Milk Teeth – Stain
The turbulence in the Milk Teeth camp has been fairly unavoidable lately, particularly with the spectacularly reshuffled lineup that now features Nervus’ Em Foster amongst its ranks on guitar duties. If nothing else, the pedigree is certainly there from the start, but as Stain shows, it’s clearly translated much further into the DNA of the band than a simple cosmetic do-up. Compared to pretty much anything that Milk Teeth have put their name to in the past, Stain is stormy and violent, relying on punishing guitar leads straight from an early Nirvana song to drive itself along, as well as the additional screams and venom in Becky Blomfield’s vocals that convey a twisted sense of pleasure in this heavier, more intense and incisive sound. It’s nothing if not effective either, bringing an immediacy to the table that’s enormously powerful but with an insidious level of depth that burrows down and never quite leaves. It’s probably among the most vital songs Milk Teeth have ever written, and probably one of their best too, not only showing how far this band’s reinvention process has gone, but hinting at so many possibilities for where to go next. 2019 could be the year when this band really does something special.
SWMRS – April In Houston
The continued popularity of SWMRS is absolutely inexplicable in almost every way. It was a bit more understandable earlier on with ragged garage-rock at a time when the popularity of bands like FIDLAR was running high, but since their move to Fueled By Ramen, they’ve made a transition to pop-rock that’s been messy at best and borderline incompetent and unlistenable at worst. And once again, April In Houston is closer to the latter, trying to weld together disparate elements that wouldn’t even work if they were actually given some attention in a song of their own. For one, Cole Becker’s vocals sound absolutely atrocious as he slurs every word in some kind of patois that seemingly mutates with every syllable, backed with cheap, chintzy fragments of guitar that, at points, sound ripped from LFO’s Summer Girls of all things, all while an incessant trap tick slices through the mix and sits flatly at the very top. It sounds absolutely dreadful in almost every way, with lyrics that feel ripped verbatim from the most stereotypical portrayal of stoned hipster imaginable not helping their case by even a slight amount. If this was a demo or a first draft, it would maybe get some leeway, but when SWMRS are releasing this as a major-label-backed single and expecting it to light some kind of fire for their upcoming album, that’s just inexcusable.
AFI – Trash Bat
Get Dark might have succeeded in showing that AFI still have a good deal of spark in their system, but it wasn’t going to be enough on its own; for The Missing Man to really succeed, more of the material needs to hit that same sort of watermark. Thankfully, Trash Bat looks to be seeing that trend through nicely, not exactly deviating into unexplored territory, but establishing that AFI’s gothic brand of punk and post-hardcore still has some mileage left in it. It’s definitely a bit of an abortive cut that could’ve done with lengthening a bit (even artificially, it would’ve still felt more complete), but with the chunky basslines and Davey Havok’s silky-smooth delivery standing chief amongst its parts, it fulfills all its duties nicely, particularly for an opening track. Even if this isn’t among AFI’s greatest works to date, it’s another encouraging sign that The Missing Man might see a return for the better for a band who’ve been more than a bit lacking as of late.
Buckcherry – Head Like A Hole
So let’s just take a minute to assess the fact that, on their upcoming album, Buckcherry have thought it wise to include an honest-to-goodness cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Head Like A Hole for reasons that really aren’t even worth thinking about. After all, it’s not like there’s much within Josh Todd’s head that likely makes sense (probably why he saved the best material he’s ever released for his side-project), but at some point in the time, the fact that this was considered a good idea is slightly concerning. That’s mostly because it’s not like much else happens to the song beyond the expected Buchcherry treatment, namely reinterpreted as a fairly generic sleaze-rock track that removes all the stalking menace of the original for a strangely thin guitar line, slappy, flat percussion, and Todd braying every lyric in a way that’s presumably supposed to be angry, but feels like a pale facsimile of what Trent Reznor delivered on the original. It goes without saying that it’s pretty bad then, but that’s not out of the ordinary or anything; Buckcherry are merely conforming to the expectations already placed on them, and regardless of what you think of them, they’re nothing if not consistent.
