Sleeping With Sirens – Leave It All Behind
It feels like for the past three albums, Sleeping With Sirens have been unable to find any sort of significant foothold. They’ve missed crucial elements of both Feel and Madness that could’ve made both substantially better, and Gossip simply seemed to jettison all of that prior knowledge for possibly their worst album to date. So for their new album, it’s at least a positive start that they’ve decided to start afresh on Sumerian to maybe take some new inspiration, and Leave It All Behind definitely seems to be moving in the right direction. It’s still rather basic as far as post-hardcore goes and the production can still feel slathered on rather thick, but it’s got unquestionably more body than a good majority of their recent material, and the band actually prove they’re capable of picking up some decent heft when they need to. Beyond that, the regular issues continue to permeate – there’s absolutely nothing here lyrically and Kelvin Quinn still has the sort of uncontrolled vocal performance that really should’ve been sorted out by now – but a Sleeping With Sirens song in 2019 not being total garbage is actually a solid selling point, and while it’s still far from anything amazing, to see them actually moving forward overall is definitely promising to see.
blink-182 – Generational Divide
No one’s really too sure of what blink-182 are doing at the minute, especially after Blame It On My Youth proved they’re clearly not above stooping to overproduced alt-pop tones in order to guarantee modern relevance that, for a legitimately legendary pop-punk band, isn’t necessary. But then there’s Generational Divide, going in the total opposite direction with a fifty-second burst of punk that fully makes use of Travis Barker’s drumming abilities and actually proves to be a competent throwback to ratty, old-school punk. Of course, that’s not saying this is perfect, as it’s still far too clean and Matt Skiba’s vocals are slathered in layers of production that, amidst Mark Hoppus’ more organic tones, sound genuinely awful, but it’s a minute step in the right direction that could hopefully pay off in due time. Granted, that’s as open a question as with any other band of their ilk, but it’s always worth living in hope in case some miracle can actually be pulled off.
Chelsea Wolfe – The Mother Road
Right now, it can be said without exaggeration that Chelsea Wolfe is one of the most influential artists in underground heavy music. Her incredibly distinct sound has spawned plenty of spin-offs, either co-opting it entirely and contorting it into new forms, but the genuine article still remains a fantastically compelling example of oppressively dark, folk-tinged goth done right. That said, it might be the wrong benchmark to judge a track like The Mother Road on, especially when this can be framed as more of an intro track than anything else given its focus on building up from simplicity into something much larger. Even by those standards though, it’s still pretty good, with the ragged, solemn acoustic guitar opening up for swathes of heavier, pitch-black noise as Wolfe’s distinctly vulnerable vocals find a real sticking point to drift along and increase the sense of dread and atmosphere even more. Basically, it feels exactly like what one would expect from a Chelsea Wolfe song at this stage, and even if it’s not as progressive or adventurous as some of her past efforts, as the bookend to something potentially much bigger, this does the job. It’ll be interesting to see how it fits in with the whole body of work though; only then can a real verdict be decided.
Sum 41 – Never There
So here’s more new music from Sum 41, and by perfectly honest, it’s been getting harder and harder to care. Everything from Order In Decline so far has felt so messy and borderline incomplete, and with its release rapidly coming up, it’s easy to get the impression that a pile-up of new singles is coming to move the needle as far in the band’s favour as possible. But if nothing else, Never There might actually get some way to doing that, and not only because this does feel like the best composed track they’ve released from it so far, downplaying the melodies with acoustic guitars and pianos before a genuinely impactful guitar solo and strings come in to fully match the vein of ‘80s power ballads. Even in the content, there’s a lot more here, with Deryck Whibley addressing an absent parent and trying to understand their mindset for why they might leave, rather than sour-faced angst that would’ve been so easy for generational pop-punks like Sum 41 to lean back on as a crutch. Apart from Whibley’s actual vocals which feel unfortunately thin and nasal, this is the first time that Sum 41 have actually impressed on this album cycle. It might have taken a rather severe departure from the norm to get there, but a win is still a win however it’s spun.
Crown The Empire – MZRY
In many ways, it feels as though Crown The Empire are a band who’ve been left behind in metalcore’s past. Considering the prevalence and popularity of nu-metal within the genre’s DNA, the fact that they still insist on pushing a melodic, theatrical bent feels like a band stubbornly stuck in their ways to no avail, an assertion that new single MZRY just seems to prove. Sure, they’re capable of a big hook still, and in terms of a closed-in, claustrophobic vocal performance, Andy Leo is still perfectly capable of pulling it off, but there’s something about the focus on processed strings and an approximation of orchestral swell that pushes everything remotely metal out of the picture that feels remarkably dated, and when Crown The Empire are leaning so deeply into it, they’re just highlighting how little capacity for change they have. At least the fact that this is so unashamedly anthemic dulls some of the ache a bit, but on the whole, MZRY feels like a band scrambling for some form of relevance that they really aren’t going to get, and that’s quite a shame.
