All new, young DIY bands should aspire to be like Gnarwolves. This is a band who have been stepping up their game with each new career move, whether it’s the string of acclaimed EPs that got tongues initially wagging, the eponymous debut full-length that established them as much more than just an underground prospect, and, perhaps most relevantly, the Main Stage slot at Reading and Leeds, showing that if they wanted to, Gnarwolves could be a genuinely big deal. Bear in mind that all of this has been achieved without compromising their scruffy skate-punk sound, and just how important a band Gnarwolves are in British rock can’t really be understated.
And yet, what’s kind of ironic is that the only reason that Outsiders is as good as it is comes through Gnarwolves changing up their sound. Fret not though, as this is no sellout move by any means; instead, this sophomore album sees the band keeping the typical rough-and-tumble nature of their style, only slightly tightening it up around the edges, accentuating their pop core and slipping into something of greater thematic resonance. Given that the album is peppered with traces of frontman Thom Weeks’ own depression and anxiety, such a shakeup is hardly surprising; grungier tones are incorporated on Argument and Talking To Your Ghost that could fit snugly alongside the genre’s high-profile revivalists like Basement, while faster, frantic hardcore is limited to Max Weeks’ ever-excellent and underrated drumming on Paint Me A Martyr and parts of Channelling Brian Molko. As a whole, Outsiders does feel like a more overcast album, but even then, that’s pushed as instrumental subtext for the most part. Rather, this album keeps itself buoyed with supremely anthemic, almost pop-punk-leaning tracks like Straitjacket or The Comedown Song, with fizzing, irresistible melody brought to the front of tracks like Car Crash Cinema.
Delving into what’s actually being said on Outsiders though, the sunny, vibrant melodies reveal themselves as simply a front, and any subtextual neurosis is instead made text. There’s a simplicity and plain-spoken nature to Weeks’ songwriting that makes his tales of inner struggles so compelling and effecting, whether he’s feeling stifled and unable to chase his dreams on American Kids, incapacitated by his own mental state on The Comedown Song, or examining his own self-destructive attitude that remains misunderstood on Channelling Brian Molko which quite literally does as its title suggests by paying homage in its verses to Placebo’s Nancy Boy. All of this is done to the trio’s jaunty, ragged punk designed as a mask to hide such emotions from those unwilling to dig into what’s actually being said, and content with taking this as another melodic punk album bolstered by a coterie of standout hooks. Get to the grand finale of Shut Up though, and the facade shatters in a grungy, slow-burning seven minutes, with Weeks’ at his most vocally restrained as his cycle of depression and self-medication takes its toll in a major way. It’s the most impressive song Gnarwolves have ever penned, not only by being their longest by a fair distance, but by having the sort of intensely dense layering and introspection that sets the entirety of Outsiders apart from the band’s entire repertoire.
Really, Outsiders stands as a statement that Gnarwolves are a much more complex band than many have given them credit for. No longer just the skater boys of UK rock, the bold, confessional nature of this album may catch those who believed they had Gnarwolves sussed off guard, but giving it the time it deserves reveals a true gem of an album that came completely out of nowhere, but has the heart and intent to really take off. Gnarwolves are the sort of band that deserve every bit of praise they get; combine just how great Outsiders is with the changing tides of UK rock that’ll do nothing but benefit them in the long run, and that praise will come flooding in in no time.
For fans of: Columbus, Boston Manor, Basement
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Outsiders’ by Gnarwolves is out now on Big Scary Monsters / Tangled Talk.