Void Of Vision – Kill All My Friends
At the minute, Void Of Vision haven’t done a great deal to set themselves apart from their Australian metalcore brethren, no matter how comfortable they are at slotting into the slightly technical, groove-driven mould. That’s something they kind of need to do as well, given how little thinning out is actually taking place within that scene. To their credit then, Kill All My Friends is definitely an admirable effort, turning up the heft and guttural crunch considerably to rage against a culture of one-upmanship instead of congratulating friends for their achievements, but it’s also emphatically the same base DNA as pretty much all of Void Of Vision’s work so far, and it’s not feeling any fresher or more exciting. Sure, there’s merit here, but only enough to get them to the mid-tier of their scene and no higher, something that needs to be more of a priority if this band want to continue in the way they are.
Crystal Lake – Aeon
If there’s a metalcore band who could potentially achieve huge things in 2019, it’d most likely be Crystal Lake. Their tour with Bury Tomorrow this month is giving them huge amounts of exposure to potential new fans, and the previous success of Crossfaith has shown that Japanese metalcore bands co-opting a more westernised stripe of the genre can reap some serious rewards. What’s more, Aeon isn’t simply an attempt to latch onto a similar wave of success, but rather build a recognisable sound for Crystal Lake, something that, with the furious command of speed and breakdowns that actually add something to the mix other than a sense of faux-posturing, they’re remarkably good at. There’s definitely an erring towards the futuristic and cyberpunk leanings of their fellow countrymen, but Aeon is also far more crushing in its execution, with the calamitous blastbeat drumming and Ryo’s death growls that see a foot firmly planted in deathcore over the stylised metalcore that, even normally, the only skirt around the edges of. There’s potential for some of the best modern metalcore around to come from this, and if Crystal Lake can keep it up, there’ll be no shortage of praise heading their way.
JAWS – Driving At Night
JAWS have regularly been one of those indie bands whose name seems to get bandied around a lot, especially in terms of tours and festival appearances, but the music has rarely materialised in an equal capacity. It looks to be something they’re working on redressing – their upcoming album The Ceiling is pegged as their most ambitious to date so make of that what you will – but at the minute, Driving At Night isn’t doing a great deal to provide evidence. Sure, the nice, airy swell is a good fit for lyrics about general feelings of loss, be they physical or the realisation of a lack of direction, but apart from that, it’s more bog-standard than indie should be these days, relying on similarly taut production and vocal styles that only serve to prove how far in line JAWS actually fall. It’s certainly not terrible despite all of that, but it’s nothing that’s going to have JAWS rise up the ranks of indie stardom, and at this stage, they desperately need something like that.
Cory Wells – Blue Christmas
In the pantheon of Christmas songs, Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas is one that goes rather unfairly overlooked. Sure, it’s schmaltzy and a bit over-sentimental (then again, what Christmas song isn’t?), but there’s a warmth and heart to it that at least fits in with the season. That’s primarily the reason why Cory Wells’ cover feels so awkward; what’s supposed to be raw, impassioned yearning can feel like bitterness, and the rather stringy vocal performance doesn’t really fit a song as well-rounded as this is. The sentiment he’s going for can definitely be seen, but it feels like an instance where the idea and the execution don’t synergise all that well, and the final product feels a bit worse for wear because of it. Beyond that, the acoustic melody is nice enough, if a bit basic, and there’s enough done to prevent it from being too barebones a listen, but what was a valiant attempt at something new has ended up as more of a misfire than anything else.
Minors – Flesh Prison
While it inevitably got lost in the shuffle thanks to being released in December last year, Minors’ Atrophy showed a band with the sort of bloody-minded ambition to drag hardcore into a twisted, mangled abyss that, more often than not, results in truly thrilling listening material. It doesn’t look like they’re slowing down on that front either; new album Abject Bodies is being released at the more optimum time of February, and Flesh Prison serving as its first taste shows an animalistic ambition that hasn’t gone away at all. Lyrics are naturally minimal, but with the snarling, crushing guitars caked in sludge that drag the track along (in the best way possible), there’s danger and a combustible nature to a track like this that brings so much to the table. For what it is, it’s not pushing the envelope, but in serving its purpose and taking this band an extra few steps forwards, there’s little to really fault Minors for here.
