Creeper – Born Cold
When Creeper allegedly died on stage almost exactly a year ago, there can’t have been many who believed it was the actual thing. After all, they’ve been one of UK rock’s key assets since day dot, barely putting a foot wrong as far as goth-tinged punk goes that’s hit a level of near-perfection more often than most bands can even aspire to. As such, to see them return with new music isn’t the most surprising thing ever, but the fact that Born Cold is able to maintain that watermark of quality to such an extent really is a testament to how wonderful this band is. The sweeping enormity of it all is among the most lavish thing that Creeper have ever put their name towards, moving a couple of steps away from punk scrappiness and into the territory of arena-rock giants, with Will Gould delivering a vocal performance with all the theatrics and sonorous nuance that history’s greatest frontmen have been defined by. To nitpick, maybe the production doesn’t hit quite as hard, but when everything else so emphatically clicks and feels as potent and life-affirming as it does, any minor criticisms are washed away by the fact that Creeper have returned to become one of the best bands in the world once again.
The Word Alive – Burning Your World Down
The constant movement of The Word Alive is certainly impressive to see, and even if they’re yet to top the brand of melodic metalcore they effectively nailed on 2016’s Dark Matter, they’re still leagues ahead of so many of their peers in terms of melodic potency and construction. That’s definitely the case with Burning Your World Down, but it’d be slightly misleading to say that it’s because the band are doing anything tremendously new here. The reliance on Telle Smith’s clean vocals for most of the track has been a tactic that’s worked for them for a long time now, and the clean, surging guitars cultivate the enormous atmosphere they clearly want, but put this next to a lot of the more recent material (particularly last year’s Violent Noise), and it’s hard to see where any progression has been made, if at all. That’s not to say it’s bad, and compared to their more box-ticking material, there’s a spark here that’s decidedly their own, but there’s also a hint of complacency that prevents this from being anything more than good. It still is good and that’s worth something, but it could be better.
HAIM – Now I’m In It
With Summer Girl seeming something like a return to form to HAIM, there’s at least been a bit of hope that what they’ll proceed to release will follow suit, bringing back the Fleetwood Mac-inspired indie-pop that made such an impact on their debut but fell away so regularly on its follow-up. With Now I’m In It though, there seems to have been an attempt to split the difference between the two, now with the quiet, intricate guitar lines meshed with sharper synths leading into bigger percussion in a way that’s not quite as impactful in terms of melodic lushness, but does feel in-keeping with the sort of thing that HAIM are clearly looking to do for themselves. Granted, some of the more gratuitous AutoTune doesn’t help matters, but this is still an incredibly solid track, and it’s good to see HAIM finding themselves on more stable footing like this going forward. If they can carry on down this route and pick up just a bit more momentum, they could be back on track to some truly good stuff incredibly soon.
Emmure – Pig’s Ear
The time when Emmure used to spark constant rage with how much they’d continue to scrape the deathcore barrel despite an abundance of talent among their ranks is over, and now the primary reaction they spark is one of disinterest. Frank Palmeri wants to push buttons but he simply doesn’t have the means to anymore, and without that one factor, it can lead to a band who can barely pull off their one note at the best of times. That being said, Pig’s Ear is definitely a better track, mostly because its view is a lot more condensed, and thus it can pull off the rage at being beaten down so often reasonably well. It helps that there’s enough heft here to make that frustration and fury feel tangible, and a solidly rampaging production job combined with a tight runtime ultimately does a lot in making this one of Emmure’s better cuts to date. It’s still not great – though that’s more of a caveat with Emmure themselves than anything – but if there was going to be any evidence that they’d actually pull themselves together and try to do something more than the bare minimum, this feels like it’s it.
Ocean Grove – JUNKIE$
There’s something unfailingly magnetic about Ocean Grove, to the point where even if they’re yet to release a full project that’s captured their knack for intense eclecticism and fashioned it into something wholly great, they’re always worth keeping tabs on for when the potential is there. Saying that though, JUNKIE$ is arguably one of their more straightforward cuts in some time, though no less exciting for it, riding on a nu-metal bounce and a hazy, more melodic chorus that’s about as indebted to Korn as it comes, though spun with the usual cartoonish irreverence that this band have undoubtedly made their own. The bounding momentum and general warped demeanour really do keep it all captivating, and even if it’s not the widest they’ve cast their net (and subsequently doesn’t reap the greatest rewards), JUNKIE$ feels like a necessary solidifier going into the next stage of a career that’s bound to be enormously exciting. They’ve proven they’ve still got the ear for melody; now what Ocean Grove need to do is demonstrate once again how far they can go with it.
Handguns – Constructive Criticism
To some degree, it feels as though Handguns in 2019 are existing out of their own time. Their brand of pop-punk definitely had more legs three or four years ago than it does now, and with most of their contemporaries evolving to fit the changing scene or simply falling off altogether, to see Handguns continuing at all is an interesting sight. What’s slightly disheartening is that they’ve really not taken any of the necessary strides to move forward, as Constructive Criticism feels like an attempt at more ragged, direct punk that doesn’t go the distance that it really should. The incredibly brief runtime doesn’t do a great deal for it, and given that Handguns aren’t able to pack that much into it besides a usual crop of pop-punk-isms that aren’t all that compelling, it feels like a throwaway track above anything to properly herald their return. Maybe there’s better things to come on the horizon, but this isn’t setting the bar very high.
AJJ – A Poem
There’s always been a lot more to AJJ than with most folk-punk bands, taking a wry sense of wit and a very recognisable brand of indie-punk melody to give them a fresher sense of dimension that a lot of their contemporaries. It’s what’s allowed 2016’s The Bible 2 to only increase in value over time, but the issue with that is it can sometimes be a difficult asset to distill into single songs rather than a larger project. That feels like a pretty immediate issue with A Poem given its runtime of a minute and forty seconds, but the foundations of acoustic strums that aren’t so much bolstered by bass rumbles and jangling percussion as existing alongside them don’t really evolve in a way it appears as though the band would want, given how the vocal layering clearly wants to build to some kind of crescendo. There’s definitely plenty to like in the writing on the other hand, and how condensed the barbed cynicism can be, but on the whole, A Poem feels more like an intro track designed to work in the context of an album rather than on its own. Right now, that’s really the only thing to hope for when it comes to this track, because it’s not AJJ’s best.
Bellevue Days – S.A.D
For a while now, the anticipation for Bellevue Days to deliver on the mountains of promise their past releases have shown has been steadily building, and with their debut album on the horizon, that hopefully looks to come to fruition sooner rather than later. The previously-released tracks have certainly swayed that way, and S.A.D is no different, combining emo’s traditional introspection with a fantastic command of melody and intricacy that shows a foot planted in the school of big Britrock songwriting, but also one in the current scene’s more progressive, pliable side in terms of overall songcraft. It helps that there’s such a warmth and homespun appeal to this track despite how massive it could potentially sound on the right stage, and Bellevue Days are able to sell the emotion of it all excellently. It’s just another great song from a band who’ve made that their standard at this point, something that bodes incredibly well for an album that could well see them rocket up to the big leagues almost singlehandedly.
Cold Years – ’62’ (My Generation’s Falling Apart)
A lot of Cold Years’ output thus far has felt as though it could benefit from the sort of boost that often gets this sort of heartland-influenced punk to the level of anthemia that’s often seen as the default. Sadly they’ve not been able to do that a lot of the time, but ‘62’ (My Generation’s Falling Apart) is definitely the biggest step up they’ve pulled off to date, leaning into the big, bombastic trappings of The Gaslight Anthem in a way that’s able to capture the rollicking grit and classicism that so often permeates their work, albeit without too much of their own spin. Still, Ross Gordon’s natural Scottish accent and slips into gruffer half-screams definitely lend some individual character, and writing centering on a state of political uncertainty underpinned by Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU going largely unheeded has a good deal of weight to it. It’s arguably the most cohesive effort that Cold Years have put to record to date, and represents a sizable step in the right direction when it comes to pulling off this brand of punk. Their hotly-tipped status finally seems to have come to fruition.
Words by Luke Nuttall