The Hold Steady – Denver Haircut
It’s about time The Hold Steady announced a new album, not just because of the strings of singles they’ve been releasing that were leading up to nothing before now, but also because Craig Finn has released an entire album himself within that same interim. Then again, The Hold Steady can realistically do what they want now, though a track like Denver Haircut would seemingly dispute that given that it’s deep within their well-established wheelhouse. That’s not to say it’s bad – the nice, earthy guitars always a have a nice tone, as does Finn’s presence as a vocalist with his irreverent twists – but it’s hardly a deviation that it could be, and to be honest, it’s a bit too safe to really make as much of an impact. At least with their previous singles in the lead-up to this, it didn’t feel like they were the precursor to anything significant; here, there’s more riding on it, and The Hold Steady’s repeating of the same rough formula doesn’t really cut it anymore. Longtime fans won’t have anything to complain about, but this far into their career, it’s hardly out of line to want a bit more.
Our Last Night – Old Town Road
The lineage of Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road is baffling enough as it is – a song that effectively started life as a joke in which country imagery was co-opted into trap that somehow became the biggest song of 2019 so far – but possibly the least surprising point of that whole line is Our Last Night leaping onto the bandwagon for their customary metalcore cover. And really, if you’re looking for the audio equivalent of desperation, this could well be it, as a band who realise that this is the only way they’ll contribute anything meaningful to the scene swallow their pride and churn out the most generic scene noise ever put to record without even a hint of fun or enjoyment that could’ve made this at least listenable. As much as Trevor Wentworth wants to sound soulful and anthemic with his clean vocals, he’s still singing a song where Billy Ray Cyrus indulges in his greatest rockstar fantasies, and the tonal dissonance combined with the workmanlike attitude of having to pump this out to extend their fifteen minutes by a few fractions longer makes this totally worthless in every way, shape or form. In fact, this is less a cover and more a cynical, glossified gutting of a cultural moment that was already barely anything to begin with, and if that’s where music has chosen to fully eat itself and die, is there a less dignified way to go out?
Off With Their Heads – Disappear
In many ways, Off With Their Heads represent a very concise, inclusive culmination of their particular brand of punk, taking onboard the alt-rock and heartland rock elements that have been so integral in the past few years and trying to include them to the greatest extent that they can. It makes for a sound that’s definitely familiar but often hit with enough punch to get the job done, and that feels like the case with Disappear. With The Menzingers, Hot Water Music et al still having all the mileage in the world at their disposal with this very style, it’s hard to imagine this as a go-to example, but the ragged, roaring guitars and Ryan Young’s guttural vocal delivery still have plenty to like, even if it doesn’t deviate very far from the established formula in really any fashion. That can make this track feel slightly lacking, especially with a lyrical bent that doesn’t have the sort of killer impact as so many of their peers, but considering how Off With Their Heads have always felt like relative second fiddles within this scene, they’re at least owning it in a respectable way. It’s not essential, but for punk fans looking for yet another fix, it’s hard to go wrong here.
WhoHurtYou – Wish We Never Met
It’s hardly a surprise that Jack Barakat has embarked on his own side project. He’s effectively the co-face of All Time Low alongside Alex Gaskarth, and with Simple Creatures enjoying some degree of success, why not go for a similar effect himself? Of course, it’s not like WhoHurtYou is really all that surprising as a side project, with Barakat teaming up with vocalist Kevin Fisher for a very tight, wiry alt-pop endeavour that feels meticulously planned to hit all the beats necessary to capture the current zeitgeist. That said, Wish We Never Met isn’t entirely bad, if only because there’s a really solid knowledge of groove and progression that comes from its tight synths and generally steamy air, but the post-breakup angst combined with Fisher’s willowy vocals don’t amount to much beyond an approximate spin on dozens of other pop songs in this exact vein, and it’s difficult to really pinpoint what’s being offered here that can’t be gained with numerous other acts. It’s definitely more in the vein of low-stakes, self-indulgent side projects, but when they’ve been much worse than this in the past, this is fine overall.
Bad Omens – Burning Out
It’s safe to say that Bad Omens are hardly in the good books of the scene at the moment, after an impossibility petty dispute that saw them dropping off of a tour with Senses Fail and The Amity Affliction for an already well-documented reason that no one can possibly defend. So after that, one would presume that the announcement of a new album and accompanying single would be an attempt to curry some of their lost favour, though to whom is something of a mystery. This is modern metalcore at its mostly uninspired and generic, as Bad Omens take everything that’s even been remotely put to use within the genre in the last five years and melds them into another piece of overwrought, overproduced mush destined for the scrap heap sooner rather than later. Capped off by ridiculously derivative and melodramatic lyrics, guitar progressions crushed behind the artificial fluff in the synths and Noah Sebastian having roughly no individual personality in any of his vocal styles, it’s easy to see why Bad Omens would want to bump up their billings on tours – with a sound as nondescript as this, how else are they going to get anyone to listen?
