While at the Phoenix Alternative Festival, one of the acts I managed to watch was The Dark Design. The band aren’t a typical three-piece. Not only in the way that there can be anything up to ten of them. But that they inject steampunk directly into the operation of their percussion. Steampunk influences bands in many ways; be it through lyrical content, instruments used, fashion or character development. Othneil and co go about it somewhat differently though. According to legend their percussion system is operated by a long deceased member of the band called Daphne Desilva. It’s actually an automaton percussive system designed, built and operated by their very own Professor Krankensteine. The automated parts are Glockenspiel, Drums, Horns, Hammered Dulcimer and various percussion. They’ve never had it 100% all together at the same time because – as a modular system – they don’t necessarily need all the instruments at every show. What that leads to, though, is each live gig being completely unique.
The band is a group of time travelling musicians. Kind of like travelling minstrels of old but with better toys, more science and infinitely cooler. Listening to the lyrics it makes me wonder what adventures have befallen them through the ages. The EP is made up of 6 songs: Lye Street, Gardens of Babylon, Queen of the Sea, Southern Swell, Haggard Rider and Iron Heart.
The first song starts off explaining about a female called Carnival. It alludes to a bigger story and that’s because it is. The songs take place in the fictional universe of the novella Lye Street written by Alan Campbell. This novella is a prequel to the novel Scar Night which is part of the Deepgate Codex series. Carnival is a fallen angel. The song is a rolling, catchy number with a memorable melody. It seems to have flavours of folk music mixed with some pirate shanty inspiration. However, that’s not an indication of what style of music the EP is full of. Each song couldn’t be more different in style from the fairground style travelling marionette music of Gardens of Babylon, to the distinct reggae sound of Queen of the Sea; which connects to the Caribbean and early ocean exploration and pirates.
Othneil Cope – the lead singer – also changes his style of singing throughout the songs from ballad like styles on Gardens of Babylon to rambling regret on Southern Swell and apt storytelling style of Haggard Rider. While Queen of the Sea seems to be more of a recital to oneself. Kind of like Cope is thinking aloud. Maybe this is down to the fact that he’s encountered a Mermaid and wonders if he’s crazy? Normally not being able to quite make out the lyrics would annoy me, but I actually think it adds to the style of Queen of the Sea. It’s as if he’s trying to make sense of what’s happened to him and is voicing all his thoughts about it. It’s easy to quietly mutter thoughts out loud when we think we’re going mad.
Each song deals with a different fantastical adventure. The aforementioned Mermaid encounter of Queen of the Sea, while Gardens of Babylon deals with time travel. The light relief of the EP comes in the shape of Southern Swell which has more of a comedic feel to it. The first two verses are describing the look of the ship, gushing about the fine detail and opulence. The final verse boasts about how fast she is as the band drink a toast to her memory. I do like the amusing element to Southern Swell with the muttering misery of stupidly losing the ship in a game of cards. The long trumpets and bouncing instrumental harpsichord are reminiscent of Madness.
In Gardens of Babylon the narration mentions “Cope” which is likely Othneil Cope, the band leader. It appears that it’s a love song about Cope meeting someone who he wishes to spend his life with. He promises her the world and such delights including the Gardens of Babylon – an ancient wonder of the world. This is something that everyone does for the love of their life, so doesn’t seem out of place in the love song. At the start of the song, the narrator suggests that he discovers time travel. So reaching such incredible destinations isn’t out of reach for them. In fact memorable historical locations and destinations are noted as well as the Gardens of Babylon, such as the Big Bang and the Somme. It’s a gorgeous, moving song that has a lot of emotion.
The Dark Design Three Wishes EP review Conclusion
There’s a lot of thought gone into the creation of each song that’s on the EP. The back story is completely enveloped in a fictional world created by an author for his novels. The band is capable of time travel and this shows in the way the songs are written, sung and performed. They implement many different genres of music and each one brings up false memories allowing the listener to reminisce about a life that wasn’t lived. It’s not just the genres that are cleverly made though. Gardens of Babylon – the love song of the EP – is slow and uses a style of music that’s associated with mysticism, romance and intrigue. Contrastingly, Southern Swell is distinctly faster – arguably to reflect the speed of the ship. But also laments the loss of a ship that they love deeply and the sad brass section conveys that perfectly.
The most prominently interesting thing I like about The Dark Design’s songs is their inclusion of a short preamble before it starts. This narrative gives a background to the song and meaning behind the lyrics. At a gig this is normally done by the band members “This next song is all about…” etc. Integrating the narrative of the song into the introduction is a really innovative way of explaining the inspiration behind it.
The lyrics have some really interesting parts to them that give an indication of the larger back story. Lines such as “we did all we could for the wounded at the Somme” from Gardens of Babylon and “In all the worlds in all of time” from Southern Swell allude to a fantastical adventure that’s unfolding as we listen. The album is promising to expand this glimpse into the universe of The Dark Design. The band will also be using all the instruments that are operated by their ghost member Daphne Desilva. They’ve never used all of them in a gig at once, so to hear them all at work should be pretty good.
My only gripe with this is that the EP I received is different to the one on sale on their Reverbnation page (link below). The one on sale features two songs called Fall of the Northern Star and Tale of the Red Queen which aren’t on the sample I received. That being said, the three track EP on sale (the third track being The Ballad of the Southern Swell) is only $3.87 for the download, so it’s not going to break the bank for a sample of what is set to be a stunning album.
To learn more, become a fan and to buy The Dark Design’s music, go to their Reverbnation page by clicking this text.
You can find out about the band such as where they’re performing or when the album is dropping by following them on Facebook.