ruin (2021) is the third album released by the London-based musical group The Amazing Devil, a dramatic, lyrical alt-folk band formed by Joey Batey (currently best known for playing Jaskier in the Netflix fantasy drama series The Witcher) and Madeleine Hyland. The album confronts many of the themes found in previous releases: depression, addiction, grief and empty nest syndrome, and the survival or dissolution of marriages and other relationships in the face of trauma and recovery. Many of the songs on this album contain lyrical or musical references to past songs, serving as continued narration or "answers" to the questions those songs asked. Like the previous album, The Horror and the Wild (2020), this album is a coherent, virtually seamless masterpiece, with smooth transitions from one song to the next, spectacular lyrics, ethereal and powerful vocals by Batey and Hyland, and instrumentation which ranges from fragile vulnerability to battle cries and oncoming storms.
Secret Worlds 05:18 I will suffer silence for the strings you tune / And I’ll withstand what’s written for the writer in you / Write me well my love, write me weird / Write me willing, write me wild
This song is a dancing, energetic, ferocious dialogue between Batey and Hyland, reminiscing about the magical early days - whether their childhoods or the start of the romantic relationship described by other songs throughout their discography. They sing about writing, as well, and the way an artist's career can render him emotionally unreachable for his loved ones, even as those loved ones are treated - perhaps exploitatively - as muses to inspire more music.
The Calling 06:09 Oh I look into the waters / long ago that current caught us and we tried / I tried I really fucking tried / But the rain kept coming down
I watch that woman drown / Shoulder the sky, Open those eyes, There’s a kind of calling
This one suggests it was written as a companion or answer to "Farewell Wanderlust" from the previous album, discussing alcoholism, loss of identity to the expectations of others, and the process of recovery beginning at embracing uncommunicated pain and disappointment. The character narrating this song is found again in the final song in the album, "Inkpot Gods," and may or may not be considered the same figure as Hyland's other performances in this album, or the same "she" Batey mentions elsewhere.
Drinking Song for the Socially Anxious 05:36 In a moment of total rapture and with every strength I have / I ask if you play D&D / And your face lights up like you’ve woken up / From this endless fucking nightmare of pretending this is you, this is us, this is me, this how we’re meant to be / But your smile tells me I’m safe, and that voice unspoken’s heard / Cos if god make us all in his image, Then god’s a fucking nerd
This song is the odd egg in the crate, shy and self-effacing, sung like a conversation more than a song. It's recognisable as related to "Fair" from the previous album, perhaps as a "prequel," a narrative of how two socially anxious people met and came to be a couple.
Blossoms 04:29 I climb up the ladder, had I taken more care I might have seen all the rot in the rungs / And I pack what is needed / For the journey to come
All my books, all my bracken and booze / And the door shuts behind me, and I breathe in the air / And say yeah, well I’m sorry too
Companion to "Farewell Wanderlust" from The Horror and the Wild, "Blossoms" is a chaotic, angry, self-accusing appeal to "the saint of never getting it right." Over the course of the song, the narrator grows to realise that he alone is not solely responsible for the breaking of his codependent and abusive relationship, stating "you do not get to hurt me just because I asked you once if you were alright."
Chords 05:17 Go tell them how we failed you and gift to us all your blame / Cos we’ll be all that you hate about yourself so you can grow / Cos life begins by leaving and our love is shown in the letting go
Characterised by tight harmonies and a tighter lyrical interplay of Batey singing one set of lyrics while Hyland sings another, this song (along with "Inkpot Gods") sounds most like a companion piece to "Marbles" and "Welly Boots" from the previous album. The lyrics express the loss and distance that develops between generations of a family, whether children leaving the nest or parents entering retirement. It's also about how this change damages the identity of those whose filial relationships have grown apart, and how this identity loss can either break parents' marriage, or create opportunity for them to become closer in their children's absence. Certain elements bring to mind "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.
The Old Witch Sleep and the Good Man Grace 08:51 I’ve been here so many times before, don’t you think I look pretty curled up on this bathroom floor? / Cos where you see weakness I see wit / Sometimes I fall to pieces just to see what bits of me don’t fit
What begins as a quiet almost-lament develops gradually into a manic frenzy about insomnia, mental illness, the social isolation created by fame, the pressure on artists to continue creating in order to keep food on the table, and the struggle with perfectionism.
Ruin 04:47 Our mortar was your laughter, and you hurled curses at the land / We didn’t talk. We made universes out of bitten lips and broken hands / And you said I love you less than when It all began / and I said fewer, cos I make jokes to show how broken I really am
Many of The Amazing Devil's songs are about relationship endings and moving on, but this one is about the painstaking reconstruction of a marriage that has fallen apart.
Inkpot Gods 04:58 And I can hear her sing, and I know she’s giving up / And I don’t know what to do, how to help her, how to bring her home / And I can hear him break, and he doesn’t understand / And I wish that I could take his hand, but where I’m going is for me and me alone / And I can her sing: If I don’t make it back from where I’ve gone / Just know I loved you all along
The instrumentation, lyrics, and vocal performance lead me to suspect this song might be an homage (or at least a reference) to "Wake Me Up" by the late Avicii. This piece appears to continue the narrative from "Little Miss Why So" released in Love Run (2016), their first album. Depending how one chooses to interpret it, the lyrics could be describing a woman whose depression has taken her to the point of contemplating suicide, but they could equally be interpreted as a woman whose rehabilitation from addiction and trauma have changed her so drastically that her partner can no longer recognise her, unable to accept that she has already moved on and grown incompatible with him. These themes are also found in "Battle Cries" from the 2020 album, if one interprets the song as a breakup song and not a song of desperation.
These are songs which search out something of universal human experience in the listener, and upon finding it, they go for your throat, prying open old wounds and offering new light with which to examine them. These are songs to cry to, while feeling victorious or determined or hopeful, because they express that nobody is uniquely alone in suffering or struggle: struggle is an immortal certainty. ruin comes recommended to fans of Florence + The Machine, Agnes Obel, The Crane Wives, Of Monsters and Men, and The Oh Hellos. The quieter and more melancholy compositions may also appeal to fans of Sleeping At Last, Sigur Rós, The National, and Death Cab for Cutie. Their more intense and energetic compositions may appeal to those who have enjoyed Woodkid, The Decemberists, Avicii, and Hozier.
Iron Noder 2021, 21/30