Avenged Sevenfold – Mad Hatter

So it looks like Avenged Sevenfold’s habit of making bittersweet returns hasn’t let up. The Stage’s foray into progressive metal might’ve been their most ambitious effort to date (as well as its surprise release and subsequent “updates”) but it could’ve been a lot better, and now with Mad Hatter being their return to a more conventional metal sound, that fact that this (and their entire new EP) is a one-off inclusion for the Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 soundtrack leaves it up in the air as to whether this is actually going to be built on. And really, this is about as okay as an Avenged Sevenfold song gets. It’s definitely good to hear M Shadows in fine form once again after his recent vocal issues, but it’s still nothing exceptional as he stays in a rather comfortable mid-range most of the time, not helped by a plodding, mid-paced groove that – again – is okay but pales in comparison to their best work. At least Synyster Gates gets his chance to shine with some typically impressive guitar work, but even then, it’s undercut by a solo that just sort of meanders along without a lot of real drive behind it. Each of those factors comes together for a song that’s perfectly adequate across the board, never overstepping its boundaries and falling perfectly into the safe mould you’d expect from a soundtrack song. When the time comes for them to actually focus on that next album though, this isn’t going to suffice then; if the circumstances of its recording were any different, this would all read in a much harsher tone.

Avril Lavigne – Head Above Water

It’s easy to look at Avril Lavigne’s career and sneer with cynicism, in her going from zeitgeist-capturing pop-rocker in the earlier 2000s to gradually falling more in line with pop in a move that seemingly ended her career. And while the blame can be attributed to 2013’s poorly-received self-titled album, really it was the diagnosis with Lyme disease in 2015 that put any musical endeavours on an indefinite halt and almost killed her. And thus, just like Kesha’s grand return with Praying, Head Above Water feels similarly vulnerable and triumphant, driven by pianos and strings to accentuate their poise and power. Obviously the circumstances between the two are vastly different, but that doesn’t stop the sense of relief in Lavigne’s delivery, as what could easily be just another self-esteem anthem feels so much more earned with the benefit of context. And sure, the calamitous, crashing drums could be toned down a bit and a little more lyrical flavour wouldn’t be out of the question, but this is as emphatic and powerful as a return comes, and given the circumstance, Lavigne really has earned it.

Weezer – California Snow

At this point, it feels like Weezer have basically abandoned any pretensions towards making decent, well-meaning music and are simply embracing Rivers Cuomo’s status as Meme King in everything they do. It can really only explain why Pacific Daydream felt as low-effort as it did, and why their last piece of recorded material was a cover of Toto’s Africa. But now they’ve released California Snow, their contribution to the soundtrack of Brendan Walter’s upcoming film Spell, and if Weezer hadn’t been spiraling into outright mediocrity already, the excuse of this being simply throwaway soundtrack fodder could be excusable. In reality though, this is right in keeping with Pacific Daydream, with tinkling pianos and lurching drum machines constituting the bulk of it, and Cuomo’s glazed-over drawl about nothing of interest only sours the ordeal even further. It’s honestly startling how forgettable this song actually is – perhaps Weezer’s most forgettable single to date – and while it’s clearly meant to be nothing special, the fact that it does actually build on their current framework is a worrying thought for where they’re going next. And when people are finally starting to realise that they don’t need to tolerate Weezer’s lack of consistency between releases, that’s not a good sign for that next album.

nothing,nowhere. – Dread

It really should go without saying, but any criticism of nothing,nowhere. is done with no malicious intent whatsoever. The fact that Joe Mulherin had to cancel an entire tour for anxiety and depression treatment is genuinely heartbreaking for an artist trying to make a living from their music, and while said music may not have resonated in the past, the intent behind it couldn’t be clearer. And in a way, it does make Dread – Mulherin’s first new song since his treatment – hold that bit more weight, especially with how honestly and frankly he speaks about having to cancel his tour, and how all he wants is an easy answer to stop the pain even though there isn’t one. It’s a lot more real than the majority of the material on ruiner was, and with the smoky, atmospheric guitar and synth lines slithering through a more brittle set of beats, it holds a more sinister and impassioned grip. Even if one song isn’t enough to be completely sold on an artist, Dread is an example of what Mulherin can do with greater weight and gravitas, and the results speak for themselves.

Our Last Night – Who Let The Dogs Out?

There’s really only so much you can say about Our Last Night now that they’re a glorified covers band these days. That’s what they’ve been primarily known for in the past anyway, and the fact that their covers have overshadowed actual original music says a lot about where their musical focus lies. Then again, they’re clearly only doing it for a laugh and a bit of fun, otherwise they wouldn’t have covered the Baha Men’s Who Let The Dogs Out? and got the actual Baha Men to feature. And in a way, it’s almost poetic that these two acts have come together, the group responsible the flaccid commercialisation and meme-ification of reggae working with one of the bands doing the exact same thing to metalcore, with the result being as awkward and simply stupid as you’d expect. Let’s put it this way – have you ever actually wanted to hear the Baha Men’s gormless scatting over dime-a-dozen metalcore chugging? Or how about Trevor Wentworth trying to sound as impassioned and heartfelt as possible for the chorus of fucking Who Let The Dogs Out?? By the time the screams and the breakdowns arrive for the outro, the glitch in this simulation we call life is clearly running haywire as this horrendous, baffling, inconceivable…thing finally comes to a close, and exits to a safe distance where we can all forget it ever existed.