Gender Roles – You Look Like Death
There’s always been a lot to like about Gender Roles, but the most prominent thing is how they’ve been able to twist a rather traditional and frankly tired indie-punk sound into something with a lot more zest. It’s a good trait to have when going into a debut album, and thankfully, You Look Like Death seems to be doing rather well at condensing everything the trio is good at into a suitably snappy indie-rock package. For posterity’s sake, there’s nothing here that’s truly reinventing the wheel, but a nice thick guitar tone topped off by fuzzed-out-yet-not-inaudible production is always a good start, and Tom Bennett’s almost slacker-pop sneer of a vocal performance feels like an ideal fit for a track about leaving home for the first time and the stresses that it can cause. It’s all quite in line with what’s expected from Gender Roles at this point, but when it’s delivered well, just like it is here, there’s not a lot to really complain about. It’s good stuff, even if it could afford to push the envelope a bit more.
Sleep Token – The Night Does Not Belong To God
The allure of Sleep Token is one that’s spread far and wide, but it’s one that, with this writer at least, hasn’t permeated nearly as deeply. Sure, the atmosphere is incredibly well-composed and frequently hits that height of piano-rock beauty, but it’s never felt as though there’s much behind it other than that, and the whole project can feel like hollow execution buoyed considerably by the mystery of the project as a whole. And sadly, that’s pretty much that same with The Night Does Not Belong To God, though it’s a bit easier to spot moments here that work a bit more as a whole. The craftsmanship is still incredibly potent overall, particularly in the crystalline way that pianos and choral vocals are mixed, and the guitars that break through in the final third provide an anchoring point that could work with a bit more presence throughout. And yet, the vocals as a whole don’t really do much to contribute to the track as a whole, and while the general mood is good throughout, there’s not a lot here that really sticks beyond that sensation. Overall, it’s still easy to see what Sleep Token are doing and it’s equally possible to appreciate it, but the execution still isn’t managing to grip, and that’s proving to be more and more of a problem going ahead.
The Regrettes – I Dare You
The Regrettes’ current wave of popularity hasn’t been hurt by high-profile support slots with Twenty One Pilots, but they’ve always had quite a bit to offer in terms of sharp but ultimately accessible indie-punk. And yet, clearly the scenes they’ve been rubbing elbows in has had more of an effect than anticipated, as new single I Dare You goes much more in the vein of technicolor indie-pop that’s definitely likable and serves to move them forward, but can lack a lot of their initial appeal in favour of crowd-pleasing bounce and hooks. Lydia Night has a good vocal style for this sort of thing, but with an excess of polish, particularly in the slappy, gated drumwork, the sanded-back approach does more harm than good, especially for stripping away a lot of their initial personality to fit more snugly in modern indie-pop. It’s the sort of concession that’s always disappointing to see, and when there was nothing particularly wrong in the first place, the whole thing can really feel lacklustre.
Blacktop Mojo – Can’t Sleep
In the past, Blacktop Mojo haven’t really been given the fairest shake of the stick. Arguably their biggest successes to date have come from covers of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight and Aerosmith’s Dream On, and with a moniker that’s incredibly easy to get confused with Stuck Mojo who occupy the same hard rock bracket, it hasn’t helped them develop their own personality. That’s not all entirely fair either, mostly because they aren’t awful, as Can’t Sleep feels like a pretty decent indication of. That’s not to oversell this at all, mind; they still draw from very clear-cut Five Finger Death Punch-isms, especially in the creeping guitar line that’s become an exceedingly popular choice for more balladic cuts like this, but Matt James has a decent amount of expressiveness in his vocals, invoking Disturbed’s David Draiman at points in a way that isn’t totally disagreeable, and as far as these big, uncomplicated types of track go, this has all the machismo and size to work well enough. It’s not a game-changer by any means, but for the lane they’re clearly looking to go down, Blacktop Mojo have carved a solid path for themselves.
Real Authority – The Energy
The main things that can be gleaned about Real Authority at this point is that they’re trafficking in the same sort of smart, volatile punk as The Bronx, but are more than happy to double down on an irreverent or off-kilter sensibility simply to keep the listener on their toes. That certainly seems to be the case with The Energy, a track openly drawing from Limp Bizkit – which, given its snarling nu-metal guitars and John James Davies’ overdosed-on-swagger vocals, is easy to tell – and while that could easily feel like a band sliding outside of their lane at the expense of a gag, Real Authority can pull it off reasonably well. There’s not really enough of a track at just over two minutes to get the feel of whether this would be a viable long-term option, but the hammering sense of groove and tone is really strong, and while depth this thrown completely out of the equation, it achieves everything it really needs to with both style and substance. It’s more proof that Real Authority are becoming something of a sleeper hit band with these new singles, and that’s an exciting thought if they can bring something substantial to the table from it.
Words by Luke Nuttall