REVIEW ROUND-UP: Fontaines D.C., Avatar, Neon Trees

Fontaines D.C.
A Hero’s Death

A Hero’s Death presents an interesting quandary for Fontaines D.C., namely in how they’re planning to keep up where they currently are, and whether that’s the best thing for them. It’s unquestionable that they’re one of the faces of post-punk’s current wave, but in what seems like a torrent of bands coming out with one release and fading before having time for a follow-up, there’s a striking amount of foresight in Fontaines D.C. looking to hit again as swiftly as they have. But as with most, if not all albums falling into this quick release cycle, there’s apprehension here, perhaps more than usual. After all, it’s not like Fontaines D.C. haven’t been accused of emulating Idles’ business model in the past, but where Joy As An Act Of Resistance arriving just over a year after its predecessor turned out pretty greatly, A Hero’s Death doesn’t currently have that air around it. If anything it feels too preemptive, cannibalising the promotional cycle for the band’s debut Dogrel just as Liberty Belle – a song that’s appreciated in value by leaps and bounds, for the record – was becoming a real radio presence. But in a weird way, that almost perfectly fits with how relentless of an album A Hero’s Death is, a far cry from the roughneck bravado that defined Fontaines D.C. just a few months ago in favour of a much weightier and visceral experience. The significant overhaul in sound is what stands out the most immediately, now with Conor Deegan III’s bass heaving and smouldering behind guitars that cut through like metal wires, all layered in a frequently frigid and cold mix and shorn of any obvious hooks or indie-bothering choruses. It owes a lot more to traditional post-punk in almost every sense, and to see the band dive so deeply into that side of their sound is regularly thrilling, particularly in how utterly consuming and heavy the rumble on tracks like Love Is The Main Thing and Living In America is. This isn’t a radio record, nor is it one that’s pulling any punches; instead, A Hero’s Death makes the most of the increased leverage its creators have by showing a fearlessness that might’ve only been hinted at last time, at most. The thematic parallels only continue to stack up with that, but it’s worth noting how starkly these changes have come about, whether that’s in the noisier, more caustic approximation of the sound of their debut on A Lucid Dream, the deep dives into heady bleakness on Love Is The Main Thing or the title track, or even the emotion and vulnerability that has a greater hold overall on Oh Such A Spring and Sunny.

It’s that vulnerability that underlines exactly how A Hero’s Death has taken such great leaps; even that title, when placed in the context of everything within, feels divorced from the snideness and sneers that it once could’ve imbued. Instead, there’s honesty here that comes from unmitigated burnout and mental exhaustion, as frontman Grian Chatten searches for some kind of escape within the abstract recesses of his mind, only to find himself confronted by the worries and neuroses that seep in from a world build on sensory overload and end up colouring tracks like I Don’t Belong and the title track. And while there’s definitely a sense that he succumbs to them – his monotone bark is less formidable across the board, though that’s the point – it’s not seen as a weakness or something to be broken away from. In a way then, it makes a lot of sense that A Hero’s Death’s origins stem all the way back to before Dogrel was even released; this is Fontaines D.C. with even the slightest shred of artifice wiped away, falling fast into ugly pits of humanity that they masked well last time, but would be disingenuous to do again. Thus, the result is a much darker, misshapen album that has less outward appeal than its predecessor, but is also exponentially more rewarding to dig into and pick apart, and that’s not something that Fontaines D.C. previously showed to have in them. And even if the risk of an album like this alienating a fanbase who might want more of the same ekes out yet another meaning from the phrase A Hero’s Death, it’s ultimately for the best, especially if it brings forth greatness from out of nowhere like this has. • LN


For fans of: The Murder Capital, Protomartyr, Idles

‘A Hero’s Death’ by Fontaines D.C. is released on 31st July on Partisan Records.

