PRAYER GROUP – Michael Dose (2022)REVIEW

Due to some recent trauma associated with taking drugs and doing breathing exercises in a hot yoga room, I slowed down and don’t do it as often as I once did.” Reddit fitness tracker discussion

Wearing my own skin again and its old, and it stinks. A hit or two of screaming-assed tension rock can’t possibly hurt at this point, it’ll be cathartic at the end of the ‘dose hearing someone else’s distraught, veined up neck-straining limits barked out. It must’ve been hours, though, just staring at all of my physio-monitor’d tech with bugged out eyes, caffeinated enough to stay on edge without the “Dahaka chasing me through Warrior Within” levels of anxiety I’m running from manifesting. I’m not gonna say, hey, if this trip goes south I’m done gaming my mental health this month but I sure am sleeping better lately. Richmond, Virginia-based noise rock quartet Prayer Group aren’t levelling me out, though, all of the smoothing of my ever-wrinkling brain is scrunching back in as this skull tapping, balls heavy debut full-length of theirs ‘Michael Dose‘ soaks in deeper than anticipated.

Formed nearby 2014 or so by way of folks who’d cut their teeth in Richmond area post-hardcore and post-rock bands Kingshead, Gifts From Enola and well, bands you’ve likely never heard of either, Prayer Group seem to have had their current sound in the back of their minds all along. By way of a trio of EPs spaced by a year or two of touring since 2015 they’d been working towards the necessarily interlocking chemistry of a noise rock band while sussing out what their collective style would be beyond that baseline, this meant touches of stoner/sludge rock and post-rock smoking up ‘Touched‘ (2015) and ‘ICUP‘ (2017) ’til their third EP seemed to veer towards something a bit more squarely in line with the most classic era of United States noise rock/post-hardcore. If you don’t mind a bit of trivia — Somewhere between their second and third EP their bassist Ethan Gensurowsky joined big label crossover/thrash act Enforced but that doesn’t seem to have slowed Prayer Group‘s touring/output. When I’d reviewed their third tape (‘Eudean‘, 2019) it’d been part of a ‘Noise Rock you missed…‘ column at years end and the main remark on my end was that those four songs were all fairly similar in tone, rhythm and voicing. All systems were go, I’d just wanted to see where they could take it out of that tunnel vision and expand into a big deal. All concerns are assuaged diving into ‘Michael Dose‘ today, a finely varied and ridiculously slick-flowing noise rock record that whirrs on repeat like a brand new, engine… thing.

On the way to the forum, geared up to record their heavily anticipated debut full-length these folks were among many, many artists/groups who’d been slapped aback by pandemia, lit by social upheaval, and likely incensed as they were forced to watch the world burn before they could track the big one. I’d go as far as to say this might’ve helped grind a bit more conviction into Prayer Group‘s attack for ‘Michael Dose‘ but, past works hadn’t ever sounded half-hearted in any sense. The stakes were up either way, and no doubt the plan was to kick things into heavy gear and cut into their best work for the debut. What sets a great noise rock band apart these days? Ear to eye to brain I’ve always felt a clear distinction between great noise rock bands who make a keen and affected racket that conveys the primal dysfunction of modern man’s fried brains and great noise rock bands who do so with a fantastic guitarist in hand, Prayer Group are the latter.

Beyond the upper chest barked mania of vocalist Matt Vogel and the Albini-sized live resonant production values afforded the rhythm section it is the twisted left hand technique of guitarist Nate Dominy that’d held me captive on initial spins of ‘Michael Dose‘. Pedal-clicking, space-faring, scrawling and cutting jabs worm action into every second of the album’s well-set guitar tone and performance, finally hooking me with the wriggling paw of the verse riffs on the title track, expert level volume knob and bend-heavy work — To my ear this is prime study of fender-hugged to amp level noise rock in the early 90’s but not only for the sake of stupid fun, there is a hook and a heavy/sludge rock song making that finger-wrenching tech into an actual hook. Simple as this is, the effect is mind-bending and just one of countless details to the greater composed force of ‘Michael Dose‘ that makes it a standout nowadays noise rock record.

I’m here for the bumps in the road. Where Prayer Group flies off the handle and strikes the five-alarm center of my own brain is the post-‘My War‘ tumbling B’last! level pieces they kick into so often, of course we could rub up on a certain era of Laughing Hyenas for a few of those bonking runs but the noise punk/hardcore punk verve achieved on a few of these songs (“Reviewer”, “World of Mirror – World of Mind”) nonetheless helps set these folks apart from United States contemporaries such as Buildings, Child Bite and Pissed Jeans while the steadier bassline-fronted pieces set throughout the album leave the band sounding likewise conscious of the across the pond standouts of today like USA Nails and Blacklisters. Opener “Numbers” gets us there without a second wasted and sets the raw noise punk tone up front but I’d been particularly impressed with how that thread kept on pulling up more goods as the album soldiered on. The syncopated action-rock bustle you’d expect from post-hardcore and sometime sludge heavy pieces, aided by a mix from Chris Compton and always huge mastering from Brad Boatright, is likely the major draw for the average noise rock head looking for something ‘classicist’ but askew but I’d wanted to emphasize how much the punkish roll balances out the disassociative clangor of standout pieces like “Spent”, “Entitlement”, and huuuge late album strongarm “Fraud” which you are most likely to remember.

In terms of well-rounded but still righteously touched in the head tension rock Prayer Group have set the limbo bar low for 2022 with their debut record. Scumming, freaking, and kinda grinding an eternally anxietous rail in my brain ever since I’d picked it up this was an instant vinyl grab leading into groove-wearing obsessive spins on my part. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Michael Dose
LABEL(S):Reptilian Records
RELEASE DATE:February 18th, 2022

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