Minus The Bear – Viaduct

Currently, Minus The Bear are gearing up to release their final EP, and while their overall presence has waned in recent years, what they ultimately did for indie-rock and math-rock and the influence they had can’t go uncelebrated. That’s why Viaduct feels like a fitting send-off, capturing the galvanised precision of this band at their best and funnelling it into a relentlessly sharp, catchy indie-rock banger. Even if it lacks any real standout individual components, it’s in the way everything clicks together so emphatically that Minus The Bear really shine, weaving the twinkling guitars together for something a lot more robust, and giving Jake Snider’s vocals enough clarity for the simple love song lyrics to pop to an even greater degree. It’s a terrific little pop song above everything else, low-key out of necessity rather than fashion and working with it for the best, most cogent results. It’s easily one of the standout tracks that Minus The Bear have released in recent times; it’s just a shame it’s one they’ve chosen to go out on.

Hands Like Houses – Tilt

The excitement for this upcoming Hands Like Houses album has been strangely muted compared to past efforts, possibly because so many were let down by Dissonants and the hesitation to fully embrace the band once again has taken more of a hold than before. It could also be because the songs up to now really haven’t been that great, and Tilt is an unfortunate continuation of that. And that shouldn’t be the case, but Hands Like Houses’ brand of sleek post-hardcore hasn’t really moved on, and subsequent efforts have felt like scraping together the dregs of each past release. With Tilt, it’s more of the same; the guitars are able to drive along with some force and Trenton Woodley is still a good vocalist, but with a general lack of forward momentum from past releases and production that highlights the lack of layering in this sound more than ever, it’s hard to deny that Tilt really doesn’t have the impact that Hands Like Houses have had in the past. Don’t be surprised if that next album winds up as fairly disappointing, then.

Blood Red Shoes – Mexican Dress

Considering how the rude health of the rock duo has only seemed to keep going through inertia alone, you’d expect Blood Red Shoes to have had some sort of benefit from them. They do predate the whole explosion, after all, and though their particular brand of garage-rock is hardly that distinct on its own, that’s never stopped anyone else. And yet, they seem to have more or less slunk away into the shadows, only now returning for a new album in January that’ll be their first in five years. And going off Mexican Dress, the initial impressions aren’t precisely bad; that’s at least a catchy guitar rollick that melds into the groove pretty well, and Laura-Mary Carter has a smooth enough voice to capitalise on the whole thing. But like most garage-rock that even this band have produced themselves, the production feels far too flat to show off the heft and riffs they desperately need to bring, rather than readily crushing guitar and basslines into squawking half-measures. Coupled with the fact that it really overstays its welcome and brings little to the table to justify it, Blood Red Shoes look set to continue their track record of treading water, something they’ve been doing for way too long at this point.

Drug Church – Strong References

You’ve got to hand it to Drug Church – even if you don’t like them, they’ve got some interesting ideas up their sleeves. After all, how many other bands would choose to release a song about their frontman’s former career as a nude model? Well, that’s Strong References, playing to the band’s typically wiry and winding sensibilities when it comes to punk and post-hardcore, and feeling a bit more assured this time around. There’s definitely a more anthemic quality in the bracing guitar work, but Drug Church remain deft enough to avoid the blandness of mainstream rock trappings, so balance it out with scratchy, gnawing riffs and Patrick Kindlon’s biting vocals that positive drip with sarcasm and acrimony. It’s all topped off by the realisation that Drug Church know how inaccessible this can all be, but even so, opting to place Kindlon’s vocals midway in the mix does temper the appeal of the whole thing by a bit too much. Still though, this isn’t bad work at all, in what sees the band finally coming into their own to be a perfectly solid post-hardcore band.

Imagine Dragons – Zero

It feels weird to come across an Imagine Dragons song specifically written for some sort of soundtrack rather than just crowbarred into everything possible like Radioactive, Believer, Warriors et al. Still, the minor roll the band have been on lately with Natural and Born To Be Yours is reason enough to be optimistic, though Zero – their contribution to Disney’s upcoming Wreck-It Ralph sequel Ralph Breaks The Internet – is enough to dash those hopes all on its own. At least they’ve ditched the ponderous, overly heavy beats that we’ve all come to know and despise, but this flashy, erratic, “Killers with ADHD” shtick isn’t any better, and Dan Reynolds seems to be unable to reach any other vocal ranges other than the absolute extremities, given that he’s essentially whispering every single lyric here. Not that the self-flagellating content would be any good without that, mind, but in the near constant state of self-sabotage that Imagine Dragons indulge in, Zero is perhaps one of their most blatant efforts to date. And sure, it’s pretty commonplace for soundtrack songs to be low-effort with low rewards, but when it feels like you’re actively trying to put as little into it as possible, the results are never going to be desirable to anyone.

