Doomed Nation

Sounds For The Lost Generation

Belgian atmospheric grunge core rockers Stake return with their new album »Love, Death And Decay«, out now via Hassle Records

Belgian atmospheric grunge/post-rock band Stake is back with their new album, »Love, Death And Decay«, which was released on September 30th, 2022 via Hassle Records.

Order / stream here:

01. Dream City
02. Ray Of The Sun
03. Love, Death And Decay
04. Deliverance Dance
05. Zone Out
06. Fuck My Anxiety
07. Queen In The Dirt
08. Deadlock Eyes

Bio: Sam Law

The Belgian atmospheric grunge core rockers in Stake have a new album ready for us. Together they dove into their work-space and recorded everything themselves.

Mysteries of the heart, and those of the great hereafter, have rarely been far from the Stake frontman’s busy, offbeat brain. Never broken by the weight of grief or existential dread, however, he uses those feelings as fuel for a musical fire that’s as boldly unconventional as it is bracingly alive. “This band is about all my inner darkness and demons, and finding a peaceful place in my head,” he grapples, preferring his songs to do the talking. “I’m not going to be able to erase them, but making music is a great way of arranging them and surviving this crazy life.”

That process began when he was just 13 years old. Forming Steak Number Eight in honour of his recently deceased brother Tobias Vanbrabant, Brent channelled the most aching personal tragedy into a set of songs that made the whole European rock scene sit up and take notice. Four albums – 2008’s »When The Candle Dies Out…«, 2011’s »All Is Chaos«, 2013’s »The Hutch« and 2015’s »Kosmokoma« – followed, with the outfit going from teenage talent-contests like Westtalent and Humo’s Rock Rally in their native Belgium to high profile shows across the continent alongside genre-busting heroes like Mastodon, Deftones and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

Photo by Anton Coene

And, though a 2018 rebrand (accompanying fifth album »Critical Method«) concluded the “mourning process” by moving away from that unwieldy original name – a song-title from Thobias’ band Voidpoint – the last few years have proven that you can never really leave these things behind.

Sublime sixth LP »Love, Death And Decay« is testament to that.

Guitarist Cis Deman is, by his own admission, far more of a cold realist than his frontman. The one-time funeral director is a dark foil to Brent’s flightier tendencies, and the contrast between their mindsets are key to the shapeshifting mood and captivating desolation of Stake’s brilliant sixth album.

Where Brent is more fixated on “love and death”, Cis explains frankly, his fascination lies in “death and decay.” The singer reflects on the meaning of the album-title, that on the evening his girlfriend’s aunt was dying he watched excellent Netflix documentary Fantastic Funghi and was inspired by the fact that all matter is recycled into new life. Cis, contrastingly, unearths a far harsher recollection. Faced with the pandemic, he initially needed to counterpoint the pervasive misery with brighter sounds, but the loss of two of his cousins – brothers, the first lost to suicide, the second struck by a bus – meant that stepping into darkness felt unavoidable. “I realised I just couldn’t write anything happy,” he shrugs. “The themes of love and death aren’t always spoken about out loud, but they’re always there. For me, they’ve never felt as close as they do on this record.”

This is no one-track collection of course, nor can it be credited to just one or two members of the band. Bassist Jesse Surmont (“whose bass sound is as big as his testes”), and dizzying drummer/co-producer Joris Casier have been there from the beginning, but their contributions here are more significant than ever before. All involved are keen to stress that, as big as the personalities within might be, Stake working together is unequivocally greater than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, one of Brent’s earliest musical memories is his fateful first meeting with Joris. Unsure whether they were going in for a handshake or a hug, he somehow contorted himself so badly he tore his meniscus. It feels like that cocktail of brotherhood, uncertainty and the threat of catastrophe has remained key to their chemistry ever since.

If Covid cut short the quartet’s grand reintroduction as Stake, it also reinforced their understanding that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Reconvening between the farmers’ pastures and battlefields of Flanders in Belgium’s “wild west”, they entered the bunker-like space of the iconic 4AD club in Diksmuide to begin work on the follow-up to »Critical Method«, Stake found themselves unlocking fresh depths of established themes as they drove across new musical frontiers.

