Sharptooth – Mean Brain
Given that Sharptooth released the best hardcore album bar none of 2017 in Clever Girl, there was always going to be a hefty amount of anticipation with what they’d follow it up with. They’re by no means one of the genre’s biggest names just yet, even with the traction they’ve been getting, and if making the leap is something that’s on the agenda for the next year, they’re going to have to seriously back it up. Thankfully Mean Brain is exactly that, bringing the usual Sharptooth fury to what’s arguably its apex in a scathing takedown of vocalist Lauren Kashan’s own fractured mental health against flurries of hardcore aggression tempered with just the right amounts of vulnerability and frustration. As always, not a second is wasted, particularly in the climax of a heavy-as-hell breakdown to provide a late candidate for Hardcore Moment Of The Year, but the snarling guitar tone and abundant sense of heft really is fantastic throughout. This is exactly the sort of bang that Sharptooth needed to return with, and if they can suitably deliver even more like this, they’re bound to have another pretty special album on their hands.
Panic! At The Disco – Into The Unknown
Given that Panic! At The Disco have become one of the biggest names in modern music, it’s hardly a surprise that Brendon Urie is being drafted in for far more high-profile appearances than ever before, and off the back of his soundtrack contribution for the re-recorded version of The Greatest Showman comes Into The Unknown, his rendition of a track from Frozen 2. However, another Let It Go this is clearly not, with the big strings having a lot more ominous swell against the cascading horns and Urie’s usual theatrical range giving it all the emotional grandeur that one would often expect from a modern Disney song. Of course, given that that’s the case, there’s a certain lack of drive in terms of musical progression beyond a build that, even then, doesn’t really crest, and while it’s got the hallmarks of big-budget soundtrack fodder written all over it, it’s worth noting that because this isn’t the version that will actually appear in the film, there’s a certain second-childness about it that ensures this isn’t going to be the one primed to shift all the units. Still, it’s fine enough for what it is, and it’s not like a slightly lower cut like this is going to make much of a dent in the perennially indestructible brand of Panic! At The Disco.
Bring Me The Horizon – Ludens
Thinking about it, it makes sense that Bring Me The Horizon would be contributing to the soundtrack to Death Stranding, a game that’s been shrouded in its own esoteric confusion ever since it was revealed, given that they’re effectively doing the same thing right now. They’re keeping as polarising as ever in their exploration through electronic textures that are a far cry from their old metalcore guise, and Ludens feels like them pushing the envelope even further, though perhaps outright tearing it in the process. Yes, the chorus is tremendously propulsive, and there’s a certain primal thrill that comes from hearing a proper metal breakdown from this band in what feels like years, but the fragmented, icy electronics really don’t culminate in anything substantial, at least when they aren’t used to augment the track’s nu-metal-flavoured back half. That means that a lot of it simply spirals away without much of an impact, and while the intrigue factor is certainly there, a good chorus can only do so much when there isn’t a great deal to work with elsewhere. It’s certainly novel for a soundtrack cut to not play it as safely as possible, but a bit more structure among that wouldn’t have gone amiss either.
Fireworks – Demitasse
To actually quite a few people, Fireworks were seen as one of the most underrated pop-punk bands in absolutely years, with some truly killer albums under their belt that never got the recognition they ultimately deserved. But despite going on hiatus in 2015, this new song has surfaced, accompanied by a questionnaire surrounding deep modern philosophy that suggests whatever Fireworks are currently planning, it’s far different from their previous work. That’s generally backed up by Demitasse, the sort of vulnerable slow burn largely anchored in liquid guitars, strings and choral vocals that might lack the directness of their old material, but feels incredibly compelling regardless, especially in the softness of David Mackinder’s vocals that have an emotionality that works incredibly well against the slower growth. Granted, it’s a bit less impressive towards the end when the pace picks up the instrumentation feels a little too cluttered to work, but Demitasse is an intriguing example of a band making a big return that really couldn’t have been predicted, but looks set to really deliver. Quite what it’s going to deliver remains to be seen, but there’s plenty to keep an eye on regardless.
Fever 333 – Kingdom
Even though their debut album was only released this year, it’s not too surprising to see Fever 333 already returning with new music. It’s the sort of constant forward momentum one would expect from an act who dub themselves a movement over a band, especially when Kingdom feels like a noticeable evolution of the rap-rock / post-hardcore sound established on Strength In Numb333rs. Jason Butler has a commanding presence and intensity against both harsh hip-hop beats and well-polished but razor-sharp guitars, and the defiance present in the lyrics really continues to push on their notion of inclusiveness, but in a way that’s ready to bear its teeth whenever necessary. The changes can be seen in the tightness of the execution rather than ethos, and even then it’s more minor tweaks on a formula that was already incredibly strong to start with, but it’s a significant move all the same, and it shows just how Fever 333 continue to be one of the most crucial, but also fast-moving bands around today.
Orchards – Sooner
Right now, it feels like we’re just waiting for the moment when Orchards absolutely blow up. They’ve got the melodic indie-pop sensibilities that are more than enough to infiltrate the mainstream space, and when it’s so regularly concentrated with the focus and catchiness of basically all of their material to date, all that’s left is for it to catch on just a bit more. And given that it hasn’t just yet, it’s hard to say whether Sooner will be the one where it does, but the potential is there as always, with the light-dappled synths and guitars dancing off Lucy Evers’ sweet but rich vocals in the vein of a band like Fickle Friends, but with the slightly off-kilter leaning that gives them a lot more of a distinctive bent. Coupled with the sort of bounce and rubbery strut in the bass that’s always an easy sell in indie-pop like this, and Orchards only seem to be doubling down on a formula that’s already proven to be excellent for them. Hopefully this’ll be where they finally get the enormous recognition they deserve.
Polaris – Masochist
In the stakes of metalcore, it’s always felt as though Polaris has been a name that’s floated around, but have never been given the springboard to do something bigger for themselves. The argument can be made that that’s not objectionable given the metalcore sluice gate that admittedly has gotten slightly better at quality control, but they’ve never displayed a lot to differentiate themselves from a lot of the competition regardless. And unfortunately that largely seems to carry across to Masochist, though the more melodic bounce that’s a more permanent fixture across the track (as well as a bridge that captures some really powerful size) is definitely a step in the right direction. Beyond that though, there’s a lot of musical and lyrical filler that just feels lifted from the usual grab bag of metalcore sounds with very little changes made. It’s a shame given how well Polaris do pull various moments off, but that’s not enough to solidify a win altogether. It’s better than average, sure, but sadly still not good enough.
Dune Rats – Crazy
Looking around at what’s lined up for Dune Rats’ upcoming album next year reveals quite a bit to be concerned about. For one, the garage-rock style has already become something of a red flag as far as innovation is concerned, but with a production credit here from John Feldmann, the natural extrapolation that comes to mind is SWMRS’ attempt at mixing the rough with the mainstream with particularly shoddy results on their last album. Thankfully it actually seems as though Dune Rats know what they’re doing on Crazy, but only in the sense that they’re able to create a workable final product. Sure, there’s enough energy and raucousness to go around, but the garage-rock rubric is still adhered to rather heavily, and that’s hard to look past when this sort of sound has been pounded into the ground so often. It’s not exactly that it’s a bad example of that sound either, especially with a decent guitar crunch and snotty vocal cries for a hook, but Dune Rats aren’t making themselves stand out all that much, instead just adding to the noise instead of rising above it. It’s fine for what it is, but it’s a shame that what it is isn’t better.
Words by Luke Nuttall