Stray From The Path – Fortune Teller
For an album that honestly wasn’t all that different than their usual fare, Stray From The Path’s Only Death Is Real proved to be especially divisive, largely thanks to a heavily political bent that wasn’t subtle in the slightest, but still did enough to earn derision from those in its firing line. By comparison, Fortune Teller seems to be aiming less in direct sight at certain targets, but still has all the heft and scathing, metallic righteousness that’s always made Stray From The Path so good. Like pretty much all their material, the formula is easy to pick up on – a massive, carving groove broken up by a considerable breakdown and Drew York’s venom-flecked spitting – but the momentum they create is, once again, second to none, and the unstable, rap-metal guitar tone that fully combusts into one hell of a potent breakdown is always a good fit for a band like this. Again, it’s not all that new, neither to Stray From The Path themselves nor any number of similar-sounding acts, but Fortune Teller has the approach honed in to a fine point, and even if this is effectively more of the same, that can still deliver some good stuff.
Slipknot – Solway Firth
Slipknot’s new album is already just around the corner, but it doesn’t feel like the hype has been as overwhelming as it arguably should be. They’ve only released one track from it thus far, and that was the generally alright but slightly underwhelming Unsainted, and in general, the big statements surrounding the album’s sound and its prospective brutality have taken up more space than actual proof. At least Solway Firth could possibly change that, and indeed, this does feel like something more indicative of the heavy, oppressive darkness that Slipknot are looking to cultivate. Ignoring the weird intro and Corey Taylor’s strangely goofy vocal affectations, this does feel much more uncompromising than a lot of what Slipknot have released in their modern incarnations, particularly in the crushing drums which seem to take some of instability and guttural depth of their nu-metal days and bring them right up to day in a really strong way (and that’s not to mention how much the prominent makeshift percussion adds to it). Alongside the seething, low-end riff and Taylor generally coming across as vocally righteous and watertight for the vast majority, this does feel like an improvement, as though Slipknot are going some way to justify both their own claims and the reputation they’ve generally seemed to shed with age. It’s not the best example of this they’ve got in their catalogue, and when pitted against even a modern cut like Custer, it doesn’t quite make it, but they come close, and there’s more of a tangible reason to look forward to We Are Not Your Kind than really ever before.
blink-182 – Darkside
Now that blink-182 have properly announced their new album details, it makes the frequency in which they’ve been pumping out new tracks more explainable, but it doesn’t excuse the general lack of quality they’ve more or less all exhibited. There’s just no way around how rushed so many of them have felt, to the point where Nine genuinely doesn’t look to be of much quality at all. But on the bright side (so to speak), Darkside does feel like the most solid cut from it yet, mostly because there’s a sense of sparkle and energy that just hasn’t been there up to now. The polish that’s become unfortunately customary takes the form of glossy, new wave-esque keys that do carry a good deal of atmosphere (even if the guitars could still do with having the volume or production presence turned up), and both Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba appear the most vocally refreshed that they have this entire cycle as they get swept up in the anthemic vibe of it all. That’s not to oversell this by any means – this is still a blink-182 song in 2019 that has all the undercooked trimmings that’s become the norm, especially in the writing – but it’s a step in the right direction all the same, and considering how shaky this current run has been, there’s at least some solace in that.
Of Mice & Men – Earth And Sky
Of Mice & Men’s most recent output has given quite a lot of reasons to be optimistic about their upcoming album; they finally seem to be in a point where they’ve successfully integrated both the nu-metal elements into their sound and Aaron Pauley as the sole vocalist, and recent singles have seen a good amount of success from it. But that also doesn’t negate the issue that, as it stands, this is a sound that isn’t exactly the most pliable, and Earth And Sky feels like some pretty strong evidence for that. To stress, this isn’t a bad song – there’s enough vigour and viciousness in Pauley’s performance as well as a guitar tone that’ll undoubtedly sound even more monolithic live, especially given the reputation this band has built up – but compared to recent material, it does tread similar ground, with subject matter that plays once again to apocalyptic emotions and a sound that’s so deeply rooted in their sonic assault that it struggles to go anywhere else. Again, it’s far from terrible and serves as a solid continuation of what Of Mice & Men have been shooting for, but it reiterates a theme more than it expands it, and that doesn’t hit with the same force that it could’ve.
The 1975 – The 1975 (Notes On A Conditional Form)
So The 1975’s much-anticipated Notes On A Conditional Form cycle is finally coming ahead, and while there’s undoubtedly hype from certain circles, right now, it doesn’t feel all the worth getting onboard with. It’s not out until February for a start, which feels a bit premature to really get excited about an album, and when the lead track is little more than an intro, the customary eponymous track that’s begun each one of their albums, it’s not a lot to go on. At least this one is a bit different, featuring a speech from sixteen-year-old activist Greta Thunberg discussing climate change and the need for humanity to change to survive, but this is still little more than an intro, set to a bed of arranged strings and synths that’s undoubtedly pretty, but doesn’t feel like the sort of thing that should be released independently to kick off a cycle. Another track called People is allegedly coming soon, but even as a prelude to a lead single proper, this doesn’t feel like it should’ve been released like this. Left to introduce the album as a whole, this would’ve been fine, but right now, it doesn’t feel like much of anything.
