If any album was likely to bear the preconceptions of “difficult second album”, it would be this one. When Young Legionnaire properly arrived in 2010, the meeting of minds between former The Automatic and yourcodenameis:milo member Paul Mullen and Bloc Party bassist Gordon Moakes, expectations were rightly sky-high, and their 2011 debut Crisis Works actually managed to live up to them, a hard-hitting album of spiky post-hardcore that saw the embryonic stages of a devoted fanbase developing. After that though, things easily could’ve started going awry, with follow-up EP Wreckonomics flying well under the radar, and the band being inactive until 2014 while Moakes returned to Bloc Party. But in the four years since their last release, the musical landscape has changed drastically, and for Young Legionnaire to succeed again, Zero Worship has to be the album to surpass their debut and take them further than ever before.
But sadly, in those regards, Zero Worship is a failure. It’s not terrible, but considering what Young Legionnaire are capable of, this feels like a colossal step down, swapping out post-hardcore for a blend of post-punk, indie rock and dashes of mid-2000s emo for an album that can’t decide what it should do – serve as the logical next iteration of their previous sound, or completely start from scratch with something new and pick up a new audience on the way. The main part of that problem is in this new sound – it’s workable enough, but Zero Worship packs a fraction of the firepower that Crisis Works had.
The strange thing is though, Zero Worship is probably at its best when it edges towards its more indie side and completely embraces it, like the languid Simone or Balaclava, which clearly takes more than a few cues from Silversun Pickups. It’s this straightforwardness conveyed in this branch of their sound that hints at something worth sticking to – Mullen’s vocals have that regional tone that’s usually the go-to standout feature for what’s frequently described as “landfill” indie, but the advent of smart, potent songwriting on tracks like the staccato Hospital Corners, the driving, almost Twin Atlantic-esque Disappear or the dreamy Biffy-meets-Oasis of You And Me is enough to put Young Legionnaire in a bracket of quality.
It’s just a shame that the rest of Zero Worship feels marred by an obtuseness that really struggles to fit. As angular and confrontational as Crisis Works was, its At The Drive-In worshipping consistency at least made it sound like a finished product. Instead, Zero Worship offers up stodgy attempts at noise-rock with Heart Attack and Candidate or the frameworks of post-punk revivalism in Hail, Hail and There Will Be An Escape Hatch that have a more lowkey feel to them, but can never keep hold of a brooding atmosphere, especially in the case of the latter. By far the worst though is Sawn-Off Shotgun, a track that swaps any sort of instrumental fluidity for mechanical bass stabs that’s presumably meant to replicate a grittier take on alt-rock but just feels unworkably choppy.
That’s the problem with Zero Worship as a whole – for the commendable ambition and vision that Young Legionnaire clearly have, what comes from it doesn’t feel like a completed project, just disparate songs lumped together with no cohesion. And while that isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, the wild fluctuations in quality and whiplash-inducing comedown from their debut leaves Young Legionnaire ultimately floundering. Then again, very few bands are able to catch lightning in a bottle twice on the run, and Young Legionnaire aren’t one of them.
For fans of: Biffy Clyro, Silversun Pickups, Hell Is For Heroes
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Zero Worship’ by Young Legionnaire is out now on Superstar Destroyer Records.