Southern California is home to a lot of
things and, unfortunately, has suffered from the ills of the same heroin
epidemic that’s swept so many areas in the United States. Saint Blasphemer’s
debut release Simon Templar is a five song EP that chronicles the lyrical and
musical reactions to a plethora of deaths and destroyed lives resulting from
this epidemic. Fronted by vocalist and lyricist Thomas Monroe, the band and
singer alike create a cohesive vision of a modern American hell. The unsparing
language and detail thankfully resist any glamorization of a subject that,
frankly, possesses no glamour whatsoever,. John Castellon leads the way musically
but he has two able partners in bassist Steve Shell and drummer Steve Ybarra.
The production highlights their ability to combine pulverizing power with the
ability to move with surprising fluidity and it isn’t every band, whatever style,
able to pull it off.
It kicks off at a high level of
intensity and only occasionally lets up. “Nullify” is a particularly churning,
tormented song, but Hudson’s lyrics don’t abandon hope entirely. There’s some
fight buried beneath the withering depiction of a drug addict’s life and the
music does a first class job of sonically embodying that lifestyle. Castellon’s
six string work stands out in the song and it never runs on too long. “Simon
Templar”, the title track, stretches out a little more in comparison but eschews
the guitar theatrics heard in the first song. Despite the fact that the
arrangements share similar tempos, it’s obvious that Saint Blasphemer is taking
much more care here to invoke atmosphere. The lyrical content is full of
imagery, but it is the storytelling aspect that leaps out most vividly.
Hudson’s voice often interjects itself into the songwriting and does it again
The third song “Scarecrow” is a much
more tightly wound and focused than the preceding tracks, but it also plays
more with light and shade. It has a more theatrical air than the earlier songs
as well. The writing has painfully vivid detail and Monroe attacks the listener
with often repellant imagery that brings home the reality of an addict’s use
with more clarity than we’ve heard so far. Their experiments with different
textures expand with the EP’s second to last song “A Perfect Rose”. The song’s
imagery is somewhat familiar, particularly the rose, but his personality shapes
the song in a much different direction than it might have otherwise followed.
“Breaking Just to Bend” continues the EP’s tradition of lyrics with strongly
physical imagery and the intelligence burning through the text and music alike
cannot be denied. Simon Templar is a well constructed and written first release
from a band of longtime music veterans who clearly share the same artistic
vision. There are few debuts with such a well-rounded sense of completion.
Southern California has produced a lot of quality music acts over the years and
Saint Blasphemer is ready now to join that august company.