Sunday 23 January 2022

Déjà Vega - Personal Hell

Déjà Vega's second album Personal Hell captures one of the most enthralling live bands around spreading their wings from their self-titled debut yet retaining the thrilling intensity for which they've become known, a trio of friends who've been on a musical journey for approaching a decade and who are finally getting the wider acknowledgement that we've known they've always deserved.

Personal Hell feels an apt title for a record from a band whose natural environment is the stage. With the majority of this album recorded back in 2020 and the band being incredibly prolific both in terms of songwriting and their live shows, they will have suffered more than most bands from being deprived of their pressure valve and outlet. With tour dates in the offing, they've taken the decision to split the release of the album given the delays in vinyl pressing that have scuppered many other bands' release plans.

It's All Gone Wrong sets the scene for the rest of Personal Hell. While most of the focus at live shows is on Jack visually, the real magic in the band is the contributions of all three, the other two - Mike on bass and Tom on drums - often overlooked because of the intensity of Jack's performance. Here, the sharp angular bass lines and the powerful punishing drums very much come to the fore as they do across the whole album and we hear synths in the mix too, the first signs of the development in the band's sound. The production gives it all space to breathe so you can appreciate the full gamut of what this band are about. Who We Are is already a live favourite and was released as a single before everything went to shit. It's sparse in the verses, a metallic drum sound underpinning it that allows Jack's urgent searching voice to take centre stage until the guitars kick in. 

It's followed by fellow 2020 single Spitting Gas which starts with an onslaught of drums and a primeval roar from Jack who then pours out the lyric like a stream of conscience in between delivering huge waves of guitars and pedal effects, Short, sharp and bitter-sweet. it doesn't outstay its welcome given its brevity, but it'll leave you punch-drunk and bruised such is the ferocity with which the song packs everything into such a short timescale.

Catharsis feels just like one, a band using music as their escape, the birthing sounds of the song still audible and all the better for it as the song plots a route with enough ideas for half an album in under three minutes, yet still feeling absolutely coherent and with more melody than you'd expect from a band that often has its foot down to the pedal. You can tell when the punch of the chorus is coming, but it still feels overwhelming when it does and then the song takes off in a wall of effect-laden guitars to its conclusion. That freeform looseness, one of the most intoxicating elements of their live shows, is very much in evidence on Precious One, Jack spitting out lyrics like a steam of conscious as if inspired by what's going on around him. Close your eyes, let the groove that underpins this grower lift you up and they could be playing in the room with you.

Slow And Steady is just that, not quite what you'd expect given Déjà Vega's reputation as a band to rip your head off, but it feels like they're taking you on a trip across their whole creative spectrum and sphere of influences. It's got a menacing darkness at its core heightened by the uncertainty of what's around the corner as it's so very different to what's gone before. Recent single Harmonia is a contrast, claustrophobic, urgent and tight yet, and this becomes more evident the further you move into Personal Hell, this is the band opening themselves up more than on their debut, making their sound more accessible without losing the magic of their early singles and its predecessor.

Banshee merges synth sounds with guitar sounds that punch their way out from beneath the surface before taking over control. Like much of what's gone before, it feels completely intuitive and natural, even though it's not necessarily what you've come to expect from Déjà Vega from a sonic perspective. The intensity though is everything you would. Balancing Act delves deeper, one minute sounding like a rough but essential demo, the drums dictating everything, the next fuzzed-up guitars taking over. It feels incomplete in one sense, but perfect in others, its unpolished nature essential to its impact. 

All Words is one of Personal Hell's more adventurous moment, starting with just drums and vocals, sparse and affecting even when the guitars come in over Jack repeating the title. The onslaught that comes in many of their songs threatens to come but never does and its that tension that holds the listener in their grip. Déjà Vega's refusal to follow traditional songwriting structures is a feature of this album and is in evidence again on this track, one of our personal highlights. The album finishes on Outside Now, a song like its predecessor's final track The Test, that holds so much potential to be taken and stretched out live, the three of them coming together to set a pulsating driving beat overladen with piercing guitar riffs that can lift you, and the people around you, off your feet and into their world in a way that can only ever be achieved in a hot, sweaty room where you can see the whites of their eyes. Discounting that, it's still a mighty fine finish to the record.

Personal Hell is both a triumph and a development in Déjà Vega's sound. The high-energy adrenaline rushes of their self-titled debut and live sets is still very much evidence here, but as this album progresses you see the band stretching the boundaries of their sound, assisted by a crisp production that allows all the elements that the three of them bring to the band to be heard. More expansive and diverse than their debut without losing the core of what makes Déjà Vega so exciting, Personal Hell is the sound of a band completely in tune with each other, making music for the love of it and that passion positively pours out of the eleven songs on this album.

Déjà Vega are on Facebook and Twitter.

Personal Hell is out digitally now with vinyl preorders available on their store. Stream on Spotify here.

They play London The Lexington (February 2), Birmingham Dead Wax (3), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (4), Manchester Gorilla (5), Liverpool Jacaranda (19), Cardiff Globe (24), Bristol Thekla (25) and Nottingham Bodega (26)


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