Slipknot – All Out Life
One of the most interesting things about when Slipknot release new music is deducing how much of the inevitable waves of praise come from simply the furore of having new Slipknot music. For a band who’ve been going as long as they have, they don’t actually have that much material to their name, and given how divisive they continue to prove, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that so much of the praise is a knee-jerk reaction; after all, look at The Negative One or really, how estimations around .5: The Grey Chapter have fallen in general. Thus, it might completely negate any discussion worth having in that area to say that All Out Life is a great return after a dormant four years, but this one does feel like it. Corey Taylor delivers the layered erudition through bloodshot frenzies like his always have, this time aiming at the exact problem that’s plagued reception towards Slipknot for years, namely how anything that isn’t new is seen as devalued compared to what is. And that chip on his shoulder is palpable, particularly in a six-minute metal monolith that never lets up ever once, buoyed by crushing, industrial-tinged guitars and even blast beats to give the already potent drumming even more of an evil, maniacal crunch. Sure, there are issues, like how the vocal production can be a bit wonky at times, but it’s not enough to spoil what is Slipknot back on top form as they were always capable of being. Time will undoubtedly tell whether it meets the same fate as previous singles, but given how much of an event this track’s mere existence feels, that might be something they can get away with.
King 810 – Heartbeats
As pretentious and wanky as this might sound, it still feels like people don’t get King 810. The glaring flaws are most certainly there – there’s a tendency to plumb some truly base nu-metal tones and David Gunn’s hammy, ham-fisted delivery doesn’t always carry the menace it should – but when people never look past that and only see the uber-violent militia rather than bloodstained stories about fighting for survival, there’s obviously going to be negativity. That’s not to say it’s always the case though, and if there’s a convincing argument for King 810 really starting to recycle material at a disappointingly quick rate, it would be Heartbeats. It’s not above saving either, as the tribal, percussive instrumentation and Gunn’s manic scatting that see the band pulling from Korn more than ever before do convincingly create that closed-in, maniacal air that’s often been so sought after for them. For the rest of the time though, it’s hard to feel as though they’re not playing to all of the stereotypes about themselves, as Gunn’s words about the people he’s killed and his volatile home environment alongside his heavy breathing and bloodshot delivery feel particularly synonymous with the cartoonish joke that so many have portrayed this band as. And that might be the point given the opening spoken-word sample, but King 810 playing up their thuggishness and brutishness isn’t going to win over the detractors as much as give them more reason to look away and sneer.
Busted – Nineties
It’s actually quite surprising that Busted is still a draw these days. Granted, they’re the sort of band for whom nostalgia really does view favourably, splitting the difference between the pop-rock and boyband boom of the 2000s, but considering how vastly different Fightstar proved to be – and the less said about Son Of Dork, the better – you’d kind of imagine that people would’ve lost faith that this reunion would’ve spawned anything more than the one album it did. But apparently that’s not the case, given that there’s a new one out next year with Nineties being the lead single, and if nostalgia is the driving force behind the band these days, the fact they’ve piped it into a song as blatantly pandering and thin as this is a foolproof move with terrible consequences. It’s not as if it’s a terrible song compositionally, with a basic but likable pop-rock bounce that’s too inoffensive to really rub anyone the wrong way (though Charlie Simpson’s brief scream in his Fightstar vein towards the end is a nice surprise), but when the writing essentially boils down to a checklist of quintessentially ‘90s things in a glorification that would make your average Buzzfeed writer swoon, there’s nothing to go off to even suggest this is worthwhile. Sure, Busted have never been lyrical geniuses, but considering their audience of primarily young people who’ll harbour the same sort of fantasies for an era like that, it’s a level of pandering that’s honestly beneath them. It’s bound to have appeal, but hopefully the rest of this album can do something a bit more substantial.
