Twelve records into their monumentous career, Pearl Jam are back with their stellar new release Dark Matter. This album will have you “Swallowed up in the sound” with a message more important than ever. Pearl Jam’s hard rock style not only endures the times, but ignores the process altogether, to instead become a potential genre classic.

The Pearl Jam of today are terrified, as are we all. Dark Matter’s raging opener ‘Scared of Fear’ cuts straight to the chase, a desperate tune asking why we no longer feel safe to dance, sing, or even believe there’s hope. It kicks off a killer first half for the record which pulls no punches in its relentless, pounding drums and breakneck basslines.

The title track and thesis statement for Dark Matter comes early on, its chorus wrought with energy and emotion over the sort of fierce, aggressive guitar licks that reminds us rock and roll may not be dead after all. “It’s strange these days / When everybody else pays for someone else’s mistake”, Eddie Vedder bellows, highlighting the pivotal political backdrop of the album. Each song on Dark Matter is backlit by a planet on fire, exploring how our divided society equally divides us from our humanity and relationships. As a result of this setting, there’s a haunting, eerie quality to the project, which is pumping with pop melodies and lively instrumentals, but weighed down by the unsettling reality that it all takes place in a broken world of broken people.



Across the board, the melodies on Dark Matter are extremely concise, specific and tight, sticking in your head long after they’re over. For instance, the easy-to-follow nature of ‘React, Respond’ and ‘Wreckage’ allow for more expansive, explosive instrumentation underneath. Modern mixing keeps the band’s 90s sound intact, only through the lens of crisp, clean production, most at play on the stadium rock anthem ‘Won’t Tell’. Here, there’s a dreamy sense of nostalgia in the subtle synths. The romantic lyricism about a love interest suggests her very presence carries a worldly message greater than herself.

But Dark Matter is at its best in contrast. ‘Upper Hand’ offers up a brooding, moody extended intro, setting the tone for dark vocal melodies which then heavily juxtapose the smooth, almost ska-like guitar licks. Through each element of sonic warfare, the band maintains a strong sense of cohesion and charisma. That feel of a group of friends, in one room together jamming it out, always shines through. And listeners should expect no less, nearly thirty-five years into Pearl Jam’s career.

The album’s centrepiece is ‘Waiting for Stevie’, an expansive and cinematic journey which begins with a deceptively slow and steady guitar solo. It then increasingly fights the rhythm until the rest of the band are brought up to speed, for a finale of true grand excess. Before its glittering close, which twists the album’s direction with a curious, gentle verse rather separate from the rest of the track, the outro repeats the simple line “You can be loved” over and over. It becomes in equal parts a comforting reminder, and a terrifying iteration to convince yourself there’s something out there for you, even if it may not be true.

Without a doubt, ‘Running’ is Dark Matter’s ultimate headbanger, the last in a long line of songs that really hones in on Pearl Jam’s iconic underpinnings of rage and fear. Clocking in at just over two minutes, its lyrics are at times purposefully ridiculous, controlled by a thrashing rhythm section and Vedder’s belted, raspy vocal. Fans craving Pearl Jam’s classic rock moments will be most satisfied by this track.


Later songs then edge into lighter territory. ‘Something Special’, a dedication to Eddie Vedder’s two daughters, harkens back to the band’s most sentimental moments, highlighting the expressivity in his voice over the swinging track. There’s a real 60s feel to the backing harmonies and the jaunty hook, masterfully given a grittier mix to make it all undeniably Pearl Jam. Similarly, ‘Got to Give’ feels bright and uplifting, coming to the conclusion that it’s worth learning to forgive even through life’s greatest heartbreaks.

The glorious, natural album closer ‘Setting Sun’ draws all of the album’s themes together. But instead of providing the listener with an answer to the band’s worries of reluctant optimism, we’re only given more questions. Metaphorical climate anxiety melded to a clearer narrative of a relationship ending makes for a track that is much deeper than it may first appear. Its delicate instrumentals and soaring dynamics are quite simply a thing of beauty. This is rock the way it should be, full of purpose, radiating unwaveringly anti-establishment ideals, yet shuddering with an emotional honesty that applies to the personal as much as the political.

With just eleven songs, there’s no need to trim the fat on Dark Matter. It’s tightly paced, slick and cohesive even in its more experimental moments. There’s a film-like quality to the experience that makes each and every song rattle right down to the bone. Even if our universal future seems dark, Pearl Jam’s new album wholeheartedly deserves to stand proud beneath music’s brightest stage lights.