Review: Twin Atlantic – Vivarium

It may be a lazy and obvious comparison to make, but Twin Atlantic are probably going to be compared to Biffy Clyro more than any other band on the planet. You can kind of see the logic behind it; not only are they both Scottish but they’re also the only two prominent bands from the Caledonian north who fall more into the alternative bracket than the indie bracket. The first listen of Vivarium will probably do little to shake early preconceptions, as lead singer Sam McTrusty’s accent is so strong, any attempted imitation is best foregone unless you’re a full-blooded Glaswegian yourself. Truth to be told, McTrusty’s voice is a little jarring on first listen. It’s not that he can’t sing, far from it in fact. It’s just that it seems a bit out of place in Twin Atlantic’s post-hardcore style; a genre that is more often dominated by bands from America or Wales. After a little while, however, you get used to it and start to realize that Twin Atlantic aren’t trying to fit into an existing niche, but rather find their own distinct voice. When you embrace this fact, McTrusty’s vocals become something to champion and enjoy as being different rather than shun for the exact same reason.

The rest of the band support McTrusty well; bassist Ross McNae is also adept on the piano and guitarist Barry McKenna brings out a cello when you least expect it. Not only does this mean that the basics of the band’s musicianship are well-performed but Twin Atlantic are also capable of throwing the odd curveball into the mix. This means there’s a decent variety on offer over the 8 tracks, from slower numbers like “Caribbean War Syndrome” and “Better Weather”, to more uptempo offerings like “Lightspeed” and “What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?”. They never quite truly let go however, and Vivarium lacks a track to completely lose yourself in like Biffy Clyro’s “That Golden Rule” (see I told you it was an easy comparison). There’s still a good variety on offer here though, it’s just a shame there’s so few songs. Released as a full album, it needs a few more tracks to make it truly feel like a weighty offering, instead it only just clocks in at over 30 minutes.

Lyrically there’s also a lot of variety although it sometimes veers a little into stereotype, such as in the complex poetry of “What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?”. Perhaps as is to be expected from such a distinct voice, nationalism (even if it’s not especially Scottish) also has an appearance on Vivarium in “You’re Turning Into John Wayne”. “Lightspeed” and “Human After All” tackle more standard subjects but do so with a breadth and quality that is to be commended. I also feel the need to make a brief comment about the digipak style of the album art as well, because I’ve never seen anything quite like it. In keeping with the vivarium motif it pulls out from a normal CD book into a complex collection of photos and liner notes across interlocking plant leaves. While it may be an absolute nightmare if you’re trying to change CDs while driving, it’s an excellent little twist on an established standard which sums up Twin Atlantic’s approach very well.

A few of the tracks such “Old Grey Face” are a bit weaker on this mini-album, but there are 5 or 6 real gems on it which deserve recommendation. Vivarium has an original sound in a market which has been flooded by identikit bands, and this extends much further than McTrusty’s distinct accent. It’s easy to enjoy but offers further revelations on repeat listens, which for me is always an indicator of strong output. While not without its faults, Twin Atlantic have created a very strong recording here which bodes well for the future.

Final verdict: 8.5/10

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