Beneath the smoke and mirrors of Provoker’s aching melodies is a spirit seeking clarity. On their forthcoming record Demon Compass, due October 13 this year via Swedish label YEAR0001, the California post-punk outfit turns inward for answers. Written while waiting for the release of the band's esoteric yet pop-oriented debut Body Jumper, Provoker found themselves shifting their focus from projecting familiar, shadowy figures to embodying them — if only as a means of accessing the dregs of their internal world and confronting the demons that lurk even deeper. When they first emerged, Provoker’s narrative was parallel to their infernal, no wave sound. The band’s core songwriters, lyricist Christian Crow Petty and instrumentalist Jonathon Lopez, met at a screening of the 2016 black comedy film The Greasy Strangler. However, it was far from coincidence; while living in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, between tattoo scenes and friend groups, Petty’s older brother, Alex, matched the two after hearing that Lopez was looking for a skilled vocalist. Fittingly, the older Petty designed the Demon Compass album artwork: a hand that presents the titular compass, encrusted with winged figures who join together at its northern point. Much like the record’s sound, the image juxtaposes luminosity against overwhelming gloom. What’s visible is churning with unease. Demon Compass is a collection of songs that work together as an experience. It was recorded partly in Stockholm, Sweden with producer Daniel Fagerström (Viagra Boys), who deconstructed the arrangements Petty and Lopez brought to the country. “We wouldn’t have gotten some of the sounds on the records if we didn’t do that,” Petty says. Demon Compass takes the band’s interest in horror iconography and desolate soundscapes, telling introspective stories about desire, loss and growth. Album highlight “C Ur Face” sets the standard for the album. “These days, I’m hanging by a thread / But tell my friends / I don’t wanna see your face again,” Petty sings. His tone is languid, almost resentful, but the R&B-inflected melody softens the message. Undecided on whether isolation is the key to feeling better, the track paces between creating distance and searching for warmth. Producer Zach Fogarty (Girlpool, Jean Dawson, The Blssm) highlights Provoker’s melodic sensibilities but doesn’t let them live or indulge in the sounds of the past. “He took it apart and made it what it is now,” Petty recalls. Lopez’s synths carry the project through, buzzing with a digital urgency and applying pressure through noise and other sonic manipulation only when needed. The album dives headfirst into the unknown, brave in its uncertainty. Baroque organ levitates while restless breaths mimic it on “A Fate Tightly Sealed,” which ends the first act of the record. “Bestowed with a willingness to suppress a lifelong appetite” the narrator recites. “I know it now to never be enough.” The track paints an internal anguish, which is subsequently explored in tracks like “It’s In My Head” and “Little Ghost.” Petty explains, “I just want people to listen to it and see all the images I’m trying to put out.” The band’s sophomore effort also features a collaboration with musical collagist Eyedress, who shared the other half of the collaboration (“Faith In Love”) on their 2022 release FULL TIME LOVER. “Freezing Alive” enmeshes crystalline synths with dark, complementing vocal performances from Petty and Eyedress’ Idris Vicuña. “Sleight of Hand,” another standout track from the record, originated as a Pylon-inspired guitar riff before transforming into a spiral chamber of chrome tinted drums and smoky, plucked guitar. “I’ll make magic with my hands,” Petty sings, blurring the lines between his voice and the static. Out October 13 — Friday the 13th — Demon Compass finds Provoker opening up and growing between moments of desperate reality and divine realization. Though mournful in tone, it forges a path forward for the band, luring out more of the humanity in their storytelling while still protecting the cryptic, illusory imagery of their previous output.