Blood Command – Afraid Of Water
On paper, Blood Command are the perfect band to receive a huge push in the current alt-rock climate, given how regularly their music has been placed among the most forward-thinking yet ludicrously catchy fare that the genre has to offer. And yet, while that’s pretty much always been a key selling point for them, they never seem to have hit that moment where everything goes their way and they can fully shine. And with that being said, it’s a shame that Afraid Of Water is only the lead track from an EP, as if this had been from an album, there would undoubtedly be mountains of hype forming for one of the most accessible, infectious tracks they’ve ever released. The pop appeal is second to none, especially in Karina Ljone’s vocals and the elasticity of their melodies, while the guitar crunch feels deeply rooted in modern rock and post-hardcore while having the energy and flair (particularly in a well-timed solo that only elevates it even higher) to really soar to a level that Blood Command have never really hit before. This is the big pop-rock crossover that could do them the world of good, and keeping their distinct rock ethos and eccentric, playful experimentation makes it shine all the brighter. Blood Command have always had their devout audience, but with tracks like this, it has the potential to grow a whole lot more.
Periphery – Blood Eagle
As niche as tech-metal can be as a genre, there’s always going to be some bands who’ll rise to the top of the pile and really make a wider splash, and Periphery should really be one of them by now. Don’t get it wrong, they’re certainly have a higher profile than most, but they’ve gone fairly overlooked a lot of the time when really, they should be among those spearheading the genre into new, exciting territory, especially when they’ve often delivered some of the most melodic, accessible cuts within their scene. With Blood Eagle though, it’s clear that they’re looking to go even more ambitious, adopting Architects’ approach on Holy Hell of streamlining their sound but going even more expansive and bludgeoning, something that this band have no problems with whatsoever. It’s definitely a bit more fragmented and some of the individual pieces do struggle to connect, but there’s no doubt that the power in Spencer Sotelo’s voice has some incredible range, alongside a guitar tone that’s immaculately produced but still ironclad and the metallic aura of tech-metal manifested in vicious, industrial intensity. It definitely takes a bit to click, but when it does, it’s the sort of track that could potentially elevate Periphery to the very peak of their genre, and if their entire next album can match up, that’s almost a certainty.
Ocean Grove – Ask For The Anthem
Given that The Rhapsody Tapes was one of the most distinct and fascinating albums to come out of Australia’s metalcore scene, you’d think that Ocean Grove would’ve wanted to capitalise upon it sooner. For a band for whom nothing is really off-limits sonically, they’ve definitely been keeping quiet recently on all fronts, so much so that Ask For The Anthem feels as though it needs to deliver something truly special to really meet the mark. And maybe it’s not quite to that level (the chorus can feel a bit listless at points compared to everything else), this is about as colourful and madcap as you could expect for this band, but never spiralling into outright farce. The rubbery guitar line overflows with personality and groove as it’s paired with the scratchy hip-hop-esque flows, and even if that chorus comparatively falls a bit short, there’s no denying that the deadened grunge vibes can actually mesh rather well amid the chaos. Honestly, Ocean Grove have barely missed a beat here, and have, if anything, consolidated their eclecticism into something a lot more focused and straightforward, but still defiantly them. It’s as good as anyone could’ve asked for, especially if that means a new album is coming sooner rather than later.
Free Throw – The Corner’s Dilemma
In the way that so many fantastic emo albums can simply get lost in the deluge, Free Throw’s 2017 effort Bear Your Mind was one of the most unfortunate casualties of such a fact. Still, for as unappreciated as that album went, it’s good to see the band getting back on their feet for a new one this year, and if The Corner’s Dilemma is anything to go by, it looks to be another strong one. Arguably Can’t Swim have monopolised this brand of hoarse, gruff post-hardcore in a way that can leave Free Throw lower than would be preferable, but the touches of math-rock riffing and Cory Castro’s phenomenally raw vocal delivery does enough to really push them ahead, and positions this as perhaps a tighter, more layered alternative. And even then, there’s enough pain and red-raw bloodletting within this track for it to stand on its own merits, and sees Free Throw maintain their position as one of emo’s most underrated forces. Hopefully this new album can change that.
The Brave – Technicolor
The presence of The Brave within modern metalcore has never felt as though it’s held much weight. They’ve often just been lost in the deluge of the ever-expanding UNFD-core scene, something that hasn’t been helped at all by a sound that can be hard to pin down to anything that’s really their own. And on Technicolor, it doesn’t look like much has changed, opting for the cleaner, more melodic style that fell into favour a few years ago and doing it serviceably, but never offering anything that warrants a repeated listen. The simulated turntable scratches are a cool touch, but otherwise, this is as cut-and-dry as it comes, from the chorus that’s clearly pulling from nu-metal’s distinctive well to a breakdown that hits so predicatably – both in terms of timing and execution – that any impact it could have had is totally nullified. It just feels like a track destined to remain as filler in a scene that has considerably upped its game recently, and to see The Brave continuing to lag behind with output like this doesn’t bode well for their future.
