Develop a taste for STAKE with their new record Critical Method. Frenzied and fierce fun, it signals a rebirth and the beginning of a new chapter, establishing the band’s newfound sense of identity with a thundering, distortion-laden cacophony.
Truthfully, you may have heard STAKE before, even if on the face of it you have not heard of them. You see, dear reader, STAKE is the reincarnation of Steak Number Eight – the Belgian outfit responsible for attitude-addled anthems such as the charmingly titled “Dickhead”, from critically-acclaimed 2011 album All Is Chaos. At their peak, the quartet were billed on most of the major rock festivals that mainland Europe had to offer. In addition, they sold out Belgium’s biggest venues, as well as supporting renowned acts like Deftones, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Mastodon.
The moniker Steak Number Eight was originally taken from a track of the same name by Voidpoint; a musical venture of vocalist Brent Vanneste’s older brother, who sadly passed away several years ago. In 2018, the band felt it was time to move on, embodying their new title of STAKE, with a newfound creative freedom to match. This process was covered at length in a Red Bull documentary on the band’s metamorphosis; a thoroughly worthwhile watch if you have 20 minutes to spare. However, latest album Critical Method is why we’re here.
Album opener “Critical Method” staggers menacingly into view with an air of Mastodon about it. An appealing blend of grunge and sludge, Brent wastes no time setting the tone for Critical Method vocally, with his throat-wrecking scream of ‘Hey/Stay the fuck out of my way/None of your business okay’. From here, we traverse the more melodic melancholy of “The Absolute Center”. The distorted dance between major and minor discord carries off nicely through punchy guitars that drive the unusual – but intentional – juddering in rhythm, all the way to its crushing finale.
“Careless” is up next. A jarring, energetic number that borrows from the sounds of the previous two, it highlights STAKE’s ability to adopt, adapt and evolve. A multitude of disorienting noises unite to assault the ears, with drum and rhythm sections combining to leave you dizzy. As a result, the somber, soothing start and more predictable chord composition of “Human Throne” can falsely suggest tranquility or waning creativity: this is not the case, as the song’s latter half splendidly reveals.
“Catatonic Dreams”, along with its visceral and somewhat disturbing accompanying video (above), sits among my top picks from Critical Method. It’s a belter of a track; a wonderful tapestry of everything the album offers sonically. The snare entices alongside a vigorous force of guitar and ‘wah’ usage, before exploding into another deluge of sludgy grunge (tinted with hardcore flourishes) that fully grabs you from start to finish. One crushing blow leads to another, with unwavering screeches piercing the verses. Don’t be fooled by seemingly weary vocal delivery when the bridge rolls around, though – both vocals and instrumentation muster up plenty of energy for a final blowout before the track is over.
“Devolution” offers another lambent, dense slice of action, as repetitions of ‘It’s coming to an end’ hover around the broad soundscape STAKE builds. Penultimate number “Doped up Salvations” takes us on an aggressive, almost punkish ride that echoes the harmonious dissonance found elsewhere on the album: it also leads us to the doorstep of closer “Eyes for Gold”. This seven minute sprawler creeps along, possibly leaving you fearful of an anticlimactic finish to Critical Method. Fear not; the unease ramps up, the walls of guitar swell, and sinister riffs that are second nature by now swoop in to finish the job. Accelerating rapidly, STAKE ultimately abandon all sense of coordination with one another in a last hurrah of chaos.
STAKE shared a short while ago that Critical Method is a ‘schizophrenic album written on a wave of shape shifting lives where morbid romance surfaces’. Similarly to the neurological condition cited above, people can sometimes be wary of music, avoiding the unfamiliar or misunderstood. For fans of distortion, STAKE’s renaissance has produced a delightfully volatile album that takes time to fully embrace – but stick with it and eventually the beautiful, raw intricacies beneath the harsh surface of this beast will reveal themselves.