Pijn & Conjurer – High Spirits
This is the sort of idea that seems like it would make total sense, and yet never seems to happen outside of the most wild of fantasies. Both Pijn and Conjurer have carved out a considerable slice of the UK’s underground metal scene for themselves, with the former’s enormous, all-encompassing sense of scale feeling like the perfect accompaniment to the latter’s crushing heaviness, and the fact that it’s actually happening here feels like a genuine moment for the entire scene as a whole. What’s more, judging by High Spirits, this doesn’t feel even close to some half-hearted mashup attempt, but rather an opportunity to explore different avenues within the cross-section of their sound, namely a celebration of positivity that comes from the soaring guitar work bringing to mind the headiest of classic prog at times, as well as a vocal performance that knows when to hit those crushing low blows, but also plays with light and melody to feel truly joyous in the end. It’s not exactly the avenue that one would expect from a cross between these two bands especially, but High Spirits makes it work, spanning nine minutes in which not a second is wasted. It’s that sort of thing that makes this feel like more than just a novelty, as though the notion of bringing together Pijn and Conjurer was the plan from the beginning, and it was always going to be as great as this.
Boston Manor ft. John Floreani – Liquid
Who could’ve reasonably predicted this? It’s not even been a year since Boston Manor released Welcome To The Neighbourhood, their sophomore album that saw a complete overhaul of their sound for a darker grind that proved to be the opus they’d always been capable of, and already they’re coming out with new music. Sure, it’s easy to admire their grind (as well as the adroitness within their scene to get Trophy Eyes’ John Floreani to provide guest vocals), but this could easily be a case of a band spreading themselves too thinly; just look at the last handful of post-album singles from Deaf Havana. But Boston Manor feel like a completely different beast at this stage, and while Liquid is by no means up to par with the best material from their last album, it sees them continuing on their newly-forged path with the greatest of ease. The driving, blackened guitars still have a wonderful sense of progression, especially given the loping sense of bounce and swagger that propels the hook with a fantastic sense of momentum, while Floreani and Henry Cox both feel totally in sync as they trade off the sort of beaten, dejected melancholy in their vocals that feels like the perfect fit for this sort of track, only to break out into the customarily huge chorus that still doesn’t feel out of place. It’s a fantastic underlining of everything that’s currently making this era of Boston Manor so great, pumped up and streamlined even further to really set the tone going forward for a next leg that looks to be just as truly special as the last.
Pixies – On Graveyard Hill
In general, the Pixies are managing to survive as a legacy act these days above anything else. That’s not to say the music they’re currently making is bad, but they’re ultimately falling into the same general holding pattern that many bands of their vintage become stuck in, soldiering in with material that’s largely decent but can’t hold a candle to their classic work. That’s pretty much the case with On Graveyard Hill, a track which fits all the necessary criteria of a Pixies track in its gruff, power-pop-esque guitars and Black Francis’ oft-manic vocal timbre, but there’s not much of anything else really. It’s as though the band have found a way to isolate the quintessential parts of their music and fix them together as a single track, and On Graveyard Hill is basically exactly that. It’s certainly listenable and fills the Pixies-shaped hole that the band’s last handful have, but it can hardly be called great, mostly because it’s aiming to do that little that it’s simply taking it too far to even suggest that.
Northlane – Talking Heads
Regardless of whether or not they stick the landing, it’s always interesting to see what Northlane are going to pull out whenever they release something. It’s just a shame that it’s not been particularly up to scratch recently, but to their credit, there’s at least been creativity thrown into the mix even if hasn’t exactly panned out. As for Talking Heads though, this does feel like something a lot more stable, though it’s tough to really pin down why. On a compositional level, skipping between low-slung nu-metalcore rasps, hyper-modern metalcore screams and super-clean choruses feels like a total mess, but there’s something about it that just works here, even if it really shouldn’t. It’s not like Northlane are really stretching beyond their boundaries either, musically, vocally or lyrically, but perhaps the slight instability and danger they’ve attempted to inject in actually works for them, breaking away from the strings of calculated non-presences they’ve unwittingly found themselves rubbing elbows with lately. At least they’re trying to break out of that mould here, and their efforts are hugely commendable.
