As harsh as it might sound, any confidence within Mallory Knox has dwindled at an alarming rate recently. The early signs were when third album Wired didn’t live up to expectations as a rather so-so album from a band who, within the anthemic Britrock scene, was known for material that was anything but, and with frontman Mikey Chapman’s departure last year, it felt like a band losing their most key asset when it came to standing out. That felt even more true after Sam Douglas was promoted from co-vocalist to full-blown frontman, with live performances that displayed a shakiness that had never previously been an issue for Mallory Knox, and new material that could easily have slotted into the current scene of Britrock pulling from superficial garage-rock tones to give the illusion of roughness. But to a degree, it’s easy to feel sorry for Mallory Knox having gone through all of this, consistently being pushed down by disgruntled fans and effectively left to fall by the wayside as a band with nothing to show anymore. At the same time though, the fact that they’ve pushed back as hard as they have with such profound tenacity is worth admiring, and the tactic of an eponymous fourth album to signal a major redefinition for this new era betrays a confidence that surely can’t be as unfounded as so many have believed it to be.
And when the situation is analysed a bit more deeply, it appears as though so much of the dismissal towards this new phase of Mallory Knox has been overly preemptive. They’re not due to fall apart quite as hastily as has been made out, and this self-titled album seems to be a good indication of just how much they can do ever when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s not fantastic by any means, and some of their steadfast determination has petered out between telling and showing, but as far as mission statements going forward go, Mallory Knox have laid down some rock-solid foundations that, even with the low expectations they’re wading into, yield some pretty strong results.
The changes are rather stark too, as the plaintive, nice-guy image of previous releases has been shed, and in its place stands a band willing to bear their fangs a bit more and seethe against the hurdles and detraction that’s scuppered them at almost every turn over the last couple of years. It’s where having Douglas as the lead feels the most justified, with rougher tones that might lack some of the swooping dramatics and light of his predecessor, but feels a lot more capable when it comes to rawer, more grounded material like this. There’s definitely more tension that comes from having anger and frustration as more palpable elements than ever before, as ties are swiftly severed with toxic past presences on Psycho Killer and 4, and shots are taken at those looking to stifle forward movement and growth on Guts. Of course, because this is a Mallory Knox album (and because they’ve hardly got the means to go full hardcore any time soon), there’s still a good deal of more personal emotions as well, with Douglas highlighting how the increased doubt and setbacks have taken such a profound toll on his own mental wellbeing on Livewire and Black Holes. It’s a refreshingly human sentiment for a band who’ve typically kept something of a distance from these more realistic portrayals, and the visceral overall nature does reap some significant rewards, even if they could afford to go a bit deeper for an even greater payoff. There’s darker territory just beneath the surface with ample material to dive into, and while it’s understandable that Mallory Knox want to keep their radio-friendly appearance intact, to see them push beyond that could’ve been the cathartic moment to oust the majority of doubts about the future in an even more forceful way.
As for the instrumentation and how it works there, there are fewer complaints to be had overall, mostly because Mallory Knox manage to circumvent the riff-rock nadir almost completely that they looked to be so close to falling into. That’s not to say everything is perfect – the crunchy, crushed production of Radio goes for lo-fi emulation that still no one has a hand on, and 4 could definitely afford to let loose more given the scathing subject matter – but it’s generally a more stable and sustainable transition to this sound than most before them have managed. They’ve leaned into better than most at any rate, avoiding sludgy overmixing and focusing on thicker grooves and riffs that drive the likes of The World I Knew and Whatever with welcome frequency. For a band who’ve become so known for their ballads, it’s an interesting move for Mallory Knox to cut them out entirely here, but the focus on a lean, punchy rock album with prime attempts made to minimise waste is a good move for them, particularly as they head towards these grittier sounds. Moreover, it puts an emphasis on the sources that have been drawn from and how well they work as a whole, with shades of Royal Blood being a safe but serviceable baseline on a track like Freaks, but Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age lending their stadium-sized scope elsewhere, and even hints of punk that sends Guts hurtling to the finish line. It can jar a bit, especially within the context of Mallory Knox’s catalogue, but it’s definitely a more engaging and ear-catching pivot overall.
And right now, that’s really the most anyone can hope for with this band. Considering they’re still in the middle of a rather sizable reinvention, the fact that Mallory Knox have landed so profoundly on their feet bodes well going forward, but they’ve clearly got more of an idea of where they’re going than anyone really predicted, and a fairly well-realised one at that. That’s probably where this album shines the most; for as much as Mallory Knox might have appeared to be down for the count, this sort of retooling makes it clear how much credit as an adaptable band they deserve, pulling themselves back up and delivering the sort of album that isn’t the finished article quite yet, but feels like one of the closest approximations to this garage-rock-based style sounding good to drop. It’s the confident next step that had to be made at this stage, and for a band that had generally been considered a write-off, they’ve made it work.
For fans of: Foo Fighters, Royal Blood, We Are The Ocean
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Mallory Knox’ by Mallory Knox is released on 16th August on A Wolf At Your Door Records.