Plague Vendor – Locomotive
It’s strange that we haven’t heard a lot from Plague Vendor lately, particularly when they seemed to consistently making a lot of noise earlier in the 2010s when the hype around them was rather consistent. Maybe it’s been the passage of time, but that seems to have dissipated a fair bit now; their last single in July barely had any buzz around it at all, and even this one hasn’t been given much airtime. Maybe it’s because Locomotive feels like a decidedly different track than anything that is likely to be pushed from punk in the public eye, ragged and wiry by relying far more heavily on post-punk thrumming in its meaty bassline that anything else. As well as a buried vocal performance that only ever unleashes some real fury for shouts in the chorus, it’s a weird, off-kilter track that does work in a way, but isn’t exactly a mind-blowing outing from a band who have delivered material of the sort before. They’re back on steady footing here, but that’s largely about it.
Whitechapel – Brimstone
Like many a valiant deathcore machine, Whitechapel have been chugging along with little concern of how played out this sound might be getting, and for a band who were once pegged as being among the pinnacle of the genre, it’s not really a good sign to see how drastically their star has fallen. It’s not as if they’ve suddenly turned into a bad band either, but given how much sameness there is in deathcore as a genre at the minute, they’re coming up short more often than not. That’s exactly how Brimstone feels, too – a track that’s fundamentally fine with the snarling, chugging guitars and Phil Bozeman’s formidable growls, but put this in a lineup with any number of other deathcore bands with very few defining characteristics, and what’s the difference? Even Emmure and Attila, for as execrable as those two bands can be among this genre, at least have a personality of their own that be easily identified; Whitechapel by comparison are flagging profusely as an act that have become content with simply falling in line, and in many cases, that’s probably worse.
Pedro The Lion – Yellow Bike
As often as Pedro The Lion have been cited as such a major influence for so many bands and formative in what emo would ultimately become today, not a lot has been heard of them, mostly because they’ve not released any new music for the last decade-and-a-half. But now they’ve got a new album ready to go in January, inspired by David Bazan rekindling his love for making music and coming out of the low ebb of an emo elder statesman, and Yellow Bike feels like the perfect encapsulation of that ennui and tiredness. Bazan’s low, drawn-out vocals carry the weight of years in them, and put alongside a very simple guitar and drum line, there’s a wistfulness that comes from this feeling of profound loneliness that really does connect immensely well. There’s not an ounce of fat or flash to it, just poignant, melancholy songwriting wrapped in a timeless emo package that’s evident of a musician finding his way again, and putting those neuroses on the page to be rid of them in the best way possible. It’s a great little track, and one totally befitting of Pedro The Lion’s status within emo as such an influential, important band.
blanket – Halloween Theme
John Carpenter’s original theme for 1978’s Halloween has long stood as one of the most evocative pieces of music to ever be associated with horror media, serving as a borderline masterful example of building tension through the utmost precision. What’s more, it’s held up ridiculously well even today, which is why it seems odd that blanket have chosen to put their own spin on it. It’s not exactly a bad rendition, blowing the original up in scale with greater guitars and wider atmosphere while keeping the instantly recognisable piano motif intact, but it lacks the haunting darkness of the original, especially when the use of those guitars pretty much paves over any notion of precision the original had. It’s certainly listenable, and blanket do have a knack for giving post-rock a bit of a kick to make it more active, as is largely the case here, but its biggest sin is that it’s just ultimately an unnecessary novelty that probably won’t be remembered for very long.
Skinny Lister – 38 Minutes
Like so many of their 2000 Trees-playing Xtra Mile peers, Skinny Lister aren’t really known outside of that circle, and aren’t given the due credit for a decently potent folk-rock band and an absolutely riotous live one. What’s an even bigger shame is they’ve been going for so long at this point that that’s never likely to be the case, and while it’s not bore down on them as it much as it could, they aren’t exactly getting anywhere either. 38 Minutes is a prime example of that, rooted around a very stable, mid-paced acoustic rollick that’s pleasant enough to listen to, but compared to the energy and electricity this band can bring at their very best – not to mention a lyrical wit that feels disappointingly toned down here – it feels like a bit too much of a damp squib to hit those heights again. It’s reminiscent of the path that Frank Turner’s later work has taken, albeit not as focused on arena-level appeal and keeping to the ground level that’s often worked for Skinny Lister, and while it’s able to salvage enough from that to save it, it’s not enough to prevent 38 Minutes from feeling just a bit average.
Polar – Drive
For far too long, Polar have been criminally overlooked within the UK hardcore scene, and while so many of their peers who’ve met the same fate have already met their unfortunate end, to see them digging in their heels and standing resolute is good to see. Besides, with bands like While She Sleeps and Architects crafting new boundaries for heavy music to reach, now is a better time than ever for them to really come back and blow the doors off. And oh boy, does Drive do just that, perfectly balancing towering, metallic guitar work with Adam Woodford’s incredible knack for a soaring melodic hook for one of the biggest sounding tracks they’ve released to date. What’s more, there’s such a sense of triumph in the sound of this track, breaking into enormity that Polar have always been capable of but have never capitalised upon to this extent. It’s just a fantastic track, not doing too much reinvent the wheel but stabilising modern melodic hardcore in a way that just feels so right and necessary at this point. Above all though, it’s proof that Polar do not deserve to be written off like so many unfortunately have.
Panic! At The Disco – The Greatest Show
Given that The Greatest Showman has ended up being the biggest musical in years and a cash cow that could be milked to no end (the soundtrack has already been re-released about three times), having a bunch of different artists roped in to cover it in its entirety was pretty much a no-brainer, and of course, because Panic! At The Disco are the biggest they’ve been in years and Brendon Urie has made no secret of his love for musical theatre, here he is covering the film’s main theme. And really, it’s hard to judge this on any real merit, mostly because it feels like Urie doing a karaoke version of a song that wasn’t all that great to begin with. His vocals sound great, sure, but the clashing, clattering arrangement has always been awkward, and wedging in an extra few bars of guitar towards the end doesn’t change that. It’s not as if this is the cornerstone of Urie’s next career move or anything, and as a throwaway cover, it can be taken or left as pleased, but from an artist like him, you’d expect better than studio-mandated soundtrack fodder that’s about as irrelevant to anything as it gets.
Imagine Dragons – Machine
After Zero, it would seem as though there’s nowhere for Imagine Dragons to go but up, though you’d be surprised. They’ve disappointed innumerable times already in their relatively short career, and while Machine isn’t up there with the worst of them, it’s characteristic of every facet of Imagine Dragons that goes wrong but is never rectified. The rattling beat sounds awful for one, and with similarly clanking percussion and a guitar solo that’s so coated in static that it could be some form of synthetic horn line, it feels like a track that’s barely holding together at the best of times. And as always, Dan Reynolds is completely unnatural as a vocalist in terms of the range and notes he tries to hit, and with the basic premise of individuality and not being a cog in the machine, it’s about as barebones and basic as it gets. It’s not like there was much hope for Imagine Dragons’ upcoming album anyway, but this pretty much solidifies the lack of decent ideas that are going to show up.
Brutai – Upside Down
Brutai are one of those metal bands who’ve had success in certain circles, but it’s never really led up to any implications that it could be on a wider scale. What they’ve done up to now has been fair enough, but this incredibly straightforward form of metal with the vaguest hint of prog is a hard sell at the best of times, and they’ve never really had that nailed-on moment to sell themselves in a huge way. That still looks to be the case with Upside Down, not only because a song based exclusively on Stranger Things is going to be alienating in some way, but because it’s another rather flat, uninteresting track that has some decent components (particularly the fluttering keys and strings at the back half), but spends the majority of its time just meandering to the finish line with little urgency. Coupled with a really sludgy guitar tone that doesn’t do production this clean any favours, and Felix Lawrie’s flat vocals that rarely get by on more than sheer power, it’s tough to really root for Upside Down, especially when Brutai have proven in the past they can do better than this.