Knocked Loose – Trapped In The Grasp Of A Memory
Even with a month to go until its release, everyone effectively knows what they’re getting from Knocked Loose’s new album. They’ve established themselves as such a reliable name in modern hardcore in the vein of older, similarly metallic acts that it would be wrong to expect anything different, and with previous lead-up tracks sticking to that same mould, it’s easy to extrapolate the ending. That’s not a particularly bad thing, though; Knocked Loose are incredibly good at what they do, and Trapped In The Grasp Of A Memory is yet more proof of how more of the same can sometimes work. If nothing else, there’s a sense of manic, claustrophobic dread that comes from Bryan Garris’ shrieks that has a great deal of potency to really stick, but the shifting guitar passages that morph and mangle themselves into a discordant collapse at the end shows a band that still have plenty of wiggle room even within a fairly clear-cut sound. That’s generally impressive, especially in hardcore, and Knocked Loose are utilising what they have to make some more engaging and diverse amendments to something so frequently dictated by formula. It’s really strong stuff overall, and shows once again that A Different Shade Of Blue could be the springboard for Knocked Loose to break their shackles once and for all, and emerge into territory that’s really exciting.
ROAM – Piranha
So it looks as though ROAM are actually carrying on with their advancement in sound, much to some great surprise. After all, they were once the poster boys for generic UK pop-punk, and to see them moving towards a heartier, more understated emo direction is certainly unexpected in the long run, but it’s not like I Don’t Think I Live There Anymore disappointing in that regard. As for Piranha, there’s a feeling of a lot more uncertainty here, with the stilted guitars presumably meant to convey some kind of groove but just feel incredibly awkward and jerky, as well as a guitar tone that sounds oddly flat and muddy when it really shouldn’t. At least there’s a bit of cleverness in the writing and the vocals match ROAM’s usual standards rather well, but Piranha overall feels like a misfire towards something that’s not unreachable, but hasn’t been honed to the extent where it’s guaranteed yet. This feels more like a stepping stone to reaching that point, and while it’s definitely not great, there’s only so much you can really be disappointed about with that.
Feeder – Daily Habit
Up to now, the songs released from Feeder’s upcoming album Tallulah have been generally pleasing, not breaking the mould or pushing any sort of boundaries, but turning out perfectly adequate for lightweight, inoffensive Britrock with enough of a melodic bent to keep it from abject mediocrity. Sure, there’s no edge to it whatsoever, but it’s not like that’s an automatic deal-breaker, especially with Feeder, and Daily Habit feels like another example of how they’ve used that to their advantage. It’s once again another generally upbeat, catchy pop-rock song reliant on a more prominent guitar line for a bit more of a driving clip, with Grant Nicholas sticking in his vocal mid-range once again in a way that’s not exactly the most engaging thing in the world, but at the same time it’s hardly disagreeable. On the other hand, Daily Habit displays the issue that all of these previous singles have had, namely that they’re so ephemeral and unremarkable that there’s not a great deal to say about them, but Feeder have definitely made worse, and continuing to be middle-of-the-road but solid is objectively better than being outright bad.
The Hold Steady – You Did Good Kid
With Denver Haircut, The Hold Steady’s formula began to really take hold for how minimal any deviations could be, and that wasn’t necessarily the best sign with a new album just on the horizon. But the truth is that’s generally been the case with this band, and while they’ve been able to play it well, they aren’t the most diverse sonically and have instead been able to ride it more successfully than many others. You Did Good Kid feels like a case in point, as the heartland indie-rock vibe and Craig Finn’s prominent string of vocals are still the most prevalent building blocks, but with the touches of horns to complement the more solemn, less-embossed vibe, it does take a relatively new turn into power-pop territory that still has the aged, weathered creak that’s pretty typical of The Hold Steady, but it does work. The aforementioned horns meld with the whirring synths for a new layer of depth, and that combines with a basis that’s resoundingly solid throughout to ensure that there’s enough to maintain interest and be generally likable. Even if the upcoming album has had a couple of shaky moments up to now, You Did Good Kid is one of the more fully-formed, and that’s still nice to see.
William DuVall – Til The Light Guides Me Home
It’s strange that William DuVall is only just getting round to releasing solo material. Granted, it can be argued that his biggest break came from joining Alice In Chains in 2006 despite being in bands as far back as the mid-‘80s, but he’s at least earned the clout within the industry to put out a solo project like this, regardless of how much exposure it will inevitably get. With Til The Light Guides Me Home though, that’s a difficult concept to really judge even now, especially when DuVall plays this as a stripped-back acoustic track with very little to set it apart from others of its ilk. Sure, the guitar work has enough fluttering intricacy to sound good, and DuVall’s soulful upper register is a nice change of pace from him, but there’s not a lot here otherwise as the generally lightweight presentation just seems to drift on by without a trace, and for the opening track of his upcoming album, it feels like more of a throwaway intro than lead single material. It’s definitely not bad, but there’s ample better directions that DuVall could’ve taken this track in than this; time will tell whether that’s been taken into account on the full release, but as of now, this is disappointing.