Mumford & Sons – Guiding Light

Y’know, the UK has done some pretty questionable things over the course of history, but giving Mumford & Sons the platform to become not only an arena band, but festival headliners, is definitely up there with our greatest atrocities. Rarely has a band ever come around that’s so skin-flayingly boring, and yet have somehow used that boringness as a selling point, as if people genuinely want to hear bland farmer-folk in the 21st Century. At least Wilder Mind’s turn towards indie-rock was a merciful move, but judging by Guiding Light, this next album is looking to combine the two with predictably unlikable results. As a frontman, Marcus Mumford is still as wooden and clandestine as ever, but now with the combination of jaunty acoustic ditties and a cloud of electronic production that backs him, it sounds like the radio-friendly indie-pop of the early 2010s from a band like Sheppard, otherwise known as the most befuddlingly safe and whitebread music known to man. There’s not an ounce of joy that could possibly come from making music like this, and in its lovestruck lyrics that Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage will be gagging for sooner or later, there’s very little joy in hearing it either. Most of all though, Guiding Light is as toothless as whatever approximation of alternative music this is gets, never even glancing at harder or more experimental territory, and more than comfortable at selling the sheep who’ll follow it the same package of nothing they’ve bought for the past three albums.

Greta Van Fleet – Lover, Leaver

It’s going to be intriguing to see what Anthem Of A Peaceful Army does for Greta Van Fleet, and whether the constant enabling of their classic rock graverobbery will amount to anything in the long term. It shouldn’t, by all rights, given their refusal to embrace anything other than Led Zeppelin’s exact formula (even if they hilariously claim they’re not an influence), but given revival rock’s penchant for ignoring anything even remotely contemporary, the chance that they’ll stick around is still very there. The reason that all of that is relevant is because Lover, Leaver is yet another track that sticks unwaveringly to the already stale formula that Greta Van Fleet have established for themselves, to the point where talking about literally anything else is more interesting than the music itself. Josh Kiszka once again shows off his solid pipes, and once again the guitar work is decent, but more than ever it’s this track that shows how perilously limited this band are, especially in the drum and bass department which display nothing of note at all. Basically, it’s the same song that Greta Van Fleet have been released all the way through this album cycle, and there’s no point in expecting otherwise.

All That Remains – Fuck Love

All That Remains’ journey from 2000s metalcore prodigies to yet another material in the vat of radio-rock slurry has been disappointing at best, particularly for fans who’ve seen this band fall further and further from grace with every passing release, and culminating in 2016’s diabolical Madness. So it’s pretty forgivable if a new track isn’t met with a great deal of excitement, but credit where it’s due here – Fuck Love is something of a return to form that fans have been wanting for a long time. And that’s not to say this is some revelatory gem or anything, because it most certainly isn’t, but it’s pleasing to see some weighty, chugging guitars, and Phil Labonte sounds far more convincing when sticking to almost exclusively screams, even if the content remains as basic as it gets. But between some actual conviction and a genuinely impressive extended scream that rounds it out on a surprisingly vicious note, this is the most passable thing that All That Remains have put their name to in a long time. Whether it’ll have that much longevity remains to be seen, but while it’s here now, this isn’t bad at all.

Disturbed – A Reason To Fight

It was only a matter of time before this happened, where Disturbed realised they could capitalise on the enormous success of their cover of The Sound Of Silence and make more power ballads. That notion alone is enough to send shivers of terror down any self-respecting person’s spine, but when said ballad turns out to be a generic, over-egged self-esteem anthem, all hope is pretty much lost then and there. And so, when A Reason To Fight starts off with its gentle acoustic flutters and David Draiman turning down his shouts for his sensitive burr, it’s best to steel yourself for the worst, because it doesn’t get much better from there. Yeah, the arrangements are nice, but between the most basic lyrical content imaginable for this sort of thing and just the general fact that it’s another power ballad from the band whose biggest claim to fame is punctuating their song about domestic abuse with gorilla noises, this does not work whatsoever. Maybe some sadist will enjoy it, but power ballads can be genuinely heartfelt and engaging, not like this.

Memphis May Fire – The Old Me

Who actually wanted this? Better yet, why are Memphis May Fire so deluded that they think mediocre, mid-2010s metalcore still flies for quality in 2018? Because it sure as hell doesn’t, and considering their last album went down like a lead balloon even with their fans, you’d hope that any time off might be spent tweaking their sound into something more befitting of current scenes; if they’re going to continue chasing trends, they can at least do it right. But nope, The Old Me is page one, line one in the Memphis May Fire playbook, sticking religiously to melodic metalcore templates in instrumentation and vague, uninteresting lyrics about being lost and fighting your demons. If that was all that was wrong it’d be plenty, but when Matty Mullins himself sounds so thoroughly uninterested in any of this, you begin to wonder if cashing cheques is worth all this (even if he does sound marginally more tolerable compared to his usual hyper-earnest helium shrieks). There’s just nothing of interest that’ll bring anyone back to this track, but given that’s been the problem with the last several Memphis May Fire albums, is that such a shock?

