While She Sleeps – The Guilty Party
Right now, there are few albums to be released this year that have more hype around them than While She Sleeps’ So What?. This is a band who are currently at the highest peak they’ve ever been at, and given the singles that have preceded this album so far, they might just be ready to ascend even more, but if The Guilty Party proves anything, it’s that they’re not even close to running out of ideas yet. Yes, their brand of metal that’s equal parts crushing and anthemic forms the core, but with super-melodic guitar passages, a heavier emphasis on clean vocals than any of their other songs and a generally shapeshifting nature that really feels like a heavy progression, this might just be one of the most unconventional songs they’ve ever released, though the quality doesn’t feel diminished at all. If anything, The Guilty Party sees yet more boundaries torn asunder for While She Sleeps to monopolised, drifting into cleaner melodies that still have the portentous weight that this band have gotten so great at fostering. It definitely takes a bit longer to click than what they’ve previously released, but when it does, it’s something truly remarkable.
Polar – Midnight
New music from Polar is always cause for celebration. For years now, they’ve been one of the UK’s most underrated hardcore commodities, slogging away in the underground while barely putting a foot wrong, and yet receiving a fraction of the attention they really deserve. And while it’s worth hoping that every new album could be the one that breaks them, the sad fact is that doesn’t seem feasible anymore. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth paying attention though, as Midnight is, once again, another enormous slice of aggression and melody coming together in glorious fashion. There’s definitely a hint of While She Sleeps in the explosive hook that makes full use of Adam Woodford’s barbed, uncompromisingly vicious delivery, but the hints of angularity and a more forceful metallic punch definitely put this sort of thing in a lane of its own, a fact that would be daunting to most but leaves Polar unfazed as, once again, they manage to succeed with flying colours. It’s simply another great track to add to a career where that’s been the standard, and when Nova does drop, that’s unlikely to change whatsoever.
ONE OK ROCK – Wasted Nights
It’s clear to see that ONE OK ROCK are changing and augmenting their sound to fit in with the most contemporary branch of the alternative scene, but when that comes down to devolving into a wet-behind-the-ears alt-pop band, that’s hardly a change worth investing in. And from what Eye Of The Storm has brought to the table, it looks like it’ll probably be a real turd as well, something that Wasted Nights goes precisely no distance to rectify. But perhaps they deserve some kind of credit for this one – they’ve actually managed to make the most generic, substanceless self-esteem anthem this genre has maybe ever seen, complete with watery guitars drowned out by crashing lumps of drums, and Taka Moriuchi being just as devoid of vocal personality or power as ever. Presumably the aim was some gigantic, sweeping anthem, but it’s executed far too heavy-handedly to even come close to that, and like so much percussion-over-melody pop, it ends up crushed under the weight of its own ineptitude. It’s not long until the album’s out so maybe things could turn around, but from what’s been shown so far, that’s extremely unlikely.
The Faim – Fire
At this point, disappointment is hardly a new sensation to achieve from listening to The Faim, especially when their Summer Is A Curse EP deviated so far from workable pop-rock into an overworked soundclash that felt as flimsy and unearned as it was unpleasant to listen to. And with a follow-up arriving so soon after, apparently from their upcoming debut album, there hasn’t been much of a reason to expect anything better. Except Fire is definitely an improvement, if only because it feels like The Faim have settled on a sound that they want to move ahead with. This time, it’s the tight, wiry brand of indie-pop that’s currently in vogue, and while it’s easy to see where their reference points come from – bits of The 1975 and recent 5 Seconds Of Summer take pride of place – the understated delivery and nicely building momentum do keep the airy cloud of synths from congealing too heavily into something with no impact at all. Beyond that, it’s easy to point out the cracks, especially in writing that doesn’t really say a lot and a particularly grating guitar tone that’s made all the more noticeable by appearing in only fragments, but if this is where The Faim are going, it at least has merit this time, and compared to what they’d previously brought, that’s something at least.
We Never Learned To Live – Luma/Non Luma
It’s been interesting to chronicle the journey that hardcore has taken over the years, from the full-forced slams derivative of plenty of punk and metal in its earliest waves, to a genre that’s proven far more malleable and ambitious in one of its numerous current states. That’s something that’s embodied by We Never Learned To Live better than maybe any other band, who’ve proven adept at weaving narratives and stories into an already emotionally rigourous brand of hardcore. Luma/Non Luma is really no different either, with Sean Mahon’s fluid, powerful vocals sliding between bleary-eyed screams and passionate belting as the cinematic post-hardcore swells behind him fuel a track that really does push its ambitious desires right to the fore. That in itself isn’t a surprise given what this band have become known for, and neither is the fact that it does it remarkably well with enormous power and resonance that continues to hit every time. What’s more, even the most renowned of bands making concept albums can struggle to produce individual tracks that stand in isolation, and the really says everything it needs to about how good this album could potentially be.
Masked Intruder – Please Come Back To Me
At this point, there’s very little else that can be said about Masked Intruder that isn’t just gushing about how they’re potentially the best pop-punk band on the planet, but what else can you expect when they release songs like this? Please Come Back To Me stands as another glittering gem among a catalogue that’s more or less exclusively that, pairing the sweetest vocals imaginable with taut, no-nonsense power-pop hooks, replete with the perfect amount of doo-wop touches and the heartbroken lyrical turn that Masked Intruder can do in their sleep at this point. It might all sound like a rehash on paper, but it’s pulled off with such overwhelming charm and likability that it feels as fresh as it gets, and without an inch of fat on it, it’s a near-perfect distillation of everything that makes this band and this genre wonderful. Once again, Masked Intruder make it look all too easy to write incredible, timeless music, and they’re all the better for it.
