jagged riffs and chasmic bass. But it’s not all sawtoothed guitars and bass-heavy momentum on Initiate. “You Fell for It”, “Sounds Like Winter”, “Porcelain”, and “Hollow” (with its deliciously Joy Division-esque rumble) highlight Sounds Like Winter’s superb use of darkly atmospheric synth to both strengthen and drive songs throughout the album.
Vocalist Banister’sdeep voice adds a lot of emotional weight and solemnity to Initiate’s tracks, in much the same way as the voices of iconic frontmen Andrew Eldritch, Carl McCoy, and Ian Curtis have done for their respective bands. However, like any band releasing their first full-length album, Sounds Like Winter have also poured everything into Initiate, and they definitely could have clipped or rearranged some passages.
At times the album’s mix of styles and sounds doesn’t gel. Like on “Double Barrel Scorpio”, which could have been dropped from Initiate without being missed at all. That said, the musicians involved here are clearly experienced, and a few moments of letting their enthusiasm run away from them matters little in the end. Because what does work on Initiate works incredibly well.
The album is, overwhelmingly, an engrossing debut. It highlights over and over that just because Sounds Like Winter are inspired by a raft of post-punk and dark synth from the ’80s, they’re still able to reinterpret and reimagine their influences to create entirely fresh and enthralling music.
Initiate opens its arms to all: the broken, the wounded, and those barely hanging on by their fingertips. It’s an album filled with dark, cathartic songs that reminds us how lucky we are to be here to experience sublime and spellbinding music. That’s a universal truth worth celebrating, time and again.