With punk now being the catch-all term for music that has any semblance of a political or social message, it feels as though a number of bands have been adhering to the term a bit more loosely than they should. There’s no doubt that bands like Rise Against or Anti-Flag are punk, and reaching that point of overground acceptance does require something of a compromise, but with later material being as generalised as it is – almost comprised of necessary vocabulary and buzzwords over genuine intent – that begins to seep down the line to the point where newer bands who can afford to be a bit riskier are making their modus operandi a similarly open-ended one.
With Drones, however, the bombastic, Rise Against-esque sound is definitely there, but new album Exiled feels a lot more crucial, not only being the first full release featuring vocalist Lois McDougall and guitarist Tim Kramer, but also in its focus on the European migrant crisis and the lack of empathy in responses that, ultimately, are doing nothing to help. Immediately that’s a much more riveting angle than big state-of-the-world addresses, and while it wouldn’t hurt for Drones to bear their fangs just a little bit more than they are here, Exiled is still a good few steps in the right direction when it comes to giving this form of punk more of a discernible edge.
And yet, the moments where it feels as though Drones could push themselves further emerge more and more with each listen. McDougall is a fire-spitter with a clear sneer in her voice, and on tracks like Territories and The Only Thing Between Us Is You, the extra crunch added into the formula is distinctly welcome. But it also leaves you wondering what exactly is stopping Drones from going just that tiny bit further. Closer Born & Erased verges on the right idea with a too-shor torrent of double-time drums edging further towards hardcore, and if more of Exiled had taken a similar path, it could’ve led to an album with a lot more potency. Sure, it’s potent enough now with the verve that a grounding in real life strife is quick to offer, and even if the acoustic Black Blood feels a bit more slight musically by comparison, the tone of wistful resignation means it definitely still belongs here. But at the same time, an extra bit of gumption that Exiled struggles to muster would be enough to push it into greatness, rather than just the upper end of “very good” where it is now.
And there are no hesitations in rewarding it as a very good album, especially in its biting criticisms of the lack of significant reactions to the very real migrant crisis that seems to have been swept under the rug recently. Tracks like Inferno and Anchors formally cut the crap for pounding, straight-down-the-middle punk bangers with all the vitriol that such a heavy subject deserves, while Rorschach takes a jab at complaints of “first-world problems” that are seen by privileged society to overshadow genuine hardships people in these situations have. It’s never a lingered or laborious point despite being spread across eleven tracks, but the momentum that Drones run with means that it remains resonant all the same.
With all of that in mind, perhaps the overall judgement of Exiled may seem a bit harsh, but that’s only because, with all certainty, there’s a great band within Drones just waiting to break out, and they’re yet to really do that yet. All the evidence is here, particularly in their repurposing of an often weakened sound into something more sturdier, but they still lack that bit of kick that’ll send them on the rampage soon enough though. Don’t sleep on Drones though, as even in their current state they’re pushing ahead of the competition, and Exiled is all the proof needed for why that lead will only grow in time.
For fans of: Rise Against, Anti-Flag, Templeton Pek
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Exiled’ by Drones is released on 9th March on Lockjaw Records.