Gravity Machine is a Devon-based prog-rock band made-up of multi-instrumentalist Niall Parker and drummer Bob Shoesmith. Their intensely personal debut album Red is out now.
By The Hard Baroquer
One of the fantastic things about music is how it is can be an emotionally cleansing experience – for the writer, the performer and the listener and Gravity Machine’s debut album Red is exactly that. It’s the personal connection in each song that makes Red not just cathartic to listen to, but essential listening.
About Gravity Machine – Red
A little about the album and the artists behind it first: Gravity Machine is a Dartmoor based progressive rock/alternative rock duo made up of main song-writer and multi-instrumentalist Nial Parker and drummer Bob Shoesmith. Red has been a work in progress since 2016, when Gravity Machine’s Niall Parker lost his wife to cancer. Following the tragedy, Parker it seems used creativity as a mechanism to process his grief, taking inspiration from the late Neil Peart of Rush who wrote Ghost Rider after Peart’s own experience of personal tragedy in losing his wife.
Red is therefore very much an ode to Parker’s late wife, and she touches every song.
The title refers to Parkers late wife, Sophie, and is referred to occasionally throughout the album, such as the instrumental interlude track, ‘Red’s Song’. This is a track that showcases how personal the album is and how Red touches the album. Parker writes in the track notes on Bandcamp, “this little acoustic interlude is a simple little piece I used to use to practice a particular guitar tuning – Red must have listened to me playing it a thousand times… and yet she liked it”.
The track notes are essential to understanding the album in full, the insight they provide shows the level of effort was put into each track’s lyrics.
It’s apparent how deeply personal the album is and every song is steeped in the passion that fuelled it. Parker’s gruff vocals are underlined with the intensely powerful experiences of his past. Songs like ‘She’s Calling Me Home’ see him straining for the upper ranges of his vocal abilities, every note fuelled by the anguish he’s been through.
As a standalone piece of work, the album is lovely to listen to. Bob Shoesmith’s John Bonham-like groove provides a direction and authority to the heartfelt songs. While the album stylistically sounds like Nirvana and Elbow’s lovechild, tracks like The Empty Quarter and Lifting Mountains have something of a metal vibe to them that will be welcomed by those that are searching for something grittier.
Red is steeped in an ambience that creates a sonic atmosphere that indulges the ears, forcing the listener to take in the album from start to finish. Tracks segue from one to another with calming sound effects and despite Gravity Machine being a two-piece, they deliver a huge ambient sound that takes the listener on a sonic journey of coming to terms with loss and heartbreak.
Standout tracks on Gravity Machine – Red
I’ve mentioned that Red is an album that is best listened to as a piece of work – however, several tracks stood out to me and will receive the most plays as time goes by.
Opening track ‘It’s Summer’ sets the tone beautifully with the sounds of crickets and Ethiopian drum beats while Parker’s fretless bass adds a unique groove which is complemented by Shoesmith’s 80’s inspired drumming. Gravity Machine introduces us to their multi-layered approach to their music which ensures the song finishes on a huge climax and the crickets segue into the 12-string guitar intro of ‘She’s Calling Me Home’.
In ‘She’s Calling Me Home’, we see Parker’s gritty vocals shine and add a raw, emotional element to the music, building from raspy to soaring as the song s progresses, and the emotion is punctuated with slide guitar that works alongside the vocals. “This song was the only song to emerge whole and complete in it’s writing- I’ve not edited the lyrics- they’re raw, felt and whole. I felt to change them would change the integrity of the song,” he tells us in the song’s notes.
A complete contrast to the harmonies and melodies of every track on the album, ‘Pharmacopoeia’ seeks to portray the experience of chemotherapy: the only lyrics are the various medications patients rely on as they endure the treatment, almost as bad as the disease they work to cure. The song aims to disturb the listener and does so remarkably well with haunting guitars providing the backdrop to a song that is as hard to swallow as the pills it describes.
I’m probably most attracted to ‘The Empty Quarter’ because of the meaning it conveys – the title of the Led Zeppelin-inspired track refers to Saudi Arabia’s uninhabitable Empty Quarter which no one would choose to travel through unless they had to – like many hard decisions in life. Musically the song has a hypnotic groove aided by a huge drum sound and the Middle Eastern-inspired guitar riffs that begs for repeat listens.
‘Empty Quarter’ segues into the closing track, ‘Nightfall’ – also the longest track of the album. ‘Nightfall’ is not a complex track – it’s melodic and atmospheric and constructed in three movements. The chorus is at once poignant and meaningful and serves to resolve the album fittingly.
Nightfall fast approaches,
Sorrow creeping in,
Shadows lengthen fast,
Memories start to fade.
The heart’s dancing fire,
Will never end.
The track, and the album, ends with those two final lines, ‘The heart’s dancing fire will never end’, giving us a sense of catharsis that though our time is only temporary, the impact we have on others is what lives on.
Cathartic, powerful and mature, Red is inspired by its title character forces listeners to think about bigger subjects in life. I came out of listening to Red knowing that time is limited and making the most of the time we all have with those around us is probably the most important part of overcoming the grief once they’re gone if it’s not me that goes first. It’s heavy, but it’s true. The great delusion of life is that we exist in our youth forever.
When it comes to grieving, my own experience of those around me teaches that people can only move on when they know the memory is preserved. It’s a fundamental part of being human – for some, it comes in the form of writing a book, for others installing a plaque or bench in a public place, others will do it in a memorial service in church and for Niall Parker, it was through song-writing.
So give it a listen – in fact, give it a few listens. Immerse yourself in the storytelling and allow the Gravity Machine’s Red to heal you.
Red track listing
1. It’s Summer (05:08)
2. She’s Calling Me Home (05:32)
3. Red’s Song (01:34)
4. Dreamtime (04:46)
5. In The Depths (03:55)
6. Standing Stones (04:50)
7. Time Cut Short The Dance (05:28)
8. Pharmacopoeia (03:32)
9. Lifting Mountains (03:59)
10. The Empty Quarter (04:42)
11. Nightfall (06:21)
Run Time – 49:47
Released: March 8, 2020
Gravity Machine band members:
Niall Parker – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards
Bob Shoesmith – drums