One look at the information surrounding Winchester suggests that they certainly aren’t messing around. The trio only formed at the tail end of last year, and yet they’ve already got their debut full-length ready to go and live up to that “hotly-tipped new band” tag. Even so, it doesn’t stop the initial alarm bells from going off; for one, it’s always good to see a new band strike while the iron is hot to maximise their efforts, but with such a short timespan between formation and releasing their debut album, worries of rushing and cutting corners aren’t entirely out of the question.
Fortunately the latter is quickly disproven, as Life Begins At These Dead Ends is the sort of polished, beefy post-hardcore album that feels as though it’s been slaved over for months longer than what the age of the band would indicate. And though that’s definitely impressive, it’s probably the most solid, distinct thing that can be attributed to Winchester at this stage, as sonically, this is still a band who are yet to grow out of their influences into their own beast. It’s telling how much Winchester are influenced by Fightstar and Funeral For A Friend given their penchant for heavier post-hardcore that slides into alt-metal, and while they aren’t precisely bad at it and capture an instinct for heavier melodies that prevent this album from being bad, there’s not much else to it than that. The interpolated cleans and screams on tracks like Animal and Set Me Apart are ripped directly from the Fightstar playbook, and with Adam Catalan’s recognisably’s British vocal style and a focus on more overtly soaring melodies (though with a little more crunch that’s definitely appreciated), Safe In Sound might as well be a Britrock relic from the early 2000s. At the minute, it’s easy to see Winchester’s naivety as a band, particularly when the majority of their persona is stitched together from other acts, whether that’s instrumentally, vocally or in a well-worn emotionally-charged lyrical direction.
That’s not to say this is automatically a bad thing though, as while it would be nice for Winchester let some of their own personality shine through, the fact that they’re still such a new band gives them a lot more wiggle room, and there’s definitely more proficiency here than most bands who are only months old. Life Begins and Diamond are a strong opening pair as far as straight-up melodic compositions go, and taking a heavier approach to a very standard Britrock framework definitely gives them more to work with than in its very clean, sanitised counterpart. But what stands out most is At These, the instrumental interlude and probably the sole moment that sees Winchester embracing something truly original, going into progressive passages to couple with a more overtly metallic passage.
It’s also the most bittersweet inclusion here, showing what Winchester are capable of at the peak of their powers, but also what they should really do more of instead of confining it to one track. A tentative step into more adventurous territory is better than nothing, but Winchester are more than capable to growing it into an entire project, rather than cultivating it into one track. As such, Life Begins At These Dead Ends is overall a decent album and one that at least has a stable foundation for going forward, but it’s also evident of a band with a lot of inexperience that’ll no doubt be leached away in time. It’s really only a mild win then, but for this especially, it’s not worth expecting much more.
For fans of: Fightstar, Hundred Reasons, Funeral For A Friend
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Life Begins At These Dead Ends’ by Winchester is released on 9th February.