Martha – Love Keeps Kicking
Given that indie-punk has become such a prevalent force in the UK rock scene, it’s hardly a surprise that some bands get lost in the shuffle. With Martha though, they seem to have a decent profile, especially compared to some of their peers, but that doesn’t seem to have translated to prominence as much as it maybe should. It’s a shame too, because as a track like Love Keeps Kicking shows, they’ve got a good ear for vibrancy and adroit lyrical wit that, while maybe not setting them apart in any enormous amount, certainly makes for a truly entertaining little number. All the usual instrumental sparkle that’s become such a staple of this genre is present and accounted for, tied together by a strong northern accent that adds buckets of personality, even with the lyrical details that have such an endearing awkwardness that really do make them likable. Again, if this all feels pretty par for the course, it’s because it is, but Martha make the most of what they have, regardless of how often they’ve been done before, and the results really do shine because of it.
The Winter Passing – Original Sin
The Winter Passing have developed something of a reputation in recent times for indie-pop-punk that hits harder and reaches greater depths than so many others, and that’s been justified more or less across the board. They’re a resoundingly talented band, and though Original Sin mightn’t be able to square up with their very best, it’s yet another great example of a band playing from the heart and producing something great. The interweaving of Rob and Kate Flynn’s vocals has such a natural flow to it, particularly when it picks up for the sort of gorgeously harmonic chorus that has a sense of sighing earnestness to it, but the underscored darkness just peaks through to great effect. Beyond that, the instrumentation could do with a bit oomph, if only to break away from a very stock-sounding indie-punk formula, but that’s hardly a major issue in the larger scale of the track, and as a song that continues to see an excellent, exciting band flourish, Original Sin does what it needs to and then some.
Demob Happy – Less Is More
It’s surprising to see Demob Happy releasing new music already, especially when Holy Doom hasn’t even been out for a year, but they’re certainly not being half-hearted about it. From the second that Less Is More fully kicks in with its riff reminiscent of AC/DC by way of The Hives, this is exactly the sort of garage-rock stormer that really gets going in a way that so many others struggle to. Even in the esoteric bending of the lyrics and Matthew Marcantonio’s restrained but poised vocals, there’s a strange blend of reservation and fast-paced action that doesn’t sound like it should work, but Demob Happy somehow make it so. It might need more music alongside it to build up a proper picture of where they’re heading, but considering how quick the turnaround time has been, this is some genuinely good stuff.
Death Blooms – Crosses
It’s good that Death Blooms are starting to pick up some more traction. Their material up to now has been a particularly strong approximation of nu-metalcore and hardcore, but it’s always felt like the extra push would take them a lot further, and Crosses seems to prove that theory right in almost every way. Sonically, their halfway house between Blood Youth and Slipknot has let more of that encroaching darkness in for a much heavier, moodier vibe, letting the guitars get a bit more guttural and Paul Barrow’s vocals bringing in a more unhinged, elasticated element in a way that could be truly great with just a bit more fine-tuning. That’s really true of the track as a whole; it’s definitely an improvement, but tightening up and focusing on cranking the heft up could turn Death Blooms into a force to be reckoned with within new, heavy bands. As it stands though, this is a strong next step forward, especially if Death Blooms are going to capitalise on it for something even better.
DAY – Blessings
The consistent feeling with DAY is that, if they’d have come around a few years earlier, they probably would’ve been huge by now. That’s not knocking the appeal of supercharged hook at all, but for a brand of power-over-precision pop-rock / alt-metal in the vein of Greywind or The Hype Theory, it can feel like they’ve really missed the boat. Blessings is no different either, particularly for all the niggling impressions of it lacking real personality to stand out in today’s scene that ultimately prove to be its downfall. On a technical level, it’s fine – Christina Rotondo has more than enough power in her vocals to go toe to toe with the sweeping, smoothened guitars – but it struggles to do much besides that, with a supreme dearth of lyrical spice and a lack of nuance that could really make this gripping instead of another Britrock screamer to add to the pile. It’s certainly not bad, but DAY can find it difficult to make themselves known, and this is a prime example of that.
Wet Dreams – Boogie
With bands like Idles and Power finding more prominence than ever, the idea of a grittier, less polished brand of punk is becoming much more acceptable nowadays, and that’s something that Norway’s Wet Dreams looking to be really trying to push. On Boogie, the speed and blunt power is definitely there, but with a snarling, fuzzed-out guitar tone reminiscent of fellow countrymen Kvelertak, it’s a much heavier, rampant take on such a sound. It’s difficult to say whether it really works either, especially when the static corruption runs through pretty much the entirety of the track, and while that’s arguably the point when creating something that sounds so raw and homemade, it can be a bit too disorienting, especially on a guitar solo which doesn’t sound good at all. Other than that, there’s aggression and punch that’s good, but it’s not hard to want a bit more from Wet Dreams, if only to see what they can deliver on their own merits.
Kings And Castles – Bevvy
Upon learning that Kings And Castles are an indie band and their newest track is called Bevvy, it’s easy to expect the worst. After all, the reverberations of the lad-rock of the 2000s are still yet to go away, and with how bad the worst of those bands could be (remember Hard-Fi?), apprehension seems to be the only reasonable approach. Thankfully though, Bevvy is definitely better, if only for the writing which approaches some more interesting themes of depression and using alcohol as a form of self-medication. Other than that though, it’s a rather standard indie-rock track, with the staccato stabs of guitar that have punch if not a lot of form, and Ross Rolph’s rather nasal delivery that’s not totally unlikable, but can be a bit difficult to withstand on some of the more extended syllables that really push it to its limit of tolerability. They’re ultimately what clouds a track with some nice ideas, but it feels like Kings And Castles still have a bit of a distance to go before they can really be something good. At least the groundwork has been laid down though.
Words by Luke Nuttall