Jaret Reddick & Kelly Ogden – Here We Go
If this even remotely comes as a surprise to anyone, then you either don’t know who these two are or you just haven’t been paying enough attention. Considering the tight-knit relationship that Bowling For Soup and The Dollyrots have forged over the years, it’s hardly a surprise to see their respective frontpeople collaborating on a full album, and the fact that it’s a jaunty, almost ludicrously simple pop-punk track is even less of one. That’s not really a slight on it as it’s not too bad; there’s enough energy to really suffice in what it wants to do, and to have Ogden take up the role of main vocalist here does feel like a smart move given the general exuberance that’s always been present in her work. The biggest disappointment is, if anything, Reddick, who isn’t really given much of an opportunity to shine and feels as though he’s running on autopilot most of the time, probably because this sort of thing is so deeply lodged inside his wheelhouse that very little else has to be done with it. Still, for what it is, it’ll do as a quick burst of enjoyment, but chances are it won’t last all that long, and even right now based solely on prior knowledge of both bands, the same can probably be assumed of that upcoming album.
Charly Bliss – Capacity
Even among the ever-growing indie-punk scene, Charly Bliss have always stood out somewhat, primarily through a focus on even more poppier sounds than many of their contemporaries for something more evocative of the twee indie-pop of the 2000s. That’s a good comparison with Capacity as well, as buzzing synths provide the implacable background wall that the jangling, lightweight guitar work rests on top of in a way that’s clearly looking towards some very poppy territory. It’s tough to say if Charly Bliss get all the way there either, especially when the track never really breaks out of a very mid-paced plod that only makes the aforementioned synth feel even more weighty and unnecessarily heavy. At least Eva Hendrick’s playful vocal contortions still have a lot of charm and personality, especially in the more personal lyrics, but on the whole this feels like a track of two distinct ideas that only seem to clash rather than synergise, and the end result suffers because of it.
Mat Kerekes – Diamonds
Like many an emo frontman pursuing a solo career, Mat Kerekes’ work up to now has been pretty resoundingly positive, taking the melodic, emotional core of his most recent work in Citizen and applying it to something a lot more pared-back and intimate. Ruby was certainly a great example a couple of months ago, and now with Diamonds, that stays pretty consistent, albeit going in a slightly different direction. This one owes more to upbeat, piano-driven power-pop, and with the twinkling keys and bombastic backing vocals to augment Kerekes’ hangdog persona, there’s a sense of swell and exuberance that’s played remarkably well. There’s a richness in the arrangements and instrumental choices that makes this feel like more than just a side-project, as it pops and fizzes with a wonder that Kerekes is so effortlessly able to capture. Again, it’s another great song that only seems to be pushing Kerekes into much stronger territory for his solo work, and when that next album does eventually happen, it’ll be great to see what he can do in a longer-form setting like that.
Laura Stevenson – Living Room, NY
For a while now, Laura Stevenson’s ethos when creating music has always been to prioritise emotional weight and candidness above flash. It’s ultimately similar to how many singer-songwriters in this vein have made their mark, but it undoubtedly works, and Living Room, NY is another great example of how. This is the sort of quiet, pensive indie-folk that can easily trip into pretentious self-indulgence without a second thought, but Stevenson’s approach feels remarkably straightforward, using rather plain, unassuming language and a beautiful delivery to her advantage for cultivating more enrapturing and warm scenes. Coupled with gentle guitars and hints of pianos and strings that know exactly when to ebb back for moments of quiet, it’s a very simple track in pretty much every way, but Stevenson has a knack for turning it into something haunting and captivating that oozes through every moment. It mightn’t be to everyone’s taste, especially those with a penchant for something more full-on, but this is well worth the time to really dig into and fully explore.
Fontaines D.C. – Big
So it looks as though Fontaines D.C. are being positioned as the next big names in punk and post-punk, and honestly, they’re worthy recipients of such accolades. Up to now, their material has had a lot of identifiable personality and punch, and Big looks to be carrying on that trend rather well. It’ll be interesting to see how much more they can get out of the more repetitive, bass-reliant mantras of post-punk that this very brief track also takes hold of, but with a creeping, rickety atmosphere and Grian Chatten’s confrontational, quintessentially Irish delivery, it keeps up a pace that the relative scarcity of content oddly benefits. As far as pure bluntness and brusque hits go, Fontaines D.C. can do it rather well, and while they’ll undoubtedly have to bring more to last on top for more than one album, it’s hard to argue when they keep things as concise as this. There’s work to be done, sure, but the appeal here ultimately speaks for itself.
Words by Luke Nuttall