There are a lot of bands these days that are head over heels in love with 90s grunge. They fall into two distinct camps: those who are unashamed throwbacks who take advantage of our nostalgia, and those who believe that this era and genre could point to an even brighter future for modern rock music. I believe that The Stone Eye belongs in the latter. Their new EP Royal & Damned doesn’t suggest complete originality, but it is far from generic. In fact, it leaves a HUGE impression, especially considering it only consists of three songs. I get the same feeling listening to it that I do when I put on Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies. It’s not as long as that EP, but it feels like a classic to me.
Speaking of Alice in Chains, Stephen Burdick is a slightly less nasally Layne Staley come to life. It’s actually fucking insane how similar they sound! Despite this, his ghost doesn’t threaten to haunt every song. Burdick isn’t doing a half-assed impression. He’s straight-up conjuring the spirit of grunge and shaping it in his own image. What’s even more surprising about all this is that he only has one other musician, drummer Jeremiah Bertin, helping him out! I was shocked upon discovering that I was listening to a duo. I would be interested to hear their live sound, because on the recording they sound 100% complete. Not one note is out of place and not one arrangement is ill advised.
Short and sweet is the name of the game here, and my god are these tunes ever savory! “Farewell Lady” boasts a pummeling, groovy, and fuzzy guitar riff so delicious, that I found myself going back to the beginning just so I could consume it all over again. “Death From Above” might be the least captivating track here, only in that it follows the same loud-quiet-loud dynamic pattern as it’s predecessor, with a less memorable riff. That said, the chorus is unbelievably catchy! I can’t make out the lyrics (I think he’s yelling “MAD DOG?”) because, in typical grunge fashion, the singing is mumbled as shit. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
The pièce de résistance though has to be “Colours in Vain.” Most bands make the mistake of forgetting that beyond the fuzz, apathetic lyrics, and raw vocals, a classic grunge song can be melodically beautiful. Like on MTV Unplugged in New York, the songs should be able to be stripped down and still hit you just as hard. “Colours in Vain” gets all of this right. Just listen to those harmonies! My God, what a performance! It’s not easy to sound in pain yet also sound like you’re trying to come off as indifferent, but Burdick pulls it off with aplomb. Also, do I hear orchestration, or is that some fancy keyboard work? I like that I don’t know. The song will be immediately liekable to any first listener, but the more times you listen to it, the more questions you will have. Classic.
The Stone Eye don’t reinvent the wheel with Royal & Damned. This is just an amazing EP, with three songs that would not pale against any of your old favourites, but how incredible is it that not once do they come off as copycats or unintentional parody artists? Grunge might be dead, but I think I smell a possible resurrection, my friends.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson