Track Pack – 2nd-8th September 2019

The Amity Affliction – All My Friends Are Dead

So here we are again where, against all good sense, The Amity Affliction see it fit to release new music, now somehow signed to Pure Noise for perhaps the vain hope of fooling people into thinking they’re shaking things up. And if nothing else, it’s better than anything off Misery, if only because this actually feels like a metalcore song in its rushing guitars and extra space for Joel Birch to once again prove how his screams are easily the best thing this band has. But away from all of that, this is more of the same basically, as the production scrubs itself up to almost entirely synthetic levels on the chorus for Ahren Stringer’s emotionless robot vocals to deliver more of the same emotionless nothing that’s comprised essentially all of The Amity Affliction’s music. Perhaps it doesn’t feel as slimy and manipulative as Misery was, purely because Birch has more to do here, but if they’re still trying to capture breathless, rigorous emotion, they’re falling at every hurdle once again because of how micromanaged everything feels. Granted, that’s the expected level of quality for The Amity Affliction nowadays, and the fact that this is just mediocre rather than entirely atrocious is a step in some sort of right direction, for whatever that’s worth.

Of Mice & Men – Taste Of Regret

On the whole, the majority of what Of Mice & Men have showcased from EARTHANDSKY has been pretty promising, especially showing that they can certainly handle a status as a straight-up metal band given the bumps in the road they’ve been forced to endure on the journey here. It’s not pushing boundaries, but with a song like Taste Of Regret that’s so resoundly comfortable in what it’s doing, it doesn’t really need to. There’s still a fantastic amount of heaviness across the board, and Aaron Pauley remains a vocalist with a good vocal range as he switches between guttural screams and the cleaner, arena-metal choruses that have ultimately given Of Mice & Me that beneficial edge as they’ve moved in this direction. Maybe it’s not quite the best track from their upcoming album they’ve released so far (Mushroom Cloud still remains pretty tough to beat), but it’s yet another example of the next phase of a band that could’ve easily faltered so long ago, but continue to thrive.

grandson – Oh No!!!

It’s rather telling that grandson seems to have slunk back in terms of exposure when it comes to political voices on the fringes of alternative music, especially now that Yungblud has fully broken through to steal his thunder. At least he’s persevering though, with the campaign for his upcoming release a modern tragedy vol. 3 coming ahead with Oh No!!!, a song that shows, in terms of musical and artistic evolution, grandson hasn’t even budged from the mediocrity he previously resided in. The lyrics remain just as uninteresting as ever as another anti-Trump screed that refuses to look towards detail or interesting wordplay, while grandson remains a meek, uninspired presence behind the microphone. But even worse than all of that is the instrumentation, in which grandson seems to be adamant that he can make oily guitar tones over dated, similarly clunky dubstep castoffs work, even though it sounds just as bad as every other time he’s tried and failed. There’s clearly an idea that grandson wants to hit, and good on him for trying this much, but there comes a point where it’s worth realising that something just isn’t working, and going back to the drawing board will be undoubtedly more beneficial. The sooner he learns that, the better.

Spielbergs – Running All The Way Home

Spielbergs have made quite the impression this year, especially with their debut album This Is Not The End being the sort of vintage, rough-around-the-edges indie-rock that always goes down smoothly, especially with the sense of depth and versatility they brought with it. And when considering it, a quick follow-up doesn’t seem too unlikely, particularly when it’s only an EP, but they’re the sort of band capable of striking quickly with a roughness that can work to their advantage. Running All The Way Home seems to do just that too, keeping an unrefined, ragged guitar tone that comes through with such a sense of exuberance and scale, and Mads Baklien’s shouted vocals that gel as the perfect cathartic accompaniment. There’s nothing here that’s supposed to be shiny or polished, and it results in a ground-level grit that Spielbergs ride excellently, channelling ‘90s alt-rock and power-pop heroes in a way that still feels natural and vital. What’s more, it seems like they’re only getting better at it, and that’s the most exciting thing of all.

