Tower Reaches New Heights on “Shock to the System” (Early Album Stream + Interview)
Tower's eponymous debut album five years ago made an impact, but it also hinted at more: the songs had room for growth, for improved memorability, and for more powerful arrangements. Fortunately, Shock to the System is a victorious sophomore that does all of that and more, delivering a powerful combination of catchy earworms, killer vocal lines, and riff after goddamn riff. Rock sensibility meets high-energy 1980s heavy metal to form something that sounds like it could have been an unearthed jewel in a way that even the most “retro” heavy metal rarely manages, but without feeling like an intentional throwback—rather, Tower’s love for old heavy metal and hard rock seem to flow effortlessly in the same direction as their heroes, giving a big treat for fans of heavy metal everywhere.
Something missing from quite a bit of contemporary heavy metal is musicianship, as the best players tend to trend towards progressive music, technical death, or towards music outside of metal altogether. Though musicianship is not a central aspect to Tower’s music, it’s something that dominates relistens: these guys really know how to play their instruments, and singer Sarabeth Linden is just as good at what she does as the band’s instrumental lineup. The amount of power and grit that Linden gets with her interesting melodic lines drives the already-great music over the top, and Shock to the System is just what’s needed to round out a killer year of heavy metal: something to study and absorb that’s really goddamn good, a passionate love letter to the scene.
While listening to the exclusive premiere of the album, read an interview below with the band.
The promotional material for Shock to the System mentions that you guys had only finished half of the album’s writing before pandemic lockdowns. Had you guys previously written all of your material live in the room?
JD: We've written parts together in the rehearsal room, but usually me, Zak and Sarabeth will come up with ideas at home and fine-tune them before trying them out as a full band. In that sense, there wasn't a big change in how we handled writing during lockdown, except we were bouncing ideas off our phones instead of meeting up.
Was it particularly difficult making the album work as a cohesive whole without the ability to jam out transitions and choruses in the room? Were you worried at all about writing sections that would be difficult to play live?
JD: Well, me and James Jones were still jamming in person to try out the arrangements on guitar and drums, and if it worked, there wasn't much to worry about when everyone else came in. We make it a point to not go overboard with layering and studio tricks so everything can be pulled off live if we wanted. There's a couple of extra harmonies here and there, but we keep it to a minimum.
ZP: Even the more atmospheric and ambient parts we had an idea of how that would go. 95% of the song structures were in place and only a few things were changed in the studio, like a shorter verse here, a guitar not following the vocals there etc. Everything we write is meant to be able to execute live.
Does writing songs with live songs in mind come from any past mishaps, or has it always been a goal?
JD: No mishaps thank goodness! Creating art in the studio affords you some extra luxuries but we try not to indulge in them too much. Maybe some day we'll write a song like "Supertzar" but for now we like our records to be a realistic representation of what you'd hear on stage from just the 5 of us.
Both Tower studio albums fall under 40 minutes. Are you writing specifically for the records to flow best on vinyl or is the length coming from somewhere else?
ZP: We were definitely aware of vinyl length being capped at just over 40 minutes and our original plan was at least 10 or 11 songs so it kind of fell into place in that regard.
SL: We definitely could have added more songs to this record but we chose a solid 10!
JD: I think 30-50 minutes is a good length for an album in most cases. This new one comes very close to 40!
In between albums you put out an EP titled Tomorrow & Yesterday. Why take the break from full lengths to do a shorter release? What role do mini-albums play in a modern band, and how important are they?
JD: We broke up for a while at the end of 2017, then got back together some months later with a new rhythm section. The EP was our way of regaining some momentum and letting people know that we were back. As far as mini-albums vs full lengths, I'd say that matters a lot less in the digital era. People can pick whichever they songs they want to add to their playlist regardless of how long the album is. Ideally I'd say a band should release whatever good material they have every two years, whether it's one song or twenty.
Most bands either write a lot of long songs or they write short ones, but both albums have songs under three minutes and approach or surpassing six minutes. What drives writing in that sort of variety? Is variety important in an album?
JD: Variety and flow are crucial to holding the listener's interest for the duration of an LP. Each song is a piece of a larger puzzle, but also made to stand on its own. There's no quota for long or short or slow or fast songs, they just are what they are, and when we have enough for an album we put them in the best order we can.
“In Dreams” is the longest song Tower has ever written. Could it have come together without the unique circumstances that led to the album?
JD: I'm not sure honestly. Being shut-in for a while, I had the chance to sit and complete the arrangement before presenting it to the band, which usually doesn't happen, so I guess that did affect the outcome of the song. There were still changes made once we tried playing it together, but very little.
Your last record was on a label not too far away from you over in Brooklyn, and now you’re working with an Italian one. How did you hook up with Cruz del Sur, and has moving to a label an ocean led to any interesting differences from last time?
JD: Blasphlegmy is a small and local label which was perfect for putting out the EP. Cruz reached out to us when we released the video for "Run For My Life" and we were very happy to join their ranks. We're grateful to be signed to a European label, that's where metal lives!
Shock to the System releases November 12th via Cruz del Sur Music.