The Dirty Nil's 'Free Rein to Passions' Is Lighthearted and Lean

The Dirty Nil's 'Free Rein to Passions' Is Lighthearted and Lean
From humble underdog beginnings to Juno award-winning fame, the Dirty Nil have risen to become a finely-tuned, fan-favourite mainstay of the Canadian rock scene. And it's no surprise why — their live shows are searing, their rock star personas dynamic and cheeky, and their music electrifying. 

But the band's most impressive feat is how they manage to keep things fresh and interesting while still sticking to their original sound and vision, especially considering they're now four albums in. 

In a lot of ways it feels like the Ontario rockers came out the womb fully formed, ready to run. Sure, they've been honing and refining their musical craft for 10 plus years, but the Nil have always known what they like. And what they like is head-banging, ear-popping, cranium-combusting rock 'n' roll; the kind that's meant to be dialled up to max volume and is practically drowning in amp feedback. It's a consistent, signature sound that's become a trademark for the band, and it's exactly what Free Rein to Passions tries to distill into its purest form.

If anything, Free Rein to Passions exhibits some of the most stripped-back, straightforward tracks the band's put together since their 2016 full-length debut Higher Power. Less attention to fancy bells and whistles, more jamming. Lyrics and themes specifically take a backseat to showcasing ultra-crunchy riffs; highlights include the trashy metal riff on opener "Celebration" or the pop hook on the lead single "Nicer Guy." 

It's a streamlined approach that will likely work for some, maybe not for others. Seeing as the lyrical subject matter is simplified to songs about the good times twenty bucks worth of fireworks can afford ("Blowing Up Things in the Woods") or an ode to working a series of stupid jobs ("Stupid Jobs"), you're sometimes left longing for the heavier subjects so confidently broached on sophomore effort Master Volume.

While Free Reign to Passions is largely a return to form musically, there is one underlying change: new bassist Sam Tomlinson has entered the fold, replacing bassist Ross Miller in late 2021. Tomlinson lays down thumping basslines that pair well with Kyle Fisher's crashing, rolling drum work and Luke Bentham's fuzzy guitar wailing. Working in tight unison, the trio imbue the record with a comfortable and contagious atmosphere of fun and camaraderie — like in the case of "Blowing Up Things in the Woods," which caps off by dissolving into a cacophony of guffaws from the band members. 

With Free Rein to Passions, the Dirty Nil embrace what they're truly passionate about: rockin' out. Any extra frills are an unnecessary hindrance that are stripped away, leaving only the bare essentials for a paired-down, 10-track record. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does spark some high voltage rock 'n' roll.  (Dine Alone)