It’s strange to see where Black Foxxes are right now, and that’s not in relation to their increase in size as a band. I’m Not Well was always going to do that for them, taking the trio from the support band of choice for many of Britrock’s leading lights to sizable contenders in their own right, hovering around the top of homegrown rock’s lower tiers and really threatening to do something huge. What’s more, the clout they had accrued within the burgeoning emo scene was even more significant, particularly now when the top players in that genre have since undergone some serious reputation damage.
Instead, Reiði offers a rather striking departure from its predecessor sonically. Where I’m Not Well was painted with blacks and dark greys to accentuate the festering darkness within, Reiði – inspired by vocalist Mark Holley’s visit to Iceland – feels a lot more spacious and, at time, hopeful, serving as a more fluid contrast between its lights and darks. It goes without saying, then, that the stylistic differences also come to the fore, with a lot of the emo and grunge influences toned down drastically to make way for widescreen alt-rock akin to Britrock’s first wave. All of that comes together for a far more accessible listen, but one that still shoulders the weight of heavy emotion and damage that Black Foxxes have become so well-known for. The key difference is that Reiði seems to be blinking into the light for the first time, and that does hold some deeper connection that’s easy to grab hold of.
That in part comes from Reiði being Black Foxxes’ most expansive, melodically fertile release to date, whether that’s in the shimmering, towering alt-rock of Manic In Me and Am I Losing It, or the sweeping strings that underscore Breathe and Oh, It Had To Be You to culminate in gorgeous, wintry soundscapes. The sense of atmosphere and tranquility is more important than ever on this album, and while that’s primarily at the expense of a lot of the darker tones that defined I’m Not Well, the greater focus that Black Foxxes have found does make up for it in some capacity. Even on JOY, seeing the darkness return in pounding guitars and a discordant horn line, it feels so much more concentrated and laser-guided to hit its mark in the way that virtually all of Reiði has adapted to become.
And while the complaints will undoubtedly emerge about massively different parts of this album can be, the differences ultimately lead to a richer, more fulfilling whole in which personal progression takes precedence over anything else. There’s a sense of freedom and lack of inhibition to Sæla and The Big Wild that’s reflected in a lighter tone and an embrace of exuberant, mainstream rock scale, but JOY and Flowers represent the recursion back to those neuroses in bleak, more oppressive instrumentation and the return to Holley’s wilder, wiry vocal approach. The dichotomy is stark, but as far as moving forward goes, both as a band and as people, a few listens reveals that Reiði reaches its natural conclusion, moving away from the darkness without having totally left it behind yet.
And that’s probably the best place for Black Foxxes to be at right now as far as musical output is concerned. Reiði is, by definition, a transitional album as far as its emotional locus is concerned, but it’s also a bridge between a denser, curdled old self and what is undoubtedly to come. In that regard, there’s something so marvelously poignant about where this album stands, a near-perfect and near-effortless collision of ideals and growth that stands up so highly on its own merits. Even if Black Foxxes have veered away from the path that had been projected for them, Reiði opens up a new one that looks to be so much brighter.
For fans of: Lonely The Brave, Twin Atlantic, The Dangerous Summer
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Reiði’ by Black Foxxes is released on 16th March on Search And Destroy Records.