The Red Eyes – Red Army

Melbourne’s The Red Eyes have just released their second long player and in the process have cemented their status as one of Australasia’s greatest exponents of dub reggae. Red Army is an hour of deep and solid grooves that easily matches the standard set by similar acts from New Zealand like Salmonella Dub, Black Seeds and Fat Freddy’s Drop.

Red Army runs the gamut of styles within the reggae genre. It gets righteous, hits the dancefloor, seduces and hypnotises with great variation across its fifteen tracks. Early on they even indulge in a cover version of Talking Heads’ I Get Wild / Wild Gravity and convincingly make it their own. The variety in sound doesn’t swing wildly in an attempt to cover all bases, there is still a cohesiveness that ensures a flow and sense of continuity to the album.

It is almost impossible to stop your head from nodding as the bass drops on Titokowaru’s War, a tale of war when the Maori were forced to defend their land against colonial attack. The theme of land control and cultural imperialism also appears on Road To Jericho, a seven minute slow jam that sways along, heavy lidded in mood but deep and prophetic in content. The hook line is impossibly catchy with frontman El Witeri quietly unleashing sweet and soaring melodies in a lovers rock style.

Witeri is the key to The Red Eyes not becoming pleasant background reggae music – BBQ Dub – as it is disparagingly referred to by some. He possesses the ability to sing in a sweet, warm tone and then change it up on a track like Remedy with its party vibe, chants and growling ragga-isms. Too often reggae singers ape the obvious influences of Marley, Tosh and Minnott and though Witeri doesn’t ignore those voices he has certainly developed his own style.

When the 7 piece band stretch themselves you hear instruments like guitar, horns, keyboards and appearing and disappearing, all the while with the mix locking the song in. Interludes like Martian Repairs and Friend Or Foe? highlight the electronic leanings of some in the band, something that works wonderfully when they expose their more adventurous side by utilising dub effects like reverb, delay and echo to create space and mood in the music.

Red Army packs a lot into an hour but there is very little filler. If taken in the right context and with a lack of regard for time then it is an absorbing journey. Theirs is the kind of music that sounds magnificent in headphones but as shown at recent shows it can also become a larger and more dynamic musical beast when the bass hits you in the chest and the riddims take out a mortgage on your legs. The Red Eyes have stretched themselves and captured their sound brilliantly on Red Army. A global audience is surely waiting.