If bands were being rated on ambition alone, there would be far more perfect scores than there are now. And honestly, that’s what everyone wants, bands willing to push themselves further beyond the bare minimum and, especially with new bands, forging a sound for themselves beyond the expected baseline. But the biggest hurdle comes with capitalising on that ambition, and getting to a point where it doesn’t feel like they want to do something bigger, but where they actually do something bigger.
Unfortunately for wars, it doesn’t feel as though they’ve made that jump just yet, and that’s been a pretty consistent factor throughout their career. The Rugby band released their debut EP And So The Sea Will Claim Us All in 2015, a decent slice of melodic, metallic post-hardcore that largely felt constructed from various elements from other post-hardcore and metalcore bands. And even with the benefit of over a year-and-a-half and a worldwide deal with Spinefarm Records, debut full-length We Are Islands, After All has a very similar result, in that it lacks that truly identifiable flair. The sleek, spacious production that’s especially reminiscent of Bury Tomorrow on opener The Art Of Not Knowing; the staccato, highly memetic opening of Salt Flat Sailing that could be lifted from virtually any Beartooth track; the sweeping spoken word hidden track that takes plenty of cues from Enter Shikari; the undercurrent of While She Sleeps that snakes throughout the album, particularly in the gang vocals on Still Waters Run Deep; it feels as though wars are still very much ingrained in the embryonic stage of their musical evolution, picking and choosing specific elements from their influences to use for themselves. And admittedly, that does bring the album down, seeing how much enterprise is on display here without the gumption to really do something more impressive with it.
If there’s one area in which wars unequivocally succeed though, it’s consistency. As much as We Are Islands, After All can come across as a ‘what’s what’ of modern hardcore and metalcore, wars at least have the talent to pull it off well. Apart from some clean vocals that feel a lot thinner than they should (though there’s some real swell to them that accompanies the expansive fretboard dashes fantastically on closer Charcoal Days), wars’ laser-focused proficiency and penchant for dishing out some meaty riffs alongside melody is what ultimately puts them in the best position on this album. They hit their stride remarkably quickly, pretty much from the first song onwards, and maximising the finesse of their craft is something that wars already have a firm grasp on. The production works immaculately, being clear enough without stripping back any necessary crunch like in the belly-dragging grind of Schiamachy Scenes or the carving grooves of Soul-Sick, and there’s a boost of star power thanks to Hundred Reasons’ Colin Doran on That By Discord Things Increase, acting as a decidedly melodic foil to Rob Vicars’ slicing screams.
The latter especially is the sort of things that wars should strive to do more often, go for broke and try something new to stand out more. For as much instrumental talent as they have, they’re still yet to find their own vehicle for it, and as such, We Are Islands, After All isn’t the stellar debut it could’ve been, just merely solid. But then again, this is a debut, and as far as getting their feet on the ground with a decent foundation upon which to build in the future, this album undoubtedly does that. Hopefully wars will be able to find their own voice next time, but the fact that this album ensures that there will be a next time should be considered successful enough for now.
For fans of: Bury Tomorrow, While She Sleeps, Architects
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘We Are Islands, After All’ by wars is released on 27th January on Spinefarm Records.