Ithaca – Slow Negative Order
The last few years has arguably seen hardcore progress and evolve more than it has in a long time, with a charge led by bands like Oathbreaker and Employed To Serve channeling violence, passion, rage and beauty in equal measure. Well, now Ithaca can be added to that list, drawing comparisons to bands like Converge and Poison The Well in an angular, fiery take on metallic hardcore that’s primed to break down just as many boundaries as those who’ve come before. And the thing is, it’s not hugely different either; the jagged spikes of mathcore guitars are definitely distinct, but between the walls of burning yet elegant noise and harsh vocals, it’s very much what you’d expect from hardcore in this vein, particularly when taking into account what’s come before. But it’s the passion and raw intention that Ithaca possess that makes Slow Negative Order so enticing, an uncompromising burst of honesty that pays no attention to what might be popular or mainstream, and plays to its own beat through and through. The fact that they succeed to the extent that they do is just icing on the cake.
Hold Close – Cloud9
Judging by what Hold Close are producing here, there’s a lot about them that doesn’t synergise a great deal with their apparent billing as a pop-punk band. At least going off what Cloud9 has to offer, theirs is a sound with a far greater focus on cloudy, gentle atmosphere, only breaking into something fuller and thicker for the hook, and even then, it’s rooted in a brand of mainstream emo coated in layers of polish. It’s a different approach in some ways, but in others, it can feel as though Hold Close are simply trying to split the difference between a pop-punk frame of mind and the lucid, languid feel of modern pop-rock and post-hardcore, uplifting and persevering lyrical content and all. At least they’re not a clumsy as they could be and there’s a melodic build that’s definitely likable, but it can all feel far too clandestine for its own good, and the breathy vocals clearly looking to latch onto whatever smolder they can show a performative nature for this brand of emotion that can slide into cloying with minimal hassle. It tops a pileup of flaws that makes it difficult to fully endorse Hold Close at this stage, though perhaps their debut can shed some light on their true strengths, because this isn’t doing a lot.
Modern Error – Separation Scars
Considering they’ve only been for about a year, Modern Error have been making some impressive strides already, not only putting their name to a couple of decently-received singles but also having a support slot with Enter Shikari already on the docket. All of this has come while also managing to maintain a fairly unique sound, drawing as much from bands like Nine Inch Nails in its dark, industrial sheen as it does from the likes of Underøath and similar 2000s emo stalwarts. And honestly, Separation Scars is another step down what could be an incredibly fruitful path, taking the grand scope and melody of so many Warped Tour favourites and pairing it with an unhinged edge from Zak Pinchin’s vocals and the blackened veneer that really feels like an effective combination. It’s a shame that it’s a bit cut-and-dry lyrically in assertions of feeling lesser than one actually is that has been covered countless times before, but for what it’s worth, they’re doing a hell of a lot more than most bands at this stage in terms of making themselves out to be a recognisable entity, and as a track like this shows, the results are turning out pretty positive indeed.
Penthouse – Party Ring
On the face of it, one would assume there’d be quite a bit to unpack with Penthouse’s Party Ring, a track that sees the band list the likes of Queen, The Darkness, Weezer and Lit amongst its influences. At the very least, the lack of profundity is obvious before hearing even a single note, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. On the contrary actually – Party Ring is a lot of fun in terms of goofy, singalong party-rock, something that Penthouse have clearly been aiming for and have hit the nail pretty much on the head here. The melodic richness this is grounded in really is a great start, buoyed by flourishes of power-pop and a hair-metal solo coated in a sugary pop-rock casing for some high-quality ear candy. Of course, the lyrics are much to go by, but it’s hard not to smile at the big, bawdy chants that, with a distinct air of sheepishness in Zac Schulze’s delivery, don’t necessarily feel as though they’re coming from natural party boys but those on the fringes trying to shuffle their way in, and that’s an interesting dynamic to take. It’s all rather simple, but that’s hardly a detractor; for what they’re trying to achieve, Penthouse hit the mark with flying colours.
Words by Luke Nuttall