It was on the eve of the day the world went away that New Pagans released the ‘Glacial Erratic’ EP. Formed in 2016 by husband and wife, NI-music scene veteran Cahir O’Doherty (ex-Fighting With Wire and Jetplane Landing) and visual artist and scholar Lyndsey McDougall, the Belfast-based quintet have spent the last five years steadily drip feeding singles and earning a reputation amongst the country’s finest live acts, winning the NI Music Award for just that in 2020. Along the way, they’ve become darlings of the indie blogosphere and have earned the adulation of one Steve Lamacq.
New Pagans, to put it politely, sound like the ‘90s. Alternative rock, punk and grunge are all interconnected here the way they have been since their inception. These songs don’t so much ape their influences as much as they tip their hat to them, though. Take Charlie Has The Face Of A Saint, which marries a Pixies-esque bassline with interlocking, angular, dual guitar riffs that float along nicely until a left-turn at the song’s apex that bursts with melody.
What really works on ‘The Seed…’, though, is the eclectic themes presented in familiar sonic arrangements. Lyrical subject matter ranges from engaging a chauvinist in debate at a party on the jagged It’s Darker, a reappraisal of an underappreciated historical Irish embroiderer on the unpredictable Lily Yeats and McDougall’s experience of childbirth on the reverb-soaked Harbour.
It’s clear that New Pagans aren’t interested in art for art’s sake. They have a lot to say. Their message is defiantly feminist above all else. Lead single Yellow Room, released last summer, draws on ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, exploring postnatal depression and perinatal care through the lens of this story but with the knowledge that Northern Ireland is still without a perinatal health unit.
Closing track, new song Christian Boys is perhaps New Pagan’s finest track and boldest statement to date. A slow but steady burner, McDougall reflects on a friend’s affair with a Northern Irish church leader and her shunning once the man married, highlighting the hypocrisy of the institution. The song flits from solid groove to tense, jagged riffs, building to a cacophonous climax. “Christian boys are the worst I know, Christian girls should take it slow” McDougall seeths before spitting “I’m not your guilt after all, and I’m not your sin any more”.
An album that matches punky fury and socio-political edginess with pop-sensibility and sugar coated harmonies (Bloody Soil and Charlie Has The Face Of A Saint), with plenty of subtle nuances along the way (bassist Claire Miskimmin’s disco-gallop bass underpinning the chorus of Admire is a stroke of genius). ‘The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots And All’ may disappoint those in hope of new material from the band. Most of the tracks present here have been released previously. It does, however, work as a solid long-form primer for the uninitiated. As a debut full-length, it’s a solid release, and could well prove to be an important one.