Hunter Gatherer

Avatar have never made it easy to love them. They’ve got a strong, ever-evolving concept and they’re reportedly great live, but that’s never been fully translated into the music that’s always been the biggest obstacle for them to clear. Then again, that appears to be a consequence of a band who, in all honesty, don’t seem to know what they’re doing a lot of the time. The fact that frontman Johannes Eckerström’s now-iconic clown makeup was just put together one day for their 2012 album Black Waltz speaks volumes about a propensity for rash decisions that can have an almost incalculable magnitude going forward (that’s really the main reason that Avatar are viewed as a ‘gimmick band’). That hasn’t changed with Hunter Gatherer either, an album that the band have admitted is making a complete 180 from the comedy-focused Avatar Country in 2018, opting for something that is, in their own words, “devoid of humour”. It raises the question of how seriously Avatar’s material can actually be taken, especially when they haven’t done a great deal to modulate how parading and carnivalesque their take on melodeath is. Eckerström’s vocals do a lot within that by themselves, with the ability to switch between a pretty impactful death metal growl and the cleaner, more operatic style of Ghost, something which really does feel like a severe tonal shift that a lot of the album seems to replicate rather than modify. Regardless of how serious Avatar are trying to be here, there’s still a very built-in silliness to getting Corey Taylor just to provide a whistling backdrop on A Secret Door, or in the jaunty, showy bounce of Child, and that can undercut how effective the band’s intentions actually are. When they lean fully into the darker side of their oeuvre on a track like Silence In The Age Of Apes, there’s a compelling result there, but the inability to keep to that and build on lacks the focus and gravity that Avatar clearly want to convey here.

It’s not like Avatar are a bad band either, and like pretty much all of their albums, Hunter Gatherer still finds ways to be enjoyable regardless of how glaring the gaps within it are. That’s mostly to do with how the heavier side is executed, but in tracks like God Of Sick Dreams and Scream Until You Wake, there’s at least a convincing effort made in fusing the two halves with enough cohesion to really gel, all while maintaining a very grandiose and pop-centric approach to hook-craft that’s always served Avatar well. Granted, there’s something a bit more viscerally entertaining about the lightning-precision guitar work on Silence In The Age Of Apes that hits even harder, or the robotic stomp of Colossus that, for an album about the reliance on technology and the devaluing of human relationships and meaningful interaction, is a great pivot to make. It’s topped off with the sharp modern metal production job that always seems to elevate albums like this, and is given enough of a punch in its heavier moments to carry it over the finish line on enough of a passing mark to matter. It’s a method of success that Avatar have been pretty heavily indebted to recently, and while there’s a certain amount of satisfaction to be gleaned from seeing it all pulled back at the last minute, it does beg the question of how sustainable that actually is. It’s never yielded a great album from them and that hasn’t changed here, and only serves to hold faster the notion that real focus and creative streamlining will ultimately see Avatar reach greater creative peaks moving forward. They’ve been making solid or good albums for a bit too long now, and that’s mostly been by technicality; it’s time to really knuckle down and put out something great, because there’s a reason that their albums don’t seem to be remembered all that long after release, and Hunter Gatherer will most likely be in that exact same boat. • LN


For fans of: Ghost, System Of A Down, Amon Amarth

‘Hunter Gatherer’ by Avatar is released on 7th August on Century Media Records.

Neon Trees
I Can Feel You Forgetting Me

Like a lot of the bands of their ilk, history is never going to give Neon Trees a whole lot of credit. They came around with the flood of indie-pop acts in the 2010s who’d notch a big hit or two and then promptly disappear out of the spotlight (see Foster The People, Gotye, Of Monsters And Men and plenty more who’ll never be thought of again), but in that particular bubble, they were easily one of the better names there. They had a tendency to bite hard from The Killers’ formula, but that could guarantee some real energy and great hooks that stick surprisingly strongly, and in 2020 when indie-pop has essentially devolved into ‘Imagine Dragons or bust’, that has a good bit of worth if it’s kept steady on a new album. It definitely helps that I Can Feel You Forgetting Me is forwarding the pop pivot that worked so well for Neon Trees in the first place, as a really lean, sleek condensing of synthpop and new wave that refuses to be bogged down by the lumbering progressions and pretensions of their contemporaries. Instead, the cracking synth-bass simmers on Everything Is Killing Me and When The Night Is Over, and the glossy finish works a lot more on tracks like Nights and Used To Like that have an indie-rock surge while still being heavily indebted to ‘80s pop. Judged as a pop album, Neon Trees tap into the precision that makes this sort of thing so compelling, even if the production can lean a bit too heavily on ponderous, misty swell on Mess Me Up and New Best Friend that’s a lot looser than what’s ultimately being strived for. Coupled with the disappointingly underweight hook of Skeleton Boy, this is an album whose execution isn’t quite as laser-focused as others in its lane, but Neon Trees are reliably sharp when it comes to composition and hooks, and that definitely pulls thing back in their favour.