City And Colour – Astronaut
There must be something in the water within the Alexisonfire camp at the minute. Not only is their resurgence with new music in full swing, but Wade MacNeil has been busy with Gallows lately, and now Dallas Green is coming back with new music from City And Colour. Depending on who you ask, that may be the most exciting notion as well, especially when the lush folk sound that forms the basis of Green’s output has plenty of room to bend and shift, with Astronaut being a prime example of that. The deep atmospherics and peeling guitar lines still serve as an immovable foundation but the country touches that swell alongside Green’s typically faultless vocals give a sense of wistful expanse that captures the sense of loneliness and barrenness excellently across its six minutes. Like much of City And Colour’s recent output, it can definitely feel as though that atmosphere takes precedence over anything all that gripping in the writing, but when it’s done as well as it is here, that’s absolutely not an issue. If anything, Green has become so adept at this that he can virtually do anything he wants with it, and that’s an exciting prospect indeed.
Make Them Suffer – Hollowed Heart
Make Them Suffer’s Worlds Apart was the sort of album that pleasantly caught some off guard, seeing the band trade in some of their more traditional deathcore trappings for a greater emphasis on progressive passages in the vein of Periphery that made for a genuinely interesting listen. But with Hollowed Heart as their next step though, it couldn’t be clearer that those ideas were simply a one-and-done deal, as this is right back to the pummeling, head-caving deathcore of old that could be disappointing if Make Them Suffer weren’t as good as they are at pulling it off. Sean Harmanis has an absolutely savage scream, buoyed by the right amount of violence and darkness in the writing and instrumentation that doesn’t skimp on the fat breakdowns, but ensures they’re not used as a crutch like so much deathcore has a tendency to do. It definitely feels like a slimming down of their overall ethos, and it would’ve been nice to hear Booka Nile’s contributions more after they were so critical last time, be that clean vocals or keyboard work beyond a few stabs right at the very start, but this is solid stuff overall. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but Make Them Suffer can pull this off more than most, and that counts for something.
The Dollyrots – In Your Face
It always feels as though The Dollyrots are gearing up to release something, and while that sort of work ethic is commendable, it also highlights the limitations of their sugary-sweet pop-rock and how little pliability it has when it comes to branching out. In Your Face definitely feels as though it’s going down that route too, even if it’s hard to call this precisely bad. The big, chunky riffs have the inoffensive catchiness that pretty much every one of The Dollyrots’ songs has had, but between writing that pulls from the brattier, slightly spikier end of their repertoire and Kelly Ogden’s vocal delivery having the saccharine quality that still makes it something of an acquired taste, there’s plenty about this track that feels like variations on a theme that’s been well and truly rinsed at this point. It’s definitely still likable and infectious enough to work overall, but you’d hope that The Dollyrots would at least attempt to innovate this far into their career, if only because something new might just happen.
Sanction – Radial Lacerations
With Vein now being the darlings of underground hardcore, it’s subsequently opened the floor for similarly angular and uncompromisingly abrasive bands to make themselves known, and with a backing from Pure Noise and praise from Knocked Loose, Stray From The Path and Stick To Your Guns already under their belts, Sanction have a lot going for them. It helps that Radial Lacerations is a pretty spot-on example of a band being damn great at what they do, even if that does tend to drift to less distinct hardcore sounds behind the jagged, spasmodic shrieks of guitar that occasionally appear. Even so, it’s a monstrously heavy, guttural example of no-nonsense hardcore, with the sort of guitar tone that drops with enough heft and groove to leave a fairly sizable crater wherever it lands, and the sort of righteous fury in the vocals and lyrics that are still the effective building blocks that this sound has thrived on for years. Again, something a bit more of their own would be nice, but Sanction have laid down a pretty strong gauntlet going ahead for their second album, and it won’t be much of a surprise when people inevitably sit up and begin to take notice.
Words by Luke Nuttall