“I loved that vibe” remembers Brent. “For me it was nice to let go and trust other people. Before, I was very focused on how I wanted it to be for me. Now I’m very open to other ideas. It feels awesome to be singing lyrics that might’ve been written by Cis or Joris.” Returning to record in their local Foxylane Studio’s studio in Ghent and Brent’s home space and Techno Organisation STIMULAR – where he and Joris also dabble in thumping Gabber-techno and mind-expanding abstract art – those thoughts and feelings were distilled into eight remarkable, entirely self-produced songs, created without outside assistance or interference. If »Critical Method« showcased the Mastodon-influenced riffy technicality of their sound, the isolation and desolation of »Love, Death And Decay« leans more towards the Deftones and Tool textural end of the sonic spectrum.

But again it’s really hard to put one colour on these morbide romantics. The razor-sharp doom atmosphered wall of sound they managed to create in this production is interspersed with grunge, sludge, dreamy post-punk, slightly math-rock tinted poppy stanzas followed by grand choruses and thick riffs that scrape the skin off your neck.

Twisted love-song »Dream City« opens proceedings on the main physical release not with a bang, but a slow build, boiling down the disconnection and unreality of the past few years into six minutes of shimmering sound. »Ray Of The Sun« is a tribute to Cis’ lost cousins that combines traditional alt. grunginess with post-metal expanse. The seven-minute title-track, meanwhile, is a staggering, shapeshifting slab of sound that juggles fatalistic resignation and philosophical wonder with dizzying dexterity. Then the brilliant »Deliverance Dance« comes on as a spectacular explosion of catharsis, blending unruly progginess and scourging black metal before exploding into a full-on Iron Maiden-esque gallop, with Brent even contributing his first-ever guitar solo.

No track is more powerful, though, than bold lead-single »Fuck My Anxiety«. Laced with fear and uncertainty, lyrics like “No remedy / No clue / I don’t get it / I am losing my reality…” capture Brent’s uneasy mentality over the past few years, unafraid to chart the suffocating depths of his psyche while forcefully driving home the importance of learning to let go. Even its striking music video – in which Brent performs beneath a bird-flipping latex mask – was an exercise in overcoming instinctive hang-ups. The frontman was initially concerned about his body image after performing some shots semi-nude before realising that stepping beyond outside his comfort zone was very much the point.

“Anxiety is something that everybody is dealing with to some degree or another: wasting so much energy on stuff or missing a lot of stuff because you’re anxious about things in life. I’ve been thinking about my own anxiety and how it distorts my own being and changes my choices. The whole Covid process was good for me in that, allowing me to step back from the point of burnout to really take stock of where I’m at. Am I actually scared? Which anxieties do I have? You try to understand, then you grasp them, then you can get further in life. Eventually, you just have to say, ‘Fuck my anxiety?!”

In an unprecedentedly forward-thinking move, too, the band will be releasing an alternate version of the album digitally, with the running-order adjusted – the title-track front and centre – for optimised enjoyment in what’s generally a much more hectic listening environment. “Spinning a vinyl while at home enjoying your favourite anaesthetic is something completely different than zapping through Spotify or YouTube while skating with your Bluetooth speaker in your backpack,” the band explain. “It was our duty and wish to take this into account.”

Ultimately, Stake are very much artists rather than salesmen, but their insistence that these eight songs are simply an effort to capture a moment in time – which should be read in conjunction with the rest of the Stake releases thus far and in future – in no way minimises the brilliance of »Love, Death And Decay«. Rather, it encapsulates why they are so singularly intriguing amidst the often beige modem rock scene, and why it is essential that listeners give their uncompromisingly mercurial music the time to speak for itself. Moreover, as the world steps back into the sun after two years of darkness, the isolation and pain of these songs should be held close as a reminder of the struggle we’ve come through, and why it’s important to embrace every day as it comes.

“Everybody dies,” Cis smiles, leaving off with characteristic bluntness. “So make the best of being alive. Stop being an aggressor in traffic. Just drive…”

Stake is:
Brent Vanneste – Vocals / Guitars
Cis Deman – Guitars
Jesse Surmont – Bass
Joris Casier – Drums

Stake Live Dates:
16.11.22 BE Reflector, Luik
19.11.22 NL Helldorado, Eindhoven
03.12.22 BE Wild West, Kortrijk
17.12.22 BE Trix, Antwerp
15.01.23 NL Headbangers Parade, Den Bosch
15.03.23 BE Let’s Go, Ghent

Bojan Bidovc // music enthusiast, promoter, misanthrop and sometimes a journalist as well

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