It’s that clarity that really helps I Can Feel You Forgetting Me stand strong as well; Neon Trees clearly aren’t concerned with being the biggest band in the world, but drilling into their core themes and narratives and making them as well-defined as possible is a much better strategy. And it’s not even like this is a particularly deep album either – the general arc sees frontman Tyler Glenn gradually coming more and more off the rails after a breakup that he clearly isn’t over – but there’s something about the way Neon Trees do it that makes it feel so potent. The very glitzy and flashy presentation is definitely a factor, but lines like “Living single is harder on my body than the drugs” on Living Single feel a bit more subversive than what’s come to be expected from pop albums as clear-cut as this. It’s hardly transgressive, but there’s a slight grubbiness beneath the flashy surface that makes Glenn a far more compelling narrator on principle alone, even if the story he’s telling isn’t precisely swinging for the fences in itself. But then again, that’s where Neon Trees are the most successful, and bringing an insular indie-pop edge to more conventional pop formulae isn’t a bad idea if the results pan out, which they generally do on here. No one’s under the illusion that I Can Feel You Forgetting Me is going to be an undiscovered classic or bring Neon Trees another moment of pop dominance, but for a remarkably catchy and unexpectedly interesting album, this gets the job done in spades. It’ll most likely be ignored, but it honestly shouldn’t; as pop junk food that’s not totally devoid of nutritional value, this is well worth a go. • LN


For fans of: The Killers, Walk The Moon, New Politics

‘I Can Feel You Forgetting Me’ by Neon Trees is out now on Thrill Forever.

Year Of The Knife
Internal Incarceration

Buzz bands in hardcore don’t come much buzzier than Year Of The Knife. Theirs is a name that’s been going around for a while now, falling into the same live circles as similarly incendiary bands like Knocked Loose and Terror, but striking a much deeper chord with last year’s Ultimate Aggression, a compilation of older tracks that racked up more excitement and enthusiasm for some than a lot of proper albums do. That’s exactly the sort of momentum that can be an invaluable boost for a band like this going into their debut, though Internal Incarceration does enough on its own to stand as one of the premier hardcore releases of 2020 already. That’s most immediately noticeable in the sound and feel of it; this is a Kurt Ballou production job at its most feral and untamable, seldom pausing for breath amongst the pummelling torrent of guitars and an excellently robust bass presence from Madison Watkins, culminating in the sort of bloodthirsty, d-beat-flavoured hardcore that most bands just don’t seem to want to make anymore. That’s something that never lets up as well, right from the indomitable wall of noise of This Time that’s blackened and bludgeoning through and through, and given an even greater tautness thanks to Tyler Mullen’s vocals. Sonically, this is probably as good as mosh fodder gets, and keeping things tight and focused across a wonderfully direct runtime.

But Year Of The Knife also have more to them than that, and it stacks on another helping of praise to Internal Incarceration that the band’s focus extents giving their lyrical content more depth than just flat-out rage. The rage is never skimped on, but it’s held in place by deeper and richer thematic sources, drawing from the various neuroses and plagues that might fester to cause it, and ultimately hoping for a way to conquer it in the end. That’s what really stands tall about Internal Incarceration; there’s a lot of destruction and immolation that it bears down in the likes of the gnawing desire for social media perfection on Virtual Narcotic or the breaking that being subjected to a toxic relationships causes on Manipulation Artist, but the power to break that cycle is inherently tied in to the physical force that album displays itself. The opioid crisis is viewed with empathy on Through The Eyes and Sick Statistic, and highlighting perseverance over grief on Final Tears and the positive force of community spirit on DDM is rather refreshing when albums of this stripe can sometimes feel so tied pushing darkness and misanthropy at every turn. Of course, the grounds to bypass all of that and dive into the unceasing sonic decimation are also perfectly valid, and it’s ultimately to Year Of The Knife’s credit that that’s the case. It’s a hardcore album with two distinct sides that never loses sight of either, and can make that last for the duration of a half-hour listen without breaking stride once. Maybe a bit more variety wouldn’t go amiss, but that’s some serious nitpicking when there’s very little to take umbrage towards with what Internal Incarceration has already, and in what’s already been a pretty great year for hardcore, Year Of The Knife are settling into their place right near the top. • LN


For fans of: Converge, Code Orange, Knocked Loose

‘Internal Incarceration’ by Year Of The Knife is released on 7th August on Pure Noise Records.

