It’s been interesting to chronicle the growth of Knocked Loose over the past handful of years. Their 2016 debut Laugh Tracks was a solid if relatively unremarkable metallic hardcore album, and for a band who were outside of the traditional hype cycle at the time, it felt as though most agreed. Support was a lot more gradual, and while the band did begin to pick up traction, it wouldn’t be until a fair bit later when it would feel as though Knocked Loose were being pushed as a real force within hardcore, particularly for a subset of the genre which, at the time, was lacking a real, tangible leader for the modern day. Fast forward to today, and Knocked Loose are one of hardcore’s most exciting prospects, revered as an incendiary live force with every possible potential to transpose that on record for something truly great. That’s what A Different Shade Of Blue is being pegged as, already heralded as one of the best of the year and the sort of album that could see Knocked Loose live up to their huge presence in the scene in a way that very few have matched in the past.
But that all means that A Different Shade Of Blue arrives at a rather interesting place, given that Knocked Loose are a band for whom this sort of perceived evolution doesn’t seem to be all that high on the docket. It’s not like that needs to be the case, mind, especially when metallic hardcore as a whole places a much stronger onus on how hard its band can hit without overstaying their welcome. And by those standards, this is definitely a strong album and unquestionably a step up for Knocked Loose, but it’s tough to agree with claims of it being among the best of the year. Once again with this genre, it’s the sort of album that’ll see its real benefits come through in the live environment as opposed to on record; here, Knocked Loose are perfectly capable of doling out one searing hardcore rager after another, but even with the improvements made, there’s a limit to what can be ultimately achieved, and A Different Shade Of Blue scrapes that limit rather than breaking through it.
It’s still worth acknowledging that this is indeed a good album though, something that’s especially noticeable in the writing. Of course, that’s in relativistic terms – it’s not like Knocked Loose are trying their hand at multi-layered concept albums or anything – but Bryan Garris’ rage and personal immolation feels a lot more fully formed here, rather than sticking to the Laugh Tracks school of prioritising a mosh call above everything else. That’s not to say they’ve been done away with, but when there’s more of an integration with the surrounding narrative like on Road 23, it shows clear attempts at trying to break away from the norm, seldom as they may be. But among that, the inclusion of Dying Wish’s Emma Boster on A Serpent’s Touch and Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley on Forget Your Name brings in those additional voices in a way that’s breaking out of a rather rigid metallic hardcore shell, and moving into something more universal yet no less heavy. Garris’ yelping vocals still remain the primary touchstone for that, but the sprinkling in of defter touches beneath the surface shows a band at least looking to add more strings to their bow, and that’s certainly admirable.
When viewed from a more direct perspective though, there’s a lot less of that experimentation that could make this album something truly great. It’s definitely there in spots, with the grainy spoken samples on In The Walls and Road 23 (the former sounding especially sinister when drenched in creaking guitar playback) and the contortions into hollow atmosphere on …And Still I Wander South having an air of metal that’s often been a factor in Knocked Loose’s sound, but incorporating it in a more lingering, malevolent way to fully play with that sense of depth. But look past that, and it’s not like A Different Shade Of Blue is all that far removed from a lot of other metallic hardcore albums in its vein. That’s not a problem in itself, and with tight, barbed wire-coated production and a guitar tone that’s just as potent when delivering a discordant snap as a monster riff, that’s a workable baseline to go on. But for an album that wants to be as full-on as this, it seems strange that Knocked Loose’s flirtations with something new feel so coquettish, feeling welcome when they’re there but rarely meshing with the full piece or coalescing in a way that’s increasingly meaningful. It can be a wasted opportunity, in all honesty, and even though Knocked Loose are still perfectly successful at sticking to their hardcore guns with only minor deviations, there’s more that could’ve been done overall, particularly with how much hype has been piled onto it.
Now granted, it’s unfair to blame hype for an album not exactly living up to expectations, but it’s not like all that much would’ve changed going in with fresh ears. A Different Shade Of Blue is, without question, a step in the right direction, but a step that feels a bit too small for its own good, toying with the idea of trying new things instead of taking the plunge for an inevitably more interesting and satisfying album. Even then, there’s still a lot to like about this album, and it’s sure to keep Knocked Loose’s position as the kings of metallic hardcore safe and secure for really the foreseeable future. But that’s not to say that it can’t be improved upon, and while what’s here is a very good album, it’s not difficult to see how it could’ve been great.
For fans of: Stray From The Path, Kublai Khan, Sanction
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘A Different Shade Of Blue’ by Knocked Loose is out now on Pure Noise Records.