Void Of Vision – Babylon

On the whole, Void Of Vision seem to be edging nearer to the quality end of metalcore than sinking in the mid-level quagmire that they’ve wallowed in for long enough. There’s not been too much to go on that front, mind, but in general, they’re pulling from better sources that lead to something that feels stronger overall. With Babylon though, it wouldn’t be right to call this a wasted opportunity, but it’s not one that pushes the band in the best overall direction, clocking in at just over two minutes with very little structure beyond a stark divide between faster, more frenetic hardcore and fairly standard low-end metalcore. They’ve got a fairly solid grasp on how both ends work, and that’s definitely to their credit, but like a lot of Void Of Vision’s work, they aren’t elements that come together with much grace or tact, and it can leave the whole thing as more truncated than it already is. There’s merit here on the whole, especially for metalcore that’s looking to show its teeth a bit more readily, but it’s difficult to avoid thinking that Void Of Vision can still do better.

The Early November – Ava Maria

In general, The Early November’s single rollout for their upcoming album has been fairly promising, not exactly setting the world on fire but tapping deeply enough into their indie-rock / emo presence to have some likable sticking power at the very least. But Ave Maria feels a bit different, making a couple of lateral movements towards the incredibly polished 2000s piano-rock of a band like Jack’s Mannequin which hasn’t exactly held up all the well. True, the pianos and more liquid guitars have a pleasant charm, but a drumbeat which alternates between rollicking and more stilted heaviness and a very sanitised presentation overall doesn’t do The Early November much justice, especially when the vocal lines are a bit busier with more detail in a way that does have charm. It’s not that bad by any stretch and it’s easy to see the appeal, but it’s not the best thing that The Early November have released on this album cycle and that’s a bit of a shame.

Bearings – So Damn Wrong / I Feel It All

Blue In The Dark clearly didn’t hit the heights that might have been anticipated for Bearings, and that means it makes more sense that they’re releasing new music already. It was a fine enough pop-punk album, but that doesn’t tend to stick in a climate as tight as that one, and thus these two new tracks feel like an attempt to fall on their feet and carry on with a fairly intact amount of momentum. And again, both of these tracks are decent, but Bearings still aren’t hitting the mark needed within pop-punk to stand out. It doesn’t help that the produced synths play a greater role here, particularly in the glimmers that can make I Feel It All feel more synthetic that it maybe should, and when their primary purpose seems to be shaking up a rather standard formula, it’s not really a surprise that not a great deal is achieved. Again, they’re both fine enough, especially So Damn Wrong’s simpler, more melodic rollick which makes it probably the best of the two, but Bearings still feel as though they’re coasting rather than excelling, and that’s not a tactic they’ll be able to keep up for much longer.

Birthmarks – Wax

The chance that Birthmarks will remain a fairly underground prospect for the foreseeable future seems rather likely, but that’s not a slight against them. If anything it gives them the room to expand and move down new avenues that wouldn’t be possible under the blaring mainstream spotlight, and Wax feels like the perfect embodiment of that. This isn’t big, crowd-pleasing alt-rock in any way, shape or form, but instead represents a true alternative, remaining low-key with weary, echoing guitars taking up a tiny fraction of an enormous mix, while Daniel Cross gives a similarly restrained, mysterious performance in his vocals to capture that small scale and intimacy that’s present among the openness. It’s a potent method of execution, all things considered, and while it might be a bit too understated and quiet for some, Birthmarks really seem to have nailed a sense of mood and dejected emptiness within alt-rock that does a fair bit to set them apart. Their album is still a while away yet, but this definitely points in the right direction for it to be something to look out for.

Breather – Golden Soul

Regardless of how forgettable their early singles might have been, it looks like Breather are making some headway after all, given their debut EP is already on the way. That could be a good sign on paper, signalling a tightening of their sound and a direction of their own, but Golden Soul doesn’t really show that and makes it just as difficult to like Breather as it always has been. They’re still holding firmly onto Britrock archetypes that don’t have all that much to them, and while Sam Irvine can contort his vocals slightly to have a bit more of a sneer, there’s still an over-polished, under-utilised air about the whole thing that keeps it as totally anonymous. Sure, the melodic sensibilities aren’t bad, but they’ve not evolved from countless bands who’ve pursued this exact safe, colourless path in the past. It’s not exactly awful, but if Breather want to become something great within British rock, they’re going to have to do more than this.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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