The Coronas
True Love Waits

Yes, the jokes have been made plenty of times before, and it’s either remarkable serendipity or an almost supernatural level of capitalisation that The Coronas have chosen now of all times to release their new album. It’s probably the most footfall the name has ever received at that; they’ve always been one of those inoffensive-to-the-point-of-invisibility indie bands that you might find on the bottom half of a festival lineup and never choose to investigate again, given that there are so many better options doing the exact same thing. It’s not really a surprise they’ve stayed that way either, because this is exactly the sort of drained indie-pop gunk that, between The Script, Kodaline, Picture This and these, Ireland seems to churn out with depressing regularity. To be fair to The Coronas, they aren’t pulling from quite the same bottom-shelf tropes as some of their contemporaries; this is still an album based around grand, easily imprintable viewpoints of love and relationships, but at least Lost In The Thick Of It and Heat Of The Moment actually have some palpable emotion behind them, and LA At Night isn’t bad at all for a big, swelling climax. At the same time though, this is the furthest thing from a deep album, and it definitely appears as though The Coronas know that. Frontman Danny O’Reilly has the breathiness and wont to smoulder as a means to project real earnestness, when it’s such a played-out trick by now that it only accomplishes the opposite. It’s incredibly basic stuff, and the lack of real pace this album has going for it makes an already defined slog all the more laborious.

Indeed, from its base parts right up to way it chooses to apply them, there’s not a single thing about True Love Waits that grabs the attention in any capacity. It’s wallpaper music at its most numbing, serving as pleasantly lightweight fodder to have on in the background and to think about precisely zero times afterwards. It’s not as if there’s much material to go off, mind; it’s the regular concoction of high polish and glistening tones that this stripe of indie-pop clings onto like a safety blanket, with maybe the occasional electronic flourish to sound the faintest bit more contemporary. That doesn’t do a lot though, and even the very occasional dalliance into quicker, Mumford And Sons-esque pop-rock feels ultimately perfunctory when it’s still anchored in the same piano-based sheen and countless layers of reverb that take up the most space in the mix anyway. Clearly the intent was to sound big and epic, but all that’s really been done here is lampshading for an empty, lifeless sound that doesn’t grow or evolve, probably because it doesn’t have the means to. As such, it becomes abundantly clear why The Coronas feel so inessential within modern indie, given how output like this is so far away from anything that could be deemed exciting or engaging. In the same vein as Kodaline’s album from earlier this year, it’s a wonder why anyone would gravitate towards this at all or find something worth exploring here; it mightn’t be as bad as that album, but True Love Waits is pretty much just as pointless, and that’ll only seem more true when it’s totally forgotten in no time flat. • LN


For fans of: Kodaline, Picture This, Walking On Cars

‘True Love Waits’ by The Coronas is released on 31st July on So Far So Good Records.

Orbit Culture

Nija is the new album from Swedish quartet, Orbit Culture. Hailing from the deep forests of southern Sweden, the metallers have a powerful sound and that continues to develop. Despite line-up changes in recent years, they have produced a strong album to add to their discography. Orbit Culture incorporate the aggressive and power that alludes to death metal influences, along with soaring anthemic choruses. It’s an unusual combination which gives their sound a distinctive edge. The opening track, At The Front, takes a heavy dive giving a strong impact to the start. The soaring chorus gives an insight to the other side of their sound that will be explored as the album progresses. Day Of The Cloud, with its fast-paced rhythms, non-standard time signature and utterly demonic low growls is turned on its head with the serene, atmospheric choruses and bridge. Again, it’s a dramatic contrast that works well. The guitar tones, notably in this track, vary throughout the different sections and yet the quartet have managed to create something cohesive. The almost opposite soundscapes blend nicely together without any jarring transitions. Behold brings a ballad to the album with powerfully emotive vocals. The addition of string sections really emphasises the mood of the track. The instrumentation in the chorus effectively balances the heaviness with the uplifting chord sequence. 

