For The Dirty Nil, vision is absolutely imperative. Since 2011, the Canadian trio have been setting their sights noticeably further than most punk bands of their ilk, not only in the sonic sense that saw the supercharged garage-rock of 2016’s Higher Power showered with praise, but through militant touring and festival schedules, sharing stages from acts ranging from Against Me! and Alexisonfire to The Who. What’s more, all of this is the product of a band who, despite being a Juno Award-winning juggernaut in their home country, are still ostensibly finding their feet elsewhere; they’ve made a great amount of headway already, but one more push is needed for something truly great.
And with Master Volume, this is that push. The title doesn’t lie – here, The Dirty Nil have blown out their sound to exorbitant proportions, now being more akin to swaggering, old-school rock ‘n’ rollers while keeping punk’s curled upper lip. And almost across the board, this is a fantastic fit for them, sticking to lean, grizzled efficiency and making the most of it whenever possible. The six-minute slog of Evil Side is the sole exception, but even then, it’s easy to see it positioned as a climactic final note that just didn’t work; otherwise, Master Volume is all hits, all the time.
It’s impressive how easily The Dirty Nil slide into their rockstar personas as well, and how they’re able to make what is effectively beat-hitting an attention-holding exercise. The fast living of That’s What Heaven Feels Like and the sleazy motel detailed on Super 8 are easy reference points to conjur up that debauched lifestyle, but where The Dirty Nil exceed these expectations is in the clear admission that this simply isn’t them. There’s a certain degree of humour and warmth in how un-rockstar-like Luke Bentham is on Bathed In Light when the three people he’d meet in heaven are Jesus, Elvis and his grandmother, or how much he cares about his friend’s drug and alcohol problems on I Don’t Want That Phone Call. In an almost twisted way, it’s kind of like Weezer’s Raditude in terms of how performative the rockstar persona on record can be, but with the near constant winks and nods that The Dirty Nil give, they’re able to manage it with so much more wit and character.
It also helps that on a fundamental, instrumental level, Master Volume is a considerable step up in terms of vibrancy and volatility that the trio’s previous works. Production-wise, there’s a roughness and meat to these tracks that really benefits Bentham’s ragged howl, easily hitting some clearly-defined high points on tracks like That’s What Heaven Feels Like and Pain Of Infinity when the classic rock sensibilities mesh with among the best hooks the band have to date. Hell, on a track like Smoking Is Magic which is propelled by what is essentially an AC/DC riff, there’s barely nothing to separate it from full-blown arena-rock shredding, such is the competency The Dirty Nil have at pushing forward with this style.
And it’s worth pointing out that there really isn’t their own spin put onto this or anything, but there doesn’t really need to be. It’s rough-hewn and sneering enough to capture that size that’s currently driving The Dirty Nil, and Master Volume feels as though they’ve fully leaped up to their own desires, and more. Even if this isn’t much of a jump from what they’ve previously done, it’s enough, and the fact they’ve upped their game even to this degree definitely shows in the overall quality. With an album like this under their belts now, the sky’s the limit.
For fans of: Pup, Beach Slang, The Flatliners
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Master Volume’ by The Dirty Nil is released on 14th September on Dine Alone Records.