The Faim – Humans
It feels like interest in The Faim has pretty much gone off a cliff at this point. They’ve not done anything that’s surpassed being pretty good at best, and when that’s a remarkably disproportionate fraction of their catalogue, the general consensus seems to have been to cut all losses and give them up. And yet, their debut album is pencilled in for September, and with Humans being the next single from it, they aren’t doing much to convince anyone that it’s worth it. Once again, this is the sort of lumbering, overcooked alt-pop that’s become The Faim’s weapon of choice and is such a chore to listen to, particularly when the clattering percussion blocks out the weedy fragments of guitar with the entire thing coated in gloss. As for Josh Raven’s vocals, he’s got power, but blaring out a hook that feels tailor-made to hit arena-rock grandeur in the least subtle way possible just leaves a track that has all bluster and no bite, and when that can be attributed to so much of The Faim’s other material, it’s worth wondering what the point in any of this even is.
Void Of Vision – Hole In Me
For some reason, Void Of Vision always seem to be a band that compel people to keep returning to them. That they’re far from the worst band in the current Australian metalcore scene is something significant they’ve got going for them, but they’ve rarely shown much beyond basic competence and flashes of something great to go on. At least Hole In Me is closer to one of those flashes than anything else, mostly down to the pavement-cracking groove that drives essentially the entire song in a way that, compared to a band like Stray From The Path, can feel a bit watered-down and one-note, but keeps up the momentum decently enough, especially when given a few rougher edges thanks to the nu-metal electronics peppered around. Otherwise, Jack Bergin once again proves himself to be a sufficient vocalist, and while the nihilistic lyrics are nothing special, there’s enough darkness around them to prevent them from feeling too trite or overdone. It feels like everything that Void Of Vision have succeeded at in the past is here and arranged well enough, and while that could be the epitome of damning with faint praise, it’s really all that can be given. It’s a solid track from a band whose consistency has been anything but, and it’s impossible to say at this stage whether that’s going to change.
Rarity – Drown Me Out
Rarity’s blend of pop-punk and post-hardcore has yet to really click beyond the initial thrill of the genre-clash, and that does feel like a shame most of the time. They’re certainly a relic of a time when mixing heavier, more hardcore-influenced sounds into pop-punk was the norm, but they always had something a bit different about them, and the fact that it’s never stuck has been disappointing. Saying that though, Drown Me Out is perhaps their most concise attempt to date, if only because the blend feels a lot smoother with the seams being papered over a lot more convincingly. Granted, a big part of that comes from embracing their post-hardcore side with a lot more force, with guitars having an emo-flecked edge that consistently gives them a level of dirt and gristle that’s definitely impressive, and with the more dejected, tense vocal delivery, it’s certainly a smoother combination of sounds that’s a lot more concise overall. They’re yet to really translate this to a sound of their own, but setting the groundwork is a step in itself, and Drown Me Out provides a lot more of a reason to be optimistic about upcoming Rarity music than anything else they’ve done to date.
Gender Roles – Hey With Two Whys
After You Look Like Death was a resounding success at crafting layered yet infectious indie-punk, it makes sense that Gender Roles would follow it up as quickly as they have. The competitiveness for space within indie-punk has been noted plenty of times before, and considering that this is a band who actually look to be edging into the vaunted inner circle, the momentum needs to be kept up, and Hey With Two Whys is arguably even better than its predecessor. It’s definitely familiar again with the scuzzy guitars and firm bass forming the basis and a cleaner, more intricate melody weaving its way through, but Tom Bennett’s vocals have a decent amount of snark to give them that extra presence, especially in the bridge, and the writing does have the intelligence and wit that you’d expect from a band in this lane. It’s still a rather open question whether Gender Roles rise above the familiarity of their genre overall, but they do it a lot better than many others, and that’s something definitely worth celebrating.
Demob Happy – Autoportrait
As difficult as it can be to discern when garage-rock bands are really breaking out, particularly with the genre’s policy of taking care of its own at any given turn, Demob Happy’s upcoming run of supporting Royal Blood and Band Of Skulls at least points to something positive. Of course, their music will be the real deciding factor, and while a handful of solid singles relatively recently have done that rather well, Autoportrait feels the most custom-made For that bigger stage. The central hip-swinging riff is the key focal point, paired with a hook that stays relatively minimal but makes its big play for pop appeal intrinsically, though never succumbs to watering itself down too much thanks to the scuzzy, almost Queens Of The Stone Age-esque presentations. Even so, pointing out comparisons between it and the countless scores of other wide-reaching garage-rock tracks couldn’t be easier, but Demob Happy do seem comfortable in this lane, and when they’re producing material of decent quality, it’s hard to complain.
Words by Luke Nuttall