The extent of influences and genres seeping into their music intensifies as the album progresses. Open Eye hints towards thrash elements and the vocals also have a reminiscent feel of James Hetfield. The track also brings in a Psycho-style staccato synth; it brings in some horror theatrics. Mirror Slave and Nensha introduce deathcore influences. The choral section in the latter further develops the instrumentation. The theatrical elements The Shadowing take the album to the next level. Fast-paced, high energy is served with orchestral and choir sounds in a climatic conclusion to the album. The quartet’s use of instrumentation to develop the chord sequence and motifs in this track, help to maintain the momentum of the build-up to a powerful end. There are so many dimensions to Orbit Culture’s sound; it’s great to see the wide range of soundscapes and genre influences explored on this album. The metallers have woven together a sound that grounds them whilst allowing experimentation. • HR


For fans of: Trivium, Metallica, Architects

‘Nija’ by Orbit Culture is released on 7th August on Seek And Strike Records.

Fall Of Messiah

In terms of conveying a general sense of destitute hopelessness that serves to feed off that similar emotion that’s so prevalent in the real world, there’s really only a set number of ways that heavy bands tend to go about it, usually falling on the side of either crushing heaviness or suffocating bleakness and emotionality. France’s Fall Of Messiah unquestionably belong in the latter camp, and it’s a mood they can capture with a good amount of proficiency as a semi-instrumental band in the irrepressibly barren, frost-bitten cross-section between post-rock and old-school screamo. That’s also something of a limitation with Senicarne as well though, as Fall Of Messiah also proceed to fall into that clearly-defined space with few concessions made, and that doesn’t quite grip to the same extent as bands like Pianos Become The Teeth used to, or like Envy still do. Part of that is the sparing use of vocals and how none of three vocalists have particularly distinctive styles amongst themselves, turning out more as hollowed screams placed right back like on Contreforts to serve as closer to another instrument than anything else. As much as that can help with the atmosphere, particularly when the band wade into more chaotic black-metal-esque territory on Sequoia, it’s also not all that memorable either. Fall Of Messiah largely feel as though they have just one mode throughout, and when that’s effectively the baseline that this sound is built on (albeit with maybe a bit more intensity in spots), it’s hard to latch onto or pick anything out that exclusively stands out here.

If nothing else though, they are good at what they do, and in creating the soundtrack to a frigid, hostile world that’s constantly breaking itself apart, Senicarne fits the bill. There’s a command of drama and delicacy in the guitars and drums that contrasts really well with blasts of icy noise on a track like Young Pines, and expanding that throughline on larger pieces like The Loneliest Whale In The World feels completely earned. There’s definitely a size to this album that’s easy to appreciate, with the production being clear and airy enough to capture the wide open space that the mind’s eye might perceive, but coloured in sepia browns and greys to emphasise the sense of decay. It’s the reason this album works more as a score of sorts; it’d be more evocative with the accompanying images or sensations, rather than trying to cover the same turf that many of Fall Of Messiah’s contemporaries and predecessors have already laid claim to. And that’s not to say there’s no reason for Senicarne to exist – as an alternative, it can serve the same purpose almost just as well – but it’d be better and more powerful if it could do more with what it has, rather than provide an approximation of what’s already out there. There’s a great amount of potential here, but the scene in which Fall Of Messiah are trying to break into is already rather narrow to begin with, and simply playing to that same structure isn’t going to have the same impact as it might’ve done when this sort of thing was fresh and new. • LN


For fans of: Envy, Pianos Become The Teeth, Maybeshewill

‘Senicarne’ by Fall Of Messiah is released on 31st July on Holy Roar Records.

