It’s been just over four years since the release of Oxygen Thief’s second album, The Half-Life Of Facts, and the world has changed a lot in that time. In fact, a lot has changed since Barry Dolan started the project in Bristol back in 2006, and the 11 tracks of Confusion Species are the sound of him trying to make sense of it all, rather than be overwhelmed, lost and consumed by the sludge and noise of this modern, post-Brexit, post-Trump world.
“Everyone is constantly bombarded with things in the news and on social media” he says. “Your phone’s going off all the time and there’s a constant need to keep up with things. As someone who tries to be politically engaged, I want to stay informed, but there’s a point where that tide just becomes overwhelming.”
Simultaneously angry at and perplexed by the state of, well, everything, Confusion Species is a raucous, bellicose call-to-arms punctuated by Oxygen Thief’s now-trademark barrage of furious riffs and chaotic layers of intense and inspiring sounds. Interestingly, this record comes after a quieter, gentler and more introspective side-project of Dolan’s called Non Canon, which focussed more on beauty than it did on abrasive, ear-bruising sounds. While they’re musically worlds apart, Non Canon nevertheless had a distinct impact on what would later become this record.
“Because I spent a while doing this mellow thing about feelings, being more chilled out onstage and concentrating on singing and playing nicely,”Dolan explains, “putting together a really heavy, loud record with the band really distilled what I wanted to do. I feel like we stripped a lot of excess fat out of it in the studio. We just wanted to get in, play the songs, do the riffs and move onto the next one. Hopefully it’s an album that will smash people in the face for a bit but which they’ll then want to listen to again – rather than it being an epic long thing that you have to work at.”
Starting as a one-man acoustic riff machine, Oxygen Thief expanded to a three-piece in 2013 with the addition of bassist Neil Elliott and drummer Ben Whyntie, who – as with the first full-length – recorded this album at The Old Blacksmiths, the studio they run in Portsmouth.
“As well as being my band,” says Dolan, “they’re a pair of studio wizards. They had a vision for how they wanted to produce the album and they were pretty excited about making something massive sounding.”
It’s impossible to deny that’s exactly what they did. Beginning with the unsettling crunch of ‘End Of The Pier Pressure’, this is a powerful tour de force of a record that grips you by the ears and shakes your brain violently. ‘Uncommon People’ is a clattering crash of heavy, angular noise, ‘Rubbish Life Is Modern’ crescendos into a breathtaking, juddering, shuddering clamour and ‘Graffiti; Irony; Lists’ is a paroxysm of outrage and disbelief.
These aren’t just songs to make you bang your head, however – they’re designed to make you think and bring attention to issues, too. The latter track, for example, navigates the trenches of politics and history to serve not only as a commentary on Brexit’s false promises, but also to decry the racist past of Dolan’s hometown. Weaving past and present together, that song – like all of them on a the record – is a fascinating collection of ideas that combine to address a whole spectrum of ideas all at once rather than deliver one specific polemic.
“I don’t necessarily have direct experience of all these issues,” Dolan says, “so I don’t have an ownership of those subjects, which means that a straightforward way writing lyrics about them feels quite false to me. So I feel like trying to express my frustrations and feelings about those while occasionally locking into something specific like the “blue passports and imperial measures line” – which is quite a clear line. But that same song also has a line about Edward Colston, a slave trader who made his fortune from murder and enslavement and torture and rape – and then spent a lot of that money building Bristol. So we have this wonderful progressive city where all our MPs are Labour and we have Green councilors, and we’re probably one of the most pro-remain constituencies from the referendum, but we’re a city that’s literally built on the blood of others.”
To that extent, as much as these songs are designed to make you mosh – and to be honest, you’ll probably find it very hard not to – their other purpose is to effect change, to make you engage with the world around it and, ultimately, make you want to change it.
“I’ve always been on this left-wing progressive side of things,” he says, “but as time’s gone on I’ve learned that it’s not enough to just passively not be a racist or a homophobe or a misogynist. As a cisgendered, heterosexual, white man from a reasonably comfortable upbringing, it’s not enough to just be like ‘I’m not doing hate speech I’m good.’ You have to do something, to stand up and say ‘That isn’t right.’”
At the very same time, these songs are vehicle for Dolan to learn more about himself, both as an artist with a platform and as a human with emotions, fears, insecurities and everything else that comes with being alive.
“I want to be an ally. I’m a social justice worrier – I try and be a warrior but sometimes I’m more of a worrier.”
As this record demonstrates, there’s absolutely no reason why he can’t be both.
Confusion Species will be available at all usual retailers on the 16th November 2018 through Xtra Mile Recordings.
Oxygen Thief are:
Barry Dolan – Guitar, Vocals
Neil Elliott – Bass
Ben Whyntie – Drums
Oxygen Thief on tour:
20 Oct – York, One For The Road Fest SOLD OUT
06 Nov – Isle Of Wight, Strings*
07 Nov – Tunbridge Wells, Forum*
08 Nov – Norwich, Waterfront*
09 Nov – Corby, White Hart*
10 Nov – Cheltenham, Frog & Fiddle*
11 Nov – Bristol, Crofters*
12 Nov – Stoke, Sugarmill*
13 Nov – Southampton, Joiners*
14 Nov – Leicester, Firebug*
15 Nov – London, The Monarch
* w/ Jonah Matranga
Oxygen Thief online: