Denali – The Instinct

Every female fronted band’s image and/or description is mostly based on how the band’s lead singer sounds. No matter how dark the music is, if the singer sounds like Mandy Moore than it will be called pop. To be categorized as rock, the female lead’s voice needs to fit the classic build of rock design; scratchy, hard, a cross between Chrissie Hynde and Brodie Dalle. If they don’t have that type of vocal range then their entire band is immediately doomed to be categorized in the endless void of pop rock nothingness. Maura Davis and Denali (which included Jonathan Fuller, Cam DiNunzio, and Keeley Davis on record) come very close to defeating this stigma but ultimately are left in limbo due to Davis’ slightly operatic voice. Starting as a side project, Denali soon began to take the limelight as their debut release placed them on the radar. Their first album was full of dark, electric, smooth grooves that showcased each member’s ability to carry a tune.

On their latest release, Denali’s music is moody, murky, and once again demonstrates how well these musicians work together. When I began listening to this release, I kept thinking about how smoothly the baleful music went with Davis’ operatic vocals. The first track entitled “Hold Your Breathe” begins with a driving guitar riff and a low hollow beat. Despite the immediate grab of this track, the first real sign of life is when Davis’ voice kicks in with the lyrics “What’s your reason to kill or not…” Her voice and the music became this otherworldly force to be reckoned with when they were perfectly blended together. The chorus has tense escalating melodies that seem to be building up to a grand ending yet instead of going for the obvious over the top finale, the band heightens the level of intensity and ends with a sole guitar echo.

One of the strongest tracks on the album is “Do Something,” a guitar and beat heavy track that sufficiently showcases Davis’ extremely intense vocals. It begins with Davis slowly cooing the lyrics “All I am now, fall for a way down,” then as her voice shifts from the previous to a strong purr, the industrial backbone that once resonated behind her fade and are replaced with raw guitar abrasions. As the track continues, every instrument and to a certain extent, even Davis’ voice, becomes heavier and louder until they hit a breaking point; the instruments stop and all that is left is Davis’ soft sound and the mechanized thumping. 

Throughout The Instinct, they somehow manage to maintain the same level of morose melodies that made their sound appealing in the first place. And while Davis’ voice keeps them out of categorization, it also defines them as a uniquely dark presence in the current music landscape.

(Jade Tree Records)