“I’ve found that loss is a universal message with a variety of angles,” says Dikembe’s guitarist/vocalist Steven Gray. Muck, the fourth album from the Gainesville-based band, sees them at their most honest, accepting their darkest thoughts head-on, but never fully submitting.
Written as an intense version of therapy after Gray’s mother passed away, and with the most exhaustive and extensive recording process since their inception, Dikembe dug deep into the “sticky feelings” surrounding mental illness, depression and anxiety. Facing fear and an absence of hope, Muck accepts the harsh realities of life, and deals with the choices we have to make when faced with difficult decisions: “Why swim when you can sink?”
The loss of a parent, of a friend, of a mentor, someone taken too soon before you had a chance to say goodbye, accepting that sometimes there isn’t a resolution. Gray addresses these issues with an emotional clarity and searing honesty that forces you to take a deep look inwards, and figure out where you stand. It forces you to wade into the “muck,” and figure out who you really are. There are moments of hope (“Screw your head on straight/Then learn to love your lane” in “Stay Beat”), but they don’t last long: Gray urges the listener to “just retreat, it’s easier to stay beat,” as the song fades out with a big, dirty riff lifted straight out of classic rock.
Acceptance often isn’t easy or pretty, but it’s necessary. It’s hard and it’s dark, and Dikembe mimic this in their arrangements. Using live piano and strings for the first time, and including numerous modes of percussion and engineering techniques, Muck is the most sonically diverse and in-depth example of Dikembe’s musical prowess. They’re more-rounded and more confident, and they’re also heavier than they have ever been, thanks in part to the addition of Andrew Anaya (You Blew It!, Pool Kids) on lead guitar. David Bell’s signature drumming and his unconventional fills power Dikembe along, while bassist Randy Reddell is a consistent and solid backbone for Gray’s laments.
“At most I’m a ghost/So just send me down below” Gray sings on “Throat,” accepting his fate, while “Old Husks” sees him railing against the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the music industry. “I don’t miss the days/Of being a pawn or a martyr in somebody’s imperfect game.” This shift in mindset, veering from nihilism to anger, is evident throughout. Dikembe are pissed, but they’re aware. It’s not self-pity, though. Dikembe and Gray know their flaws, and they are all too ready to own up to them. Even when trying to right a wrong, Gray still acknowledges that the outcome will be less than favourable – “breathe deep in an attempt to cultivate a perfect mess.”
With Muck, it feels like Dikembe are settled. They have found their place, they’ve acknowledged where they fit, and they’ve stopped fighting it. Far from depressing, though, that is a message of hope. We are consistently sold the lie that progression equals success, that if we’re not positive, we can’t move forward. Dikembe expel that myth and instead show that there is power in recognizing what you have. Your flaws are not something you should necessarily try and fix. They are you. You are them. It’s time you recognized it, and get deep in the muck alongside Dikembe. – Conor Mackie