Crown The Empire – What I Am

It’s frankly astounding that Crown The Empire are choosing now to make their return, not only because the uber-polished metalcore scene fizzled out a long time ago, but also because they were never one of the best in that scene, regardless of the step up that Retrograde admittedly was. But even now, as they continue to hop between trends, they’re royally lagging behind, now finding the melodic metalcore stylings of 2016 for What I Am when everyone else has moved a considerable distance away. And it’s at least tempting to give them the benefit of the doubt for trying; there’s a decent sense of scope and drive in the instrumentation and Andy Leo can sell these lyrics with enough passion to stay afloat. But it can’t be avoided how little the scrubbed production works nowadays in metalcore, something that Crown The Empire clearly haven’t grasped yet and are all the weaker for. It looks like this won’t be a particularly grand return then, and Crown The Empire’s biggest claim to fame will likely continue to be the fact that Post Malone once auditioned to be their vocalist.

White Lies – Time To Give

The most obvious question to arise from this is “why do White Lies need a song that’s seven-and-a-half minutes long?” This is a band who’ve rarely been able to last a typical three-minute recording without losing themselves in their own dreary post-punk revivalism and Harry McVeigh’s monotone attempts at sounding stately, so quite why they’ve opted for this – and as a lead single to their next album, no less – is a total mystery. At least it’s not the worst thing they’ve ever done with the synths and guitars interweaving fairly well and actually having something of a decent stomp that’s welcome, but beyond that, it’s all White Lies’ typical drudgery extrapolated to well beyond their workable boundaries. McVeigh continues to have no inflection in his vocals at all, resorting to the tactic of dousing them in reverb to sound even more bombastic (which, for the record, doesn’t work), and he can barely come up with a memorable line or hook that the total lack of cadence really doesn’t help with. It just feels overdone with minimal payoff, and while White Lies fans might find something to like here, even then, this goes beyond even those limits more often than it should.

Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now

With the ubiquitous presence and reputation that Cloud Nothings have built for themselves in indie-rock and power-pop, it’s easy to forget that their debut album only came out in 2011, with the fact that they’re currently gearing up to release their fifth showing just the sort of work ethic this band have in them. But that sort of prolificacy can have its downsides, and Leave Him Now feels like the most it’s ever taken its toll. To put it simply, this sounds like a demo for which touching it up hasn’t even been considered, as guitars wash away in a fuzzy haze, drums have the same fidelity and presence they’d have if they were replaced by Tupperware boxes, and Dylan Baldi’s vocals end up sliding all over the place given their nonexistent control. It’s well past the deliberately shoddy presentation that a lot of garage-rock adopts and falls into out-and-out sloppiness, with barely even any interesting lyrical turns to even somewhat pick it up. Even if Cloud Nothings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s not hard to tell they’ve done much better than this in the past.

Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate

It’s not all that surprising that Say Anything are going on hiatus after one more album. Given the outright derision awarded to Hebrews and the total disregard to I Don’t Think It Is, Max Bemis has definitely deserved some time away from music to get back to a more creatively fruitful headspace. Still, the tracks from Oliver Appropriate so far have indicated that to be the case already, and in Pink Snot, it’s the sort of confessional, personal track that’s stripped back to just acoustic guitar and handclaps, purely because that’s all it needs. There’s definitely a wistful, final vibe running through it, and while that’s utterly smashed by Bemis’ braying and neverending sardonicism, it definitely works for that final moment of relative clarity that it is. It’ll most likely come into its own in the context of the album (apparently a sequel to …Is A Real Boy which could be interesting), but this already seems like the most artistically fertile that Say Anything have been in some time.

Steven Battelle – Apple Tree

There’s always been versatility to Steven Battelle as a musician, all the way back to his days fronting LostAlone and especially on his 2016 solo debut Exit Brain Left. For the cavalcade of seemingly unrelated musical styles that album encompassed, there was such an impressiveness to Battelle’s utilisation of them that made that whole project ultimately better than it really should’ve been. But that begs the question of what would happen if with something like that if it went wrong, and Apple Tree is perhaps the closest answer to date that we’ve got. For start, the clattering, industrial noise that shows no semblance of layering grates enormously, and while Battelle himself is in a more palatable vocal range for the most part, he’s pretty much the one shining kernel of positivity amongst how unformed everything else sounds. And while that may be the point in a song discussing his refusal to limit his ideas and stifle his creativity, it doesn’t help from a purely aesthetic point of view, and it really can’t end soon enough. It’s not enough to drain all hope for whatever Battelle decides to do next, but as far as new music is concerned, he can really only go up from here.