Telethon – Palo Santo
After establishing themselves as one of modern indie-punk’s most colourful, gloriously vibrant prospects just last week, clearly Telethon are striking while the iron is hot with their next track Palo Santo. This one is unquestionably different though, primarily driven by lower, more downbeat tones in its lonely guitar and Kevin Tully’s weary delivery, before exploding into the sugary melodies and piercing synths that made them such an interesting listen. And that feels like a wise move, giving them the chance to show a new side of them themselves, but one that’s equally engaging in the emotional depth that’s achieved in its quietness and Tulley’s smart, winding lyrics. Comparing this and Modern Abrasive, there’s something so joyously fun about the latter that it’s hard to top, but as an attempt at proving their not simply a one-trick pony while also forging a significant emotional presence for themselves, Telethon really get it here.
Spielbergs – 4AM
While it mightn’t have connected as well as it could have, Spielberg’s Distant Star EP did a lot around indie circles, so it makes a lot of sense that their debut full-length is coming so soon after. Considering how often indie crowds move on to the next big band, working as efficiently as possible is always good, and with 4AM, not only have Spielbergs done that, but they’ve managed to tighten up their sound into something much more potent and memorable. The surging guitars still lack a bit of definition, particularly in how the fuzzed-up production works with them, but in terms of sheer potency of hook-craft and the size of a track like this, it’s the sort of gem that really does culminate into something good, particularly when the strings come in towards the end to play off the thick, passionate bassline. It’s definitely a huge step in the right direction, and considering the general ambivalence felt towards Speilbergs’ last EP, the fact that there’s any excitement at all for this new album is a very good sign indeed.
Irk – Life Changing Porno
Right off the bat, you can tell that Irk is not a band for everyone. This sort of noise-rock never is, but when it’s deliberately as off-piste and crushing as this is, there’s likely to be an enormous section of the listening public who’ll want nothing to do with it. And yes, Life Changing Porno is a nasty little track in that regard, as Jack Gordon’s hobbling, unkempt vocals clash with Beige Palace’s Kelly Bishop and her paint-stripping shrieks, all while the heady, borderline nauseating concoction of bass and drums spirals around them both. That’s where the appeal lies though, and to a degree, the confusion and lack of form really do belie its intentions of being a love song quite well. Again, this most certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those with more of an ear for the off-kilter, Irk are doing some pretty interesting things that are worth taking a look at.
Famous Last Words – No Walls
When the verbatim quote that stands out most about Famous Last Words’ newest track is “this song was so deep”, you can tell this is going to be a real gem. Given that this band have never previously been known for depth as much as Memphis May Fire levels of dated scene-core prostration, there’s little cause to expect a lot, and No Walls pretty much comes good on all of those estimations. The thing that stands out most is the ludicrous case of bands releasing music like this that would’ve sounded painfully derivative in 2012, with JT Tollas putting on his best Matty Mullins-esque simper to sell an “emotional”, “dark” track that does nothing that would even remotely pull anyone in. That counts doubly for the equally generic instrumentation, with overproduced guitars buried under sweeping synths in an attempt to sound grandiose and epic that feels more like a Jarrod Alonge parody of a metalcore song. There’s really no need for any of this anymore, and Memphis May Fire releasing their own album in a couple of weeks is bad enough; there’s no need for copycats to do the same thing.
Sibling – Heal
As far as the very straight-laced brand of alt-rock and emo goes that doesn’t usually provide a lot more to go on, Sibling’s Dream You Away last year provided a whole lot to like, with the sort of hard-hitting lyrics and melodic-to-a-fault compositions that, if effectively capitalised on, could’ve turned them into something huge within that scene. Sadly it feels like they left it too long, which is even more a shame because Heal is another really solid track that’ll likely never get the appreciation it deserves. For one, the low-key, washed-out presentation sounds absolutely gorgeous, polished enough to really shimmer without being overproduced, and the detachment in the writing and vocals gives off a genuine numbness that really does have pathos to it. And it’s one of those occasions where a track doesn’t need a real explosion to hit hard; Heal excels on slow-burn alone, and it feels so much better because of it.
