AUDIO REVIEW: Army of Dreamers, by Poison Garden

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Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • The 2nd full-length album from Poison Garden
  • 40 minutes and 34 seconds
  • Steampunk Rock
  • Released on 21/04/2022

I don’t think there’s a literary genre that has taken to music quite so well as steampunk. Yes, there is a lot of crossover between epic fantasy and power metal,, but steampunk’s musical side has taken on a life of its own that equals, and perhaps even outstrips, the literary roots from which it sprang. Between bands, solo artists, and full-cast musicals, steampunk music has absolutely exploded in the past decade. And it’s a truly worldwide phenomenon. The UK boasts chap-hop (a very genteel sort of rap) superstars in the form of Professor Elemental and his on/off rival Mr B. the Gentleman Rhymer. In the United States, bands are much more common, from the whimsey of Steam Powered Giraffe, to the gothic oddness of Abney Park. And it was another US group, The Cog Is Dead, that first brought Poison Garden to my attention.

Poison Garden describe themselves as Italy’s first steampunk rock band, and I have no reason to doubt them. Their debut album A Victorian Carol released in 2017, though their most famous work is likely the collaborative work ‘Divided We Stand’ – a mid-COVID release that brought together dozens of steampunk artists from around the world. If you haven’t listened to it, it’s a great song, and has led me to many more artists. But now Poison Garden are back to working solo with their second album.

Musically, Poison Garden are what I would categorise as soft rock, or perhaps I’ll show my age and call it Indie. Stylistically, the songs wouldn’t be out of place among earlier releases from The Killers or Imagine Dragons – both bands whom I hold in high esteem. Army of Dreamers is driven by guitars and drums, overlaid with soft vocals. There are at times a slight techno vibe, with the whole album managing to be both fast paced and relaxing. No mean feat that!

The lead single ‘Tin Man’ stands out as an immediate favourite, but this is largely because I’ve had longer to listen to it. On my first few listens of the whole album, none of the songs really stood out on their own. They’re all good, and there’s nothing in here I’d immediately skip over, but there’s also nothing that made me click my fingers and say, ‘This is the one.’ But these are songs that grow on you over time, and after only a couple of listens, a couple of songs cemented themselves in my brain. ‘Fragile As Porcelain’ climbs to the top of the order, evoking images of broken dolls, as delicate as the song is haunting. At the other end of the spectrum is ‘War Engine,’ which provides a fist-pumping, bombastic number. When the weakest link is a ninety second overture, you know an album is good.

The steampunk element of Poison Garden is not so much in their lyrics, as in their presentation. Running beneath every musical beat is the clicking of cogs and the hiss of pistons, and when the band takes to the stage, they do under pseudonyms and garbed in elaborate costumes. While the latter obviously doesn’t feature in a studio album, it speaks to the performative element at the heart of all good steampunk. Poison Garden aren’t just making music, they’re making a world.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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