Royal Coda, the Blue Swan super-group, has metamorphosed into a masterpiece with their second studio LP Compassion.
Compassion is Royal Coda’s gem, uniting its members with Will Swan and Steffan Gotsch in an orchestrated reach for greatness. In a sleek eight tracks, Compassion depicts itself grandly.
Throughout Compassion, Royal Coda weaves intricate and expressive textures with space to breathe. Royal Coda knows when to be magnificent, and they know when to drive their point home simply. Compassion strikes this balance well. Compassion’s production is sharp and imaginative. Their transitions predict and subvert a listener’s expectations while achieving deeply cathartic results.
Compassion paints a cinematic soundscape across a great many moods. It builds cyclopean walls of sound, and it evokes ghastly refrains of death and memory. Through gyroscopic motion and Marie Kondo-like spacing, Compassion inundates a listener with sweet, sanguine emotion.
A Superstar Cast:
Every year brings another “supergroup” to the scene. Because of this, I furrow my expectations for the term more and more each year. Certainly, Royal Coda wildly surpasses my jaded expectations and pushes the term “supergroup” forward. Here’s how each member does it.
Kurt Travis’ vocals are sweet and intense, rhythmic and poetic- a fitting core to fuel the band’s biggest moments. Travis’ blistering intensity pushes Compassion’s choruses to hurricane force. His expressive melodies layer together beautifully. Topped off with a kick of nimble rhythmic style, Travis takes risks and wins big in Compassion.
Sergio Medina’s eloquent guitar style escapes description. An untrained ear would liken his fervent fretting to Santana or Hendrix. Medina plucks life-giving spells through his guitars, animating their sound to that of Living Creatures. Tempered and furious, spring-loaded and ethereal. Medina plucks and flourishes his way to the heart of Compassion’s most evocative moments. He punctuates Compassion’s tracks with physics-defying euphoria.
Joseph Arrington’s percussion doesn’t freaking let up. To start, he nails the duality between frenetic and low-key, filling and leaving space with virtuoso confidence. Arrington’s resting pulse is where many drummers peak. Next, the way he gets his cymbals to whisper are perfect for the quieter moments of Compassion. When he goes off, the results are fresh and gargantuan. His solo in Arms Race for God’s Grace floods the soundscape with bustling toms and a perfect splash. Overall, Arrington channels space in Compassion’s sporadic simplicity to turn quiet into quality, and I can’t get enough.
Will Swan’s debut performance on Compassion exceeds the guitarist’s legendary reputation. Firstly, his bustling tremolo chop licks and perfectly curated tone are in peak form in Compassion. Next is the fat spoonful of funk that comes together with the acclaimed pacing of Dance Gavin Dance’s best instrumentals. Finally, Swan’s weightless, growling buzz and high-octane wah effects electrify Compassion’s grooves. How he manages to fit so much sound into a single riff still baffles me.
In an interesting timeline, Swan and Donovan Melero end up contributing the basswork of Compassion. They bring a sophisticated, unique low end to the group with swooping crescents and deep melodies. When departing from the primary goal of meticulous tempo-keeping, the bass plugs into Swan’s tremolo and Arrington’s spacious licks tastefully, with exceptional voicing in Ruby Leaf.
Compassion’s Song-craft is on a whole other level.
We’ll go straight from the top. For starters, Ruby Leaf did what every good opening track should. It put a well-orchestrated showcase of sizable talent on a silver platter, and then handed it to me. Sprawling sound walls! Unconventionally-voiced breakdowns! It was delightful, and it gave me every answer I wanted. Because of this, I was free to get comfortable for the rest to come.
What followed in Compassion was a wild ride.
Compassion started and grew. A deathly-cold refrain about remembering old loves nipped at my soul. Next, an airy and melancholy “ghost waltz” showed me a thin glass wall between life and death. From there, an eruptive line of mosh-pit funk got me off my seat and grooving with glee. Following that, a carefree and tropical bounce lifted my spirits with a charming “So what?” resilience. In another moment, a massive wall of sound came to life like liquid gold, fueled from above by masterful vocal phrasing. At the crux, an anthemic lyric line wove a deeply moving story inside a sonic skyfall.
These picturesque moments sound amazing, and evolve in the context of the songs they’re in. I love seeing melodies complicate, and the earlier track “The Innocence Of” is a perfect example. I can’t hear the chorus the same after that chilling refrain hits.
Compassion- For Fans Of:
Many elements in Compassion remind me of others. One of the early introductions sounded like a subtle discovery, reminding me of Stolas’ Anhedonia. Some ends of Compassion flourished, others rang big and bold like the brighter side of Dance Gavin Dance’s recent albums. Sprawling moments in Becoming the Memory have an essence of VIS’ beautiful chaos. The key signature of All in Question sounded grand and ancient, and immediately reminded me of Bring me the Horizon’s Can You Feel My Heart? Travis’ quick lines and balmy layers in Becoming the Memory feel like a clear nod to Andres, and I like it.
All these moments are unique and memorable, but none of them could prepare me for Compassion’s Climax.
Don’t Stay Long, Compassion’s penultimate track, redefines the way a band breaks their limits. “Don’t” doesn’t break them, it liquefies them.
It’s an amalgam that melts every rule and expectation the rest of Compassion builds. Its beauty is almost hedonistic. It’s like a masquerade between twin vocals at peak expressiveness and the two iconic guitar styles, playfully impersonating each other with intoxicating displays of peacock somberness. It’s almost as if Royal Coda as a whole plays pretend as something entirely different.. I’m not going to say the S-word.
The guitarists’ styles are usually recognizable, but no longer. Medina and Swan craftily play to each other’s intersections, plucking and sweeping with melded styles, and I’ve never seen it before.
Guest Vocalist Donovan Melero (Hail the Sun, Nova Charisma) is the piece that completes it all. Melero has struck a delicious tonal balance between Nova Charisma and Secret Wars influences. It’s a perfect response to Travis’ call. Melero’s signature touch does more than steal the show- it etches the character of Travis’ vocals even deeper into Compassion’s essence. The two vocal icons taking stylistic turns leave me breathless and frazzled.
Wrap it all up with that battering closing cadence and anthemic pacing, and we have a contestant for song of the year.
EDIT: Steffan Gotsch was originally credited for the bass on Compassion. As specified in the Compassion physical copy, Will Swan and Donovan Melero are the contributors of Compassion’s bass voice.