Scarlxrd – Mad Man

In a weird sort of way, the fact that Scarlxrd has been releasing a new track every week for the past five weeks is impressive to look up to, especially in an artistic sense where prolificness is rarely displayed on this level. It’d be more satisfying if the songs he’s been releasing were good and not the exact same thing over and over again, but at least it’s something. And maybe that’s finally sunk in with MAD MAN., as this definitely different than before, playing on warping synths and pianos over beats that are far more muted and textured than before. But it’s with Scarlxrd himself that everything comes undone, and an inability to modulate or change from nihilistic screaming that doesn’t even fit the beat leaves this as such a waste of potential, where he could’ve gotten more personal or real, and yet he’s sticking to the same boring thing once again. At least the instrumental is a bit more tolerable from the others, so that’s a step in the right direction, but to say anything more will come from it is a serious reach.

Vista – Born For Blood

It’s genuinely impressive how Vista have managed to become something of an underground force entirely off their own backs. Even with minimal exposure from mainstream outlets, they’ve amassed a considerable and dedicated fanbase, and with only a couple of EPs to their name, that’s not nothing. Of course, it helps that they tend to favour a more mature take on the easily-accessible pop-rock formula, and Born For Blood doesn’t exactly deviate from that. It’s still pretty solid though, taking a meaty, surging melody and decking it out with some sharper electronics and drum work in a way that’s almost industrial at points in how incisive and clinical it can feel. Even if the lyrics aren’t exactly thrilling or transgressive in any way, there’s a bloody-mindedness to vocalist Hope’s delivery that’s laser-focused on the most efficient and effective way of getting her points across, and it’s done with a good amount of force, all things considered. There’s definitely an argument for easing back on the production and let the guitars roar out a bit more, but even as it stands now, Born For Blood continues Vista’s run of strong pop-rock songs that are rapidly constructing a tangible and notable identity. Good stuff.

Black Tongue – Ultima Necat

If you’re even remotely familiar with Black Tongue and the skull-smashing heaviness they bring onboard, then Ultima Necat should come as very little surprise. And that can ultimately be viewed in two ways – it’s clear that Black Tongue are clearly sticking to their guns and dishing out more of what they’re best at, but there’s also not a lot of evolution that could push their doom-soaked deathcore to new heights. Of course, they’re still incredibly good at what they do – they’re able to hit a balance between scorching, searing guitar rumbles and not devolving into formlessness, and Alex Teyen genuinely could be the most effectively guttural screamer in the game – but they’ve shown they can do all that already, and Ultima Necat is little more than an extension, albeit a pretty impressive one. So while Black Tongue mightn’t be looking to branch out on that next album, what they’ve got already with more than suffice.

Charly Bliss – Heaven

Charly Bliss’ Guppy might have only been released last year, but it’s already turned them into one of the most promising acts in modern indie-punk with the sort of heartfelt simplicity that’s always a good fit in that particular scene. Clearly they’re not resting on their laurels either, as Heaven arrives hot on the heels of that album with pretty much more of the same. That’s a good thing though, and with chunky, grungy guitars and Eva Hendricks’ impossibly sweet vocals, there’s an almost dreamlike quality to the first love song the band have ever written. And of course, with this being a Charly Bliss song, never overcomplicating things is key, and here, with the plain language and lack of any frills or gimmicks, it gets where it needs to with minimal hiccups. And that’s fine; bands like this don’t need to be flashy as long as they’ve got good songs, and Heaven is exactly that.

All Get Out – Self Repair

For all the praise that’s been showered upon All Get Out – from both fans and other bands alike – they’ve never really come across as more than a solid but not-that-special emo band; their albums have been good, but rarely stood out among the tides of other releases in their scene. That’s what makes Self Repair such a nice surprise then, mostly because of how well the material sticks the landing, capturing the uncertainty of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood in Nathan Hussey’s wavering but deeply effective vocals. It may also be the most instrumentally robust that All Get Out have sounded too, as crashing alt-rock guitars intersperse with smaller, more tactile lines for a better sense of layering. It just all feels more than what All Get Out have delivered in the past, and it really does work for them. This may be the closest they’ve come to truly unlocking that potential that everyone have previously seen yet.

The Casualties – 1312

Even if The Casualties have never been an essential act in hardcore punk, the amount of work and grind they’ve put in throughout their almost three-decade-long career is impressive by anyone’s standard, and it’s incredibly easy to respect them even if you don’t particularly like them. That said, they’ve never had the most variation or distinction, from other bands or themselves, and even with new vocalist David Rodriguez in the fold, 1312 keeps that same ball rolling, albeit in an efficient and pretty enjoyable fashion. There’s still a nice pace and crunch to the guitar, and coupled with the gnarly, street-level production, they’ve clearly held on to that youthful vigour remarkably well. What’s also good to see is that this hasn’t mellowed out either, not only in how vicious it can sound but also in lyrics targeting corrupt police officers and their victimisation of people of colour. Again, it’s not exactly new (something that’s pretty on-brand with The Casualties as a whole), but for a perfectly solid punk song that gets in and gets out with minimal fuss, this is some good work. They’re not going to change the world at this point, but they’re not simply coasting by either.

