Artists reflect the times in which they live. As such, pandemic-inspired albums will be hitting the shelves, airwaves, and devices for years to come. The effects of isolation, fear, misinformation, and existential threat will permeate the culture in countless ways. Some will do it through grandiose metaphorical concept albums and others by plain-spoken storytelling.

With the way our lives have been completely upended since early last year, you would think Squanky Kong's latest record Dawn of the Cataclysm would denote an album centred around the onslaught of COVID-19. However, according to project mastermind James Michael House, the title originated in 2019 before the world was hit with the pernicious coronavirus. Before 2020, we almost forget how on the brink our world really was and once we finally emerge out from the pandemic way of life, those problems will still remain. On this new album, House explores those issues in stark detail, attempting to maintain a degree of hopefulness throughout. “Topics such as climate change, plastic pollution, war, corruption, and artificial intelligence were inspirations for the album concept as a whole."

James Michael House is Squanky Kong's sole consistent member, bringing on top-level contributors to fill out the ranks. As well as ringers on drums and organ, he has enlisted four different singers to carry out vocal duties. Each one bringing their own style of metal or hard rock to the table. What emerges is a kind of U.N. council-type situation with each delegate delineating a specific societal crisis. The messages are delivered via House's signature heavy progressive sound.

Robust and versatile vocalist Leah Martin-Brown helms the mic for five of the eight tracks. Her delivery alternating between sailing over House's epic orchestration and locking into the ratcheting riffing. A sound that will be very welcome to Lacuna Coil devotees. 'Across the Uncanny Valley' lurches and stomps, rising and falling with dizzying slides. The lead single 'Know End Insight' cruises with that L.A. glam-tinged, punk rock energy. 'The Gadget' blends early 90s Tool with Soundgarden.

New blood enters the game on 'Parade the Plastic Planet' with the vocals of Brad Schecter. A demented circus vibe is met by Schecter's sardonic Patton-esque delivery. The lyrics tear into our planet's sick addiction to the insidious silicon distraction in our hands. Schecter plays the ringmaster, showcasing the varying symptoms of our device obsession in horrifying eloquence. 'Despicable Doublethink' carries on the oddball feel with a punchy funk descended from Les Claypool's oeuvre, with Martin-Brown returning to weave her full-throated vocals throughout House's quirky madness.

'War by Proxy' introduces Vin Corrigan who brings a battle-ready chant that straddles the line between Araya and Hetfield. The track highlighting the cowardliness of sending men to die for unrighteous causes also embraces the chugging riffery of the Big Four of Thrash Metal. Finally, DEROSNEC occupies the vocal mantle for the final two numbers. The investigation of warring domestic factions 'Traitors in the Midst' alongside Schecter and the aspirational 'We Make the World' which serves as a reminder that our thoughts and actions are making a new future every day.

James Michael House has found a great blueprint for creating a multi-faceted album; recruit the singers that fit the kind of song that you're writing. The record has a depth not only thanks to House's wide range of influences and his aptitude at writing in a variety of styles but because of the evolving cast of voices. Dawn of the Cataclysm is prescient and acts as a call to action to act to better the world while we can.