Blood to Water — The Warning bounces back from the pandemic heavier than ever
I have been boring the hell out of all my friends everywhere on the internets with posts about my new favorite band: The Warning, a hard rock trio from Monterrey, Mexico. They’re sisters and the oldest is barely 21 right now. They’re about to release their THIRD full length album and the anticipation is intense. My evangelism is having some effect: several times in the last couple weeks a friend has messaged me to say “… ok I finally checked out The Warning and…” followed by an invocation of the deity and a profane expression of awe.
During the pandemic year-plus I got into The Warning’s social media. As a result, like lots of fans, I got lots of glimpses into their lives. “We’re normal teenagers!” claimed drummer Paulina (Pau) Villarreal, in an interview with Guitar Girl magazine (where their profile immediately followed an interview with Nancy Wilson, my personal goddess since like 1975, and the proximity made me VERY HAPPY). And indeed, like normal teenagers, they goofed around with selfies and filters, played video games, listened to LOTS of pop music; and of course, being consummate professionals, they worked out every day to keep in shape, practiced, got new instruments, practiced, worked, worked, practiced, worked, rehearsed. Oh, and, they went to the States and recorded a new album. Plus they’ve had fun in their basement, releasing short clips of covers of pop songs from Miley Cyrus to Dua Lipa to Nelly Furtado (who promptly asked if she could join the band), to Billie Eilish. One might wonder, if this focus on pop might mean the band is turning from the dark, emotionally fraught content of their previous two albums, to something lighter and more commercial.
After a month or so of merciless teasing the band have released the first single from their upcoming album (whose title is still secret), entitled “Choke” (and yes, I do think this is a reference to the Alice in Chains song of the same name but I may be wrong). Any thoughts of this album being light, pop, teen-idol fare are dashed within seconds: 26 seconds, to be precise. The song starts, as many Warning songs start, with soft vocals from Dany Villarreal and a gently strummed electric guitar. I won’t say goodbye, in the end it won’t matter at all, I’m sure … I won’t survive the fall (ok, at this point it looks like it’s gonna be dark). And then there’s a sinister riff from a distorted guitar in the left channel that doesn’t get through a whole phrase before the rest of the band kicks in in mid-measure at top volume with maximum impact. And it’s heavier and more brutal than ever before.
The band and producer David Bendeth have opted for a wall of sound approach here, with the rhythm section (sisters Pau and Ale Villarreal) leading the way with powerful, thunderous beats and the guitar providing a cresting wave of static, and it’s absolutely glorious. Dany’s vocal pyrotechnics and Pau and Ale’s athletic fills turn the musical gain up to “Full Nuclear Exchange” and the enigmatic lyrics turn the darkness level down to “Vantablack.” If goth metal is not currently a thing, hello, this is it. There are a lot of those structural song bits that The Warning love: pre-chorus, bridge, breakdown, buildup, explosions, apocalypse. The second verse in particular features some extremely hooky bass lines from Ale and some astonishing rolls from Pau that recall some of Mario Duplantier’s best work. And deep in the mix, there are some very retro Jon Lord organ tones. Most excellent.
Unlike a lot of The Warning’s previous work, the lyrics here are obscure and not too explanatory, possibly inspired by the apocalyptic year of pandemic. This is pretty dark stuff. Let me dive in, sinking down, push my head, choke me ’til I drown … Yike. Here the water takes the place of the blood-soaked imagery of their previous albums, with a huge ration of WTF: But art is dead, it died with me, don’t cry, just let me drown … (what on earth does that mean) (I don’t care it’s awesome shut up). Combine this with absolutely thunderous power in the low end and oh, this is simultaneously mystifying and cathartic. There are tiny touches throughout the song that are exquisite. Ale making good use of the 5th string on her new bass in the second verse, getting a low note on it’s cold but this is where I’ll stay that just shakes the floor. In the last chorus, changes in the chord progression that up the intensity even further. And a jumpscare ending that mirrors the sudden entry at the beginning, very satisfying.
I highly recommend that a) you listen to this track b) with headphones, to get the full spectrum c) very loud d) repeatedly. And once you have done so you might just invoke the deity, followed by a profane expression of awe. The rest of the album is due some time soon (a word that now sends some fans into rabid, frothing frustration), and I’ll bet there are more gems like this on there. You have, as they say, been warned.
Postlude: On the night of “Choke’s” release, The Warning did an interview with LA radio fixture and former MTV personality Matt Pinfield. In a response to a question about “Choke’s” dark content (and, by implication, the bulk of The Warning’s challenging work), Paulina Villarreal stated: “‘Choke’ is about being so overwhelmed by your feelings that you start to drown on them and choke on them — and we really wanted the song to reflect that hopelessness you sometimes feel and just offer it to everyone as a safe place to feel those feelings, and just like a place of comfort for them.” Beautiful. Honestly, I can’t claim any objectivity here — I love these young people. Rock on.