Swedish Death Candy – A Date With Caligula
The garage-rock explosion seems to yielding another contender to lead the charge, as Swedish Death Candy have frequently been taking up festival spots and hype train seats to do as much as they can within the scene. On A Date With Caligula though, it’s hard to see what exactly that is besides a B-tier Queens Of The Stone Age impression that, even then, lacks so much of the nuance or eccentricity of that band. The wiry, weedling guitars definitely have some personality to them, but there’s an unnecessary amount of polish that really takes away from the rough-and-ready nature that’s presumably meant to be the appeal, and Louis Perry’s weak vocal power only subtracts from it all further. There’s definitely a kernel of appeal to be found, particularly for those yearning for some kind of krautrock revival that might be sated here, but overall, Swedish Death Candy aren’t really doing much to win people over.
Northshore – For What It’s Worth
On paper, Northshore have very little to differentiate from scores of other pop-rock bands looking to break out of their local scene to something bigger – they’re melodic and catchy to a fault, replete with slick, clean production and a compositional style that’s never too flashy or bright, but manages to keep the energy up whenever possible. As far as a basic framework goes, that isn’t too bad, and indeed, For What It’s Worth does make fairly good use of it. The vocal interplay between Ben Vickers and Dan Shepherd is strong has a brightness that complements the instrumentation well, and the general lyrical conceit about apologising to a former partner for the breakdown of the relationship has a level of humanity that Northshore’s everyman personality can convincingly deliver. The problem, though, is that so many other bands are doing this exact same thing to the exact same level, and while there’s a slightly poppier angle here, that’s ultimately negligible in the grand scheme of things, especially in the market of personal, small stakes tracks like this given that anthemic treatment. It leads to a song that isn’t bad at all, but lack a real selling point beyond catchiness that Northshore will need if the want to go any further.
Royal Canoe – Peep This
Royal Canoe’s Rayz actually really impressed with an equable but engaging blend of psychedelic and indie-pop that had a lot of depth and vibe to it for a pretty interesting listen, something that definitely greased the wheels for their album next year. It needed to followed up to keep that going though, and unfortunately Peep This is nowhere near as good, mostly because so much of the tightness of its predecessor is completely missing here. There’s stil a clarity to the pianos and firm bass that’s nice, but with the lurching, unstable mix and gurgles that break through the mix, there’s an awkwardness and lack of connective tissue that makes it fall apart before it really gets going. The atmosphere it creates is still okay if you squint at it, but there’s so little of the smoothness that made Rayz work so well, and Peep This just feels like the lesser article by comparison. It’s not enough to dissuade anyone from the album, but maybe a little more caution is necessary before going into it.
H_ngm_n – Ghost
It’s tempting to compare H_ngm_n to the long-departed and often-forgotten band Nai Harvest; both are duos, for one, and both play a very minimalist brand of emo that relies on pop nouse and emotion to do the heavy lifting. The big difference is, where Nai Harvest ended up spiraling away from a sound that really worked for them, H_ngm_n are standing resolute on Ghost, keeping rock-solid riffs and some surprisingly detailed drum lines at the core for an impassioned vocal performance to really carry it to the finish line. It’s perhaps most impressive how succinct James Martin and Chris Childs keep this sound, playing to the strengths of a duo by eschewing any bells and whistles and allowing the richness to be the main selling point on its own. Sure, it’s hardly new, by H_ngm_n play it with heart and gusto that can rival even the best of them, and that’ll undoubtedly get them far down the line.
Words by Luke Nuttall