Zand – Luci

Zand often classifies their music as “ugly-pop”, and with a song like Luci, it’s easy to see why. The electro-pop framework is there in spirit only, with the bulk replaced by grinding, buzzsaw synths and a positively enormous sense of hulking, cinematic bombast. And it’s that edge that’s the real hook on this track, as Zand’s swirling, enigmatic vocals careen through an almost gothic sense of fog, before they’re ripped into shreds by percussion in one of the most electrifying pop crescendos in some time, quite fitting for a song about a deal with the devil. Granted, the production can feel slathered on a bit thick sometimes (and the post-chorus cheerleader chants would have more of an impact if they weren’t as covered up as they are), but Luci is the sort of transgressive, inventive pop track that earmarks Zand as a considerable artist to watch in the coming months. Clearly “ugly-pop” is not representative of the actual quality of the music.

Reverend Horton Heat – Whole New Life

You’ve got to respect how long Jim Heath has been keeping the Reverend Horton Heat shtick up for. Rockabilly is hardly the most viable genre these days, and the fact he’s made a career from it spanning over thirty years is certainly commendable. However, it’s that exact unviability that stops Whole New Life from being any better, not only in its incredibly rote progression that’s been used countless times at this point, but simply for how dated this whole thing is; it might be representative of the authentic ‘50s sound, sure, but that doesn’t stop a muddy, slapdash production job from getting in the way. The thicker bass rumbles are a good edition for some much-needed crunch, but while the jumping pianos and guitars are fine for a one-off track, they aren’t the sort of thing that appeals over a wider listen, and lack any sort of variety necessary to go forward. Coupled with Heath’s incredibly rough vocal performance, and Whole New Life is less a celebration of good times and more an indication that this particular party might be coming to a close pretty soon.

Public Service Broadcasting – White Star Liner

A band like Public Service Broadcasting really is a rarity, simply because they’re doing something different to literally no one else, and while sampling public information films and clips of archive footage and laying it over immaculately-composed indie-pop might seem odd, it does work. What’s more, it’s made to look almost impossibly easy after some thought; just take White Star Liner, in which newsreel footage about the construction of the Titanic is overlaid on sweeping, gentle beds of strings and muted guitars to such dazzling effect. The creativity is the easiest selling point, and while there’s not a lot to say about the instrumentation and how unassuming it is – though that’s probably a deliberate move – the novelty of the concept on its own is enough to carry it, simply because of all the possible routes and avenues that could be taken. It’s a bit niche, but it’s still worth taking a look, if only because, again, there’s really nothing else like this around.

Tilian – Ghost Town

Given that Tilian Pearson’s cleans are easily the best (read: most listenable) part of Dance Gavin Dance’s music, it makes sense that he’d break away for his own solo career on the side, and like so many modern, soulful metalcore vocals, it’s an opportunity to flex his pop and R&B chops more than his day job would allow. But compared to someone like Tyler Carter who’s able to exude such a natural smoothness in his vocals, Ghost Town is the sort of big, percussive pop track that forces Tilian to the upper limits of his register and can be actively uncomfortable to listen to. Sure, there’s some nice swell in the rumbling beat and hints of electric guitar to back it up, but it begs for something more naturally powerful, not a shrill fragment that’s struggling to even hold itself up. And it really does detract from what could be a perfectly decent song, making it seem much more cheap and unfulfilling than it really should.

Afterlife – Throat

If there’s any sort of proof that Cane Hill now have one of the sonic templates for scene success, it would be with Afterlife and how their fairly blatant take on the nu-metalcore sound has seen them become the latest act in the Hopeless Records stable. And from Tyler Levenson’s low-slung creak in his voice to the overall more menacing tone, it’s clearly an attempt to nab as much as possible from the Louisianans’ sound, though actively watering it down with trap skitters and a big, blustery chorus isn’t a great move in anyone’s book. It really does just feel like a B-rate version of something done a lot better, making it a bit safer and easier to swallow, and in another set of lyrics about being nebulously trapped in one’s own head with little flair or detail, it’s hard to care when barely anything feels like a band carving out their own identity. If there was no effort at all put in, Afterlife could’ve easily been another cookie-cutter metalcore band and called it a day so credit to them there, but unless they can really make something of this that’s distinct to themselves, even in the smallest possible way, they’re going to get lost in the shuffle in record time.

Just About Done – 1029

For as forgettable as Strain was, the fact that Just About Done have taken the initiative to make a series out of their upcoming music videos shows a band with more ambition than the typical pop-punk drudgery. That said, any notions of ambition are greatly mitigated when it comes to the music itself, and 1029 is no different. Granted, it’s definitely a bit better than its predecessor with lyrics that feel a bit darker with more intrigue, but beyond that, it’s grounded safely in the vein of mature pop-punk that rarely allows much room to do anything else. Samantha McGee’s vocals are definitely the main point of contention here, pushed behind a fairly standard musical canvas so they rarely stand out, but also feeling a bit too stunted to properly convey the emotion and grandeur they’re evidently going for. And while that all might come part and parcel with a band continuing to find their feet while edging in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go yet before Just About Done can be called great.

