How Members of Korn, Bad Brains, A7X Helped Islander Find New ‘Power’
With their lineup reconstructed, Islander started writing Power Under Control, which is as much a rebirth as a follow-up. Like Violence & Destruction, the record features a broad range of styles, including nu-metal, punk, emo and alt-rock, but this time the songwriting is sharper and more experimental, the playing tighter and the narrative linear. The title of the album comes from the New Testament definition of meekness, and the songs follow the adventures of a character that starts out angry, selfish and hedonistic and gradually learns the value of love and sacrifice.
While the concept for Power Under Control is positive, many of the songs are unsettling and the path of creation was littered with frustration and pain. When they started writing, the once South Carolina-based Islander were scattered across the country: Carvajal and new bassist Ezekiel Vasquez were in Indiana, Bareis was in Arizona and Ilejay was near Los Angeles. They all agreed to work on the album in L.A. and stay with Ilejay’s parent-in-laws, which wasn’t exactly stress-free. In addition, finances were tight and during the process, a close friend of the band committed suicide.
The turmoil resounds in opening track “Darkness” (watch the video above), a tale of decadence and irresponsibility driven by surging down-tuned guitars, sewer-scraping bass lines and half-rapped, half-sung vocals. “Before we started writing, we turned on The Shining to set a horror-based tone,” Carvajal says. “Then we started playing and all these ugly sounds poured out of us.”
Lyrically, “Darkness” starts the main character’s journey with lines like, “I’m into lust, flesh/The cheapest kind of sex/I don’t even need to know your name” and “I can’t love, but I love to hate.”
“That song is a cry for help. It’s the character saying he’s into all this craziness that the world has to offer and nobody’s going to be able to change him,” Carvajal says. “I feel like that’s the way a lot of people are today. They don’t want to learn how to yield to love or to give themselves up for other people. They’re not willing to lay down their wants and desires and they just don’t care.”
Other songs on the album reveal different shades of Islander’s musical palette. “Bad Guy,” the album’s first single, opens with a glistening web of echoing, muted guitar notes and builds through a punchy main verse and a yearning chorus reminiscent of Afghan Whigs. And “Beelzebub” combines minor-key synth, haunting xylophone and gliding, textural guitar before pulsing stabs and piercing screams shatter the calm. One of the catchiest cuts, “Think It Over,” is a hybrid of pop-punk and funk metal, which includes cheerleader chants and static-filled guest vocals by Bad Brains vocalist H.R., who recorded his contribution via cellphone and despite suffering from painful headaches.
The musical diversity of Power Under Control could make Islander accessible to fans of various genres – which, for Carvajal, is part of the beauty of the band’s reconfiguration.
“We believe we’re the type of band that can go on tour with Justin Bieber,” he says. “And we want to play shows with Copeland and Aesop Rock. Johnny Cash once said, ‘The people just want four chords and the truth,’ and at the end of the day I think that idea still applies.”