Imagine the rumbling alt-rock of Royal Blood, the stonery fuzz of Queens Of The Stone Age, a few dabblings of Jack White neo-garage and numerous other influences mixed together and made louder, more chaotic and more cocksure. That’s the essence of what Winnipeg trio Ex Ømerta has concocted and perfected into what they call bastard rock over the last few years, releasing their debut album last year and building their reputation on an equally high-energy live show. Now imagine that same music stripped down, reworked and taken into new waters. The Second Take Sessions, Ex’s second full-length release does just that, incising and peeling the flesh of their debut’s tracks down to their beating hearts and building creative new shells around them, leaving no opportunity for critics to dismiss them as another one-dimensional rock band.
“10/10” is a speaker-shattering garage stomper in its full form; stripped down that tinge turns into an ominous shiver with its haunting opening- a pulsating kick drum, guitarist Dale McIntyre’s dark harmonics and drummer/vocalist Scott Beattie’s restrained blues-on-edge delivery, the full reworked track unfolding from there into a four-minute spinal shudder meant equally for a backwoods shack and a ratty punk venue. “You Know It’s Wrong”, a cut made for an arena with the volume up still manages to retain a good chunk of its explosive energy even as a cut-down acoustic track, the manic combustion laying thinly under the surface. With that said, its simple, dragging drum track, or at least the mix of it tends to stand out and disrupt the feel of the song; had it been meshed in a bit better on the board or the percussion been done in another fashion, on a cajon for example, the track would have been perfectly cohesive.
“No Problem”, Ex’s most popular track thus far is one of the most minimized cuts on The Second Take Sessions, whittled down to bare-bones acoustic chords and tambourine hits with Beattie and McIntyre’s eerie, unsettled vocals retaining its raw edge. At the same time its basic acoustics are offset by a tremolo synthesizer underneath for a new electronic component. “Blue Lips” is where things really start to get interesting: unplugged, it takes on a grungy, driving form with blended-back drums and a thin layer of old-school organ, allowing its infectious chorus to pop out and worm its way into the subconscious way more than it did at full throttle. “Blow Up” differs the most from its original incarnation, taking the form of a synthy pop/hip-hop instrumental with the reggaeton club beat that has become standard in pop music over the last few years; if you were to remix it you could imagine it as a Linkin Park track with extra DJ work or part of the Dropped Frames series with Mike Shinoda rapping over the verses and Beattie’s choruses intact.
“Cut//Run” expands on the deep-woods moonlight blues vibes on “10/10”, complete not only with slide guitar by McIntyre but upright bass by bassist Spencer Bauer as well, demonstrating a new dimension of experimentation and texture that Ex is willing to enter for the sake of sonic evolution. “A.Y.R.F.W.C” revolves around a tasty, colourful guitar lick, and while it’s certainly a big departure from the original in feel and structure, it’s nevertheless highly dynamic and shows even more signs of expanded versatility for the future. “Who Am I?” is a straight, pure-grain shot of Ex Ømerta swagger much like its overdriven counterpart; its isolated drums-and-vocals intro and subsequent staccato-chord verses harken back to the soul and R&B of the ‘60s (think “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” or “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”), rocketing forward on the choruses to 2010s alt-rock (“I Only Lie When I Love You”) and back to late ‘90s acoustic post-grunge on the solo (“Touch, Peel And Stand”). Contrastingly, “Romantic Horror” stays firmly in the confines of contemporary rock, with Beattie hitting some high and low notes to keep things interesting.
“Wait On” takes on funky new life as a Second Take thanks to Bauer, and while you can certainly hear a tight-in-the-pocket drum groove in your head that would wonderfully compliment this reincarnation, the combination of McIntyre’s textural guitar stew and his and Beattie’s solid, refined vocal layerings more than suffice and allow it to stand strong without any sort of percussive backbone. Finishing off the album is another Ømerta staple, “Sink In”, a track that at full blast exemplifies their nitroglycerin take on contemporary rock to a tee but stripped down shows an entirely different side of the band. With McIntyre and Bauer’s minimized guitar and bass parts, along Beattie’s somber keyboards and pent-up vocals, we see beyond the abrasive exterior of the band and its leader and glimpse at an artistic vulnerability not as easily detected with the volume knobs up.
Many things are conveyed here, whether it’s pain, torture, rage, determination or all of the above, and really that sums up The Second Take Sessions in a nutshell: A loud, bombastic band reducing themselves to their basic elements and laying their underlying emotions on the table. It makes for a rock-solid, imaginative experiment, and only goes to show the potential they have to grow, explore and make a sizeable impact on music in the future.