Maranatha takes a darker turn but still finds some light

The heavy trio will celebrate the release of its new self-titled EP with a concert at Spacebar on Saturday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

Even a glance at the titles populating Maranatha’s new self-titled EP suggests the desolation within: “Desolate,” “Apathy,” “To the Grave.” But while the earth-pulverizing music can be undeniably bleak, it’s underpinned by a sense of hope that surfaces in the album’s closing refrain (“Keep pushing”), as well as in the track “Daughters,” which is rooted in the band members' experiences as parents.

“This record covers a lot of ground. There’s politics, there’s religion, there’s relationships, there’s parenthood, there’s misogyny,” said guitarist and singer Collin Simula, who will join bandmates Jack Huston (bass/vocals) and Wes Jackson (drums) for a release show at Spacebar on Saturday, Aug. 14 (proof of vaccination is required for entry, via either a physical vaccination card or a photo of the vaccination card, along with a matching photo ID). “But we have to remain hopeful. The song ‘Daughters,’ for instance, Jack and I both have kids, and he has two daughters and I have one, and that song is really a love letter to them. It’s kind of saying, ‘Hey, it’s your turn to really take charge. … Tap into that ferocity I know you have.’”

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The collective urging arrives amid a stream of bad news, with Huston and Simula surveying a planet in environmental decline (“The waste fills up our throats”), corrupted political and economic systems (“Thieves and liars multiply”), and a preponderance of false prophets — an outward look that has increasingly revealed itself in more recent years.

“Early on, when it was just my project, Maranatha was an open diary of my struggles with faith, with spirituality, with being a young parent,” said Simula, who expanded the project with the addition of Huston in 2014, Jackson completing the current lineup when he joined three years later. “When Jack joined, his lyrical style is a little more outward-looking, and he’s also a little more hopeful than I am. So now there’s more of a balance between that extreme negativity and some of that more hopeful attitude.”

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This creeping light hasn’t made its way into the music, however, which continues what Simula described as a life-long pursuit to suss out the heaviest, gnarliest guitar sounds possible, an urge he traced to a childhood fascination with nu-metal.

“I had a pretty rough upbringing in my house, so hearing these guys with this very emotive but also heavy and aggressive music, it really brought me into this world,” Simula said. “One of the hallmarks of my career has just been constantly chasing down how to make things heavier.”

For this latest round of recording, the chase led Simula to tune his guitar even lower than in the past, lending the instrument a more menacing tone.

While all of the songs on the new EP were written before the pandemic, the last 18 months have brought further context and shading to the record. Indeed, the sample that opens “Apathy,” lifted from the Netflix series “Bloodline,” feels somehow more relevant as the delta variant reintroduces a sense of hopelessness at a point when it had finally started to feel like we had turned a corner on the pandemic. “Sometimes there isn’t any light at the end of the tunnel,” recites Lenny Potts, played by actor Frank Hoyt Taylor. “Sometimes all there is is more darkness.”

“On ‘Apathy,’ Jack wrote the lyrics essentially about living in Trump’s America and watching society degrade in real time, and I think with the pandemic, it definitely underscored some of that,” Simula said. “Being home alone, it brought some of that pandemic depression and those feelings of loneliness and disconnect. And I think you can hear that, not just lyrically but in the music itself. … When you listen to it and you hear that pain, that was real, and it was letting that out. It’s one way we get therapy, one way we find release.”