Flat Earth – Cyanide

Don’t be fooled by the name; Flat Earth actually seem like a fairly sensible proposition, especially for a band featuring members of HIM and Amorphis. In other words, that boils down to an undeniably European act embracing the darkened theatricality that so much of the mainland’s music seems to be based on, and doing it pretty well at that. It does feel a great deal like some of HIM’s rockier tracks in the big, vaguely flamboyant guitar work and vocals which toe the line between evil and seductive, and thus it’s easy to see its shortcomings in relation to that, namely the fact that it can feel a tad one note at times for longer than it really should. That being said though, there’s a solid melodic nature to Flat Earth that’s incredibly easy to like, and while Cyanide is nesting in distinctly familiar territory for all parties, it’s enjoyable enough to overlook that.

cheerbleederz – cabin fever

As tempting as it may be to call cheerbleederz a supergroup, there’s such a low-key, ground-level sensibility to them that it would almost feel wrong. Of course, given that this is a band formed from members of Happy Accidents, Fresh and Finish Flag, that doesn’t exactly come as a great surprise, but it also lays down a suitable foundation for their music, both sonically and quality-wise. And while cabin fever doesn’t have as much going for it as its members’ individual work – due to being only two minutes long and in the more mid-tempo range of indie-pop – this is still some decent work overall. There’s a crispness in pretty much all aspects of instrumentation as well as Sophie MacKenzie’s vocals, and even if the lyrics focusing the uncertainty of letting someone know how you feel don’t exactly amount to much and can ultimately feel more repetitive than they should, there’s a simplicity and lack of pretension and artifice that has a lot of appeal. It’s definitely more side-project than supergroup overall then, but cheerbleederz make a considerable case for being a welcome new presence in an already thriving indie-punk scene.

Rews – Can You Feel It?

It feels strange that Rews’ Can You Feel It? is only just getting a proper release now, given that it’s been floating around in various forms for a couple of years now. It at least feels appropriate given they’re imminent UK run supporting Halestorm, but it’s not exactly the sort of song that requires so much buildup, a fairly straightforward hard rock song about embracing positivity after a fall that isn’t bad at all, but with the amount of repetition in the lyrics, it can come across as a bit too shallow at points. That pretty much stems down to the performance as well; Collette Williams has a good voice but without too many defining qualities, and instrumentally, there’s little more than some very basic hard rock riffing that, even then, is incredibly pared back to what feels like the most set-in-stone minimum. The fact that the song itself can connect at all amidst all of that is impressive in itself, but Rews aren’t exactly dazzling here, even if they are perfectly competent at what they do.

MCC – The Sun & The Rain

When a band of former Ghost members releases a new song self-described as “nightmare-pop”, you begin to wonder whether they’re maybe carrying a bit too much over from their previous outfit. In reality though, MCC are a very different proposition, steering away from the theatricality and drawing more from Britpop and jangly ‘90s indie than anything else, which really does bring into question the “nightmare” prefix of their own genre. And indeed, The Sun & The Rain does feel a bit too light and airy to make all that much of impact, with incredibly lightweight guitars and breathy vocals that never quite hit that sweet spot that really sticks. It sounds pleasant enough and is incredibly well-produced for what it’s trying to achieve, but there really needs to be more here to work properly, because MCC simply aren’t bringing enough.

Wrath – Draw Blood

Apparently Wrath are considered to be a “progressive thrash” band, a label which is only vaguely oxymoronic, but can certainly be applied to bands like Vader who do take that more technical approach. The reason that needs clarification is because Draw Blood is in no way progressive, and only barely a thrash song. At least it’s foundationally sound with guitar work that’s able to keep up the necessary pace, but when it’s as badly produced as this, thinned out into ribbons with no weight in any aspect whatsoever, that counts for basically nothing. As for vocalist Gary Golwitzer, he’s clearly trying to hit some approximation of James Hatfield at some point, but he sounds out of breath most of the time in a way that really highlights how much this band is a relic from the ‘80s that hasn’t aged well since. At least the lyrical focus on making a change in society is noble (albeit critically underwritten), but it really can’t save this totally shambolic track from the number of clear flaws it has. And considering that there are thrash bands from the ‘80s that actually hold up, there’s barely any reason for Wrath to even be here.

The Sonder Bombs – Title

Despite bearing all the hallmarks of a band guaranteed to do well in the modern indie-punk scene, there’s something about The Sonder Bombs that could go further than that. The very millennial sweetness is a given, but Title has more than a bit of emo sparkle that really fleshes it out a bit more, with guitars remaining subdued but with a level of intricacy that mightn’t be the most immediate, but has some satisfying payoff when it does click. Of course though, it’s the lyrics where this band shines most of all, as Willow Hawks laments about the continued stigma surrounding being a woman in a band, and the conditioning that’s been experienced to have lower expectations and ambitions than her male counterparts. That in particular is quite a bit more nuanced than the exploration of this topic usually goes, and the hangdog, reserved presentation has a lot more weight because of it. It’s little wonder, then, that The Sonder Bombs have already found themselves some considerable success, especially when their music is as real and thought-provoking as this.

