Rowan Oak are a four-piece emo punk band from Münster, Germany. Formed in 2012, the band describe their influences as headaches, heartbreaks, friends, family and the road – which sounds exactly like a band I could get on board with. Back in February, Rowan Oak released a new EP titled Hope And Ruin on Fond Of Life Records. I keenly took a listen.
Hope And Ruin opens with the song Build / Burn, kicking things off with a lone guitar before the drums and bass join after a few seconds. The opening lines of ‘Oh how I long for these nights in the basement…’ show that Rowan Oak are a DIY punk band through and through. The song ticks along at a fairly upbeat pace but there are moments where the instruments seem to slow down a little to allow the listener to really focus on the vocals. I’m reminded a lot of Welsh band Funeral For A Friend here which is totally not a bad thing as they were the soundtrack to my youth. Build / Burn is about trying really hard to make something work but it ultimately not turning out the way you planned. The line that really stood out to me is ‘All good things, have endings.’ Melancholic though it may be, it’s also… true. Yearn To Be Free is up next and it opens with an interesting little, almost improvised sounding, drum beat. After a short time the bass comes in, adding depth to the sound, before the vocals and guitars bring the melody. This is a slower paced song that oozes in emotion. The vocals verge on poppy as singer Flo Zandt tells the story of a relationship not working out and turning to alcohol to soften the pain. There’s a great section towards the end of the song where the lines ‘We yearn to be free.’ are repeated several times and two complimentary guitar melodies, along with the bass and drums, build and build. It actually ends up being an instrumental outro that slows down and finishes in a similar way to how the song began.
Dead In The Water is the third song of Hope And Ruin. The track has a fairly lengthy instrumental introduction, complete with some more of that almost experimental jam-style bass and drums action. When the vocals come in for the first verse it’s slow and soft sounding. Needless to say, even as the tempo seems to build, I wasn’t expecting the anger and volume that comes from the chorus. Showcasing a heavier side to their emo punk sound but without getting too ‘screamy’, I really enjoyed this change of pace from Rowan Oak. Switching back to the slower pace and cleaner vocals helps to hold the listener in suspense before another blast of angsty energy finishes the song. In perfect contrast, Better Self is a slower paced and hugely emotional song that opens with firm steady strums of the guitar. Something about it feels laid-back and almost dream-like as the melody carries you through the track. There is obviously a sad feeling to the song, this is an emo band after all. However, Better Self is about how – despite your outward persona – underneath there is a better perhaps happier version of yourself just waiting for the right person to bring it out. In a way, this is a bit of a love song with lines like ‘Everything seems effortless to you.’ and ‘You make me feel so alive.’ standing out. Perhaps saving the best for last, Rowan Oak close their EP with The Distance. Instantly more upbeat and more straight up punk rock sounding than previous tracks, The Distance will get punks and emo kids alike throwing their fists in the air. The song is about how certain friends will alway be close to your heart despite their physical distance from you at any given time because you always have the memories – ‘Forever with me, Wherever you may roam.’ It’s a theme that is not uncommon in punk rock but it’s great to hear Rowan Oak put their own spin on it and end Hope And Ruin on a high note.
You can check out Hope And Ruin on Bandcamp and like Rowan Oak on Facebook. I’ll be seeing the band live in a few months time at Booze Cruise Festival in Hamburg, maybe you should too!
This review was written by Emma Prew.