Right now, the most prominent feature about Microwave has been how prolific their name has been. They’ve been bubbling around in the second or third tiers of emo and post-hardcore scenes for a while now, but just like contemporaries like Meat Wave, they’ve struggled to find much room to move and make the bigger jumps necessary to progress. That’s left a band who haven’t exactly stagnated by have found themselves pacing back and forth looking for something to do, all while having only a small impact on those who’ve actually paid attention. It’s not the most ideal situation to be in, especially with how competitive those scenes can be, and given that Death Is A Warm Blanket’s release has generally sneaked up on most (if they’ve actually paid attention at all), it’s an open question whether Microwave’s supposed advancements this time around have paid off.
And to the band’s total credit, there’s definitely progression here as they slide into far darker, more destructive sonic climes that, for interpreting a backdrop of Nathan Hardy’s damaged physical and mental health as well as the laundry list of atrocities currently going on in the world, feels generally earned and well-realised. Grunge and post-hardcore have been more wholly embraced this time, and Hardy’s delivery is coloured by shades of catharsis and nihilism that his delivery between dead-eyed, dejected groans and harsh throat-shredding on the likes of DIAWB. And for everything they’re trying to achieve, Microwave have happened up a sound that does have a lot of potential, particularly in pulling off those bigger, more openly visceral emotions. Hate TKO and Carry scale back Hardy’s performances to create the impression of vulnerability and a man beaten down by his own vices, while The Brakeman Has Resigned shows the eruptions of fury and frustration that spill over and are virtually impossible to control. Thematically, it does feel as though Microwave have settled on a steady core on Death Is A Warm Blanket, one they’re able to channel with the volatility and emotional heft that it deserves.
But it’s slightly harder to say how much further that really goes, and whether or not this album sticks the landing on all fronts and not just a darker lyrical bent. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Microwave turning their attention to rougher, angrier sounds, but it’s not like they do a whole lot with it beyond the expected, and for a band who’ve struggled to stand out in the past, that feels like a disappointing half-measure that hasn’t been addressed as thoroughly as it should. They definitely get there in spots, like with the slithering bassline of Float To The Top that’s almost Nirvana-esque in how it marries to everything around it, but otherwise, a rather basic and restricted crop of grunge and noise-rock tones doesn’t leave Microwave with much to work with, and they can struggle to fashion much that’s suitably impactful from it. The moments of lo-fi window-dressing on Leather Daddy and Love Will Tear Us Apart is an immediate red flag for just how overused that tactic is and how it pays off just as little when Microwave do it, and the denser production across the board can be incredibly stock for this type of grunge, only elevated from completely wallowing in the doldrums by a performance from Hardy that can actually capture some much-needed tension. Almost across the board, it feels like Microwave have been saddled with a crop of instrumentals that do them very minimal justice, and when that’s paired with how far they prove they’re willing to go elsewhere, it doesn’t feel as though they’re living up to their full potential.
It’s not an immovable weight that stops Death Is A Warm Blanket from being at least worth a try, especially to see the level of rawness that’s been hitherto untapped in Microwave’s output, but it makes it not entirely as thrilling as it could be, fixated on a rather view than allowing a similar blossoming of progression to be felt elsewhere. It’s far from a bad album, but Death Is A Warm Blanket is disappointing all the same, having truly potent moments but struggling to effectively capitalise on them in an impactful way. To be as charitable as Microwave arguably deserve, it’s easy to see this as more of a transitional album with a better grasp of its workings to come, and that does mitigate the blow somewhat, but it’s also not hard to see what could’ve been immediately done to improve right now.
For fans of: Nirvana, Citizen, Meat Wave
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Death Is A Warm Blanket’ by Microwave is released on 13th September on Pure Noise Records.