Friendship Commanders – Saw And Heard

The beauty of a song like Friendship Commanders’ Saw And Heard is that it can condense everything it needs into just two-and-a-half minutes, and then proceed to hit twice as hard before it. And really, this is the sort of punk that only gets better the harder it does hit, so with the bashed-out guitars with monumental imperfections left in and Buick Audra’s terse barks (as well as Steve Albini’s typical production style to accentuate it all), Saw And Heard’s raggedness ultimately benefits it. What’s more, there’s such a steadfastness in lyrics about confronting abusers and their past actions, no matter how long ago they were, something that Audra’s reliance on firebrand power and volume above anything else feel more than capable to tackle. It’s defiantly reminiscent of classic punk in its execution and ethos, and that’s a look that fits Friendship Commanders’ style perfectly.

7he 7ouch – My Face

Despite being an almost totally gimmick-free, meat-and-potatoes rock band, 7he 7ouch actually impressed quite a lot with their last single You Can, mostly because of the emotional reality that grounded it and made it hit that bit harder. Sadly, its follow-up My Face doesn’t really have the same effect, now opting for big, swaggering riffs that definitely have a cocksure brashness to them that’s certainly infectious, but it can sound a bit too trimmed down at times, almost like the blank canvas that a more interesting rock song is built on. It doesn’t help when Constantine’s already low vocals clash with omnipresent layers of backing chants in a way that flatters no one, and could really afford to explode a bit more than it does; the potential is there, but it just sort of fizzles out along the way. It makes the overall message of positivity fall a bit flat, and for what could be this grand, bombastic number, it struggles to get there. That said, this isn’t terrible, and it’s frankly astounding that 7he 7ouch are able to get so much out of so little, but this isn’t really showing their abilities in the best possible light.

Bitch Hawk – JOY

So apparently, when you put together one of the songwriters behind Icona Pop’s I Love It and a renowned jazz guitarist, you get a band that’s touted as a cross between Bathory and the Beastie Boys. That might just be a bit too much hyperbole upon investigation, but a weird mishmash of noise-rock, hardcore and black metal is still a strange enough end product. And clearly, Bitch Hawk are reveling in that fact on JOY, an anthem to finding light amongst nihilism that fans of Kvelertak at their best will find a lot to love in, from the snarling, crust-riddled guitars and pitch-black production to Fred Burman’s manic, unkempt vocals. And yet, despite all that, this track still feels a shade away from greatness, mostly because of the awkward tempo shifts every few seconds that are presumably there to sound weird and off-kilter but are just unnecessarily awkward. Still, that’s only one black mark on a band who seem to have a lot of promise, and if those Bathory-meets-Beastie-Boys comparisons actually come to fruition, their upcoming album could very well be essential listening.

Light The Fire – Carry On

Just when everyone though it had died a merciful death, it looks like Texas’ Light The Fire are bringing back Verb The Noun as a naming convention and going ahead with it. To be fair, they did form in 2011 so it’s a bit more understandable, but when they sound like they haven’t changed or their sound hasn’t evolved since then, it becomes a lot harder to look past, and Carry On is exactly the sort of metalcore you’d dig up from a 2013 Warped Tour compilation and never pick up again. Seth Davis is okay as a screamer but indulges in pseudo-Matty Mullins whinges in his screams too often for comfort, something that’s almost fitting considering how derivative this brand of metalcore is with its mindless chugging and superfluous electronics cramming everything into place, all which paint Light The Fire as the Memphis May Fire clone literally no one in 2018 asked for. And with the over-generalised lyrics about standing up for what’s right that’s supposedly taken influence from the current US political climate (not that you’d be able to tell), Carry On feels like an exercise in ticking boxes with maximum efficiency. It’s not exactly hair-rippingly bad or anything, but this style of metalcore just feels so unbelievably irrelevant that it’s a wonder why anyone even tries.

Warkings – Gladiator

So have a guess what Warkings, a band supposedly comprised of warriors from different periods of time who met at the gates of Valhalla, sound like. Well, they really only could be a power-metal band of some description, and Gladiator is exactly that at its most blustery and over-the-top. And for a genre like this that seems to be allergic to new ideas, Warkings aren’t exactly combatting that with the galloping guitars and drums and hyper-polished vocals, but at least there’s clearly some self awareness of how ridiculous it all is. Hell, the fact that it does what it says on the tin so much that it lifts the Marcus Decimus Meridius speech from the film Gladiator says a lot in that regard, and playing to the clean, catchy stereotypes of power-metal is the veritable knowing wink that this isn’t meant to be taken seriously at all. Still, it’s not unlistenable, and anyone who’s more au fait with metal’s less serious offerings shouldn’t find too much to complain about with this one.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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