Maggie Cassidy
Life Is Beautiful

It feels as though most of the bands trying to facilitate a resurgence of 2010s Britrock don’t have a clear game plan in place. The majority just seem to be taking effectively the exact same sound and making it ever so slightly rougher and grungier, while ignoring the inherent limitations that saw that genre undergo such a steep decline in the first place. That’s been the main problem with all of Maggie Cassidy’s early singles; they can clearly write a solid hook, but that can’t eclipse a lack of creative flair that’s always dogged them, and while this sort of thing would’ve done gangbusters in 2013, in 2020 it feels more like an example of placelessness above anything else. That hasn’t been rectified on this debut EP either, as Maggie Cassidy don’t seem to be doing much – if anything – to actually make a name for themselves in a meaningful way. The choruses are still there – the highlight being the tenser, mid-paced rollick of Just To Know – but they’re nestled amongst a very rote, by-the-numbers sound that’s been given a quick ruffling over by Seb Barlow’s production which, in itself, is becoming fairly recognisable as standard. It isn’t exactly bad or amateurish, but it’s all so safe and hemmed-in, where the thoughts of expanding the sonic palette don’t appear to even be entertained.

If anything, Maggie Cassidy feel like an even more limited prospect than some others in the same lane. Where a band like Paper Mill might occasionally stumble on punk or post-hardcore progressions, Life Is Beautiful is early 2010s pop-rock with the slightest surface coating, and that only accentuates how lacking in punch or power Maggie Cassidy are. The lyrical sentiments are as kindhearted and well-meaning but ultimately thin as ever, as between Jamie Coupe’s voice which might as well be a standard template for regionalised Britrock and an unashamed embrace of their own earnestness (so much so that they even go against all better judgements with the acoustic closer You Don’t Excite Me), it’s hard not to nail down Maggie Cassidy as the same amalgam of Lower Than Atlantis and Mallory Knox that so many others have tried to be and gotten nowhere with. That pretty much sets the tone for Life Is Beautiful as a whole, as a Britrock throwback that isn’t all that special or captivating by a band who are perfectly fine with the fundamentals but never do anything with them. It’s certainly listenable for breezy alt-rock, but so is all the stuff from back then, and Maggie Cassidy adding themselves as another name to that group doesn’t inherently make them any better. • LN


For fans of: Mallory Knox, Lower Than Atlantis, Light You Up

‘Life Is Beautiful’ by Maggie Cassidy is released on 31st July.


In many ways, it’s easy to respect the efforts that Thundermother have undertaken just to keep themselves afloat, and the fact that guitarist Filippa Nässil had to effectively build the band from the ground up after the mass exodus of members following 2015’s Road Fever really is commendable and would’ve easily grounded most bands, probably indefinitely. In just as many ways, though, it’s easy to be disappointed that more wasn’t done to really up the ante, given that 2018’s self-titled album was yet another hard rock album cribbing liberally from AC/DC that, unsurprisingly, became unnoticeable in a sea of similarly redundant throwbacks. And on Heatwave, nothing’s changed; Thundermother are still sticking incredibly tightly to the throwback-rock formula, with no leeway for individual flair or spark that could possibly make them stand out or not sound like just another anonymous iteration of a sound that’s everyone’s getting tired of. On that token, Sleep easily stands out as the best song here, as the sort of open, arranged ballad that displays the only step away from the template this album seldom ceases to drill into. To be fair, it’s at least given the booming power-rock production that forges presence, and a decent hook and Guernica Mancini’s vocals placed somewhere between Taylor Momsen and Lzzy Hale lends a classic rock swagger to track like Back In ‘76, but it’s not something that Thundermother keep up very often, and largely end up more like a flagrant pastiche than an individual spin.

More to the point, there’s a fair handful of moments on Heatwave that are borderline indistinguishable from other throwback-rock bands in the same vein, and that gives it no sense of grounding to be remembered by. Yes, the big riffs and force on Into The Mud or Driving In Style might scratch a particular itch at a very particular time, but Thundermother’s approach to these sounds and themes might as well by pasted directed from at least a dozen others in the exact same circle. There’s no inventiveness to this, and when a track like Back In ‘76 forms its central lyrical concept by outright referencing those old songs (not to mention Purple Sky sounding a bit too close to a Jimi Hendrix impression for that title to be that much of a coincidence), it only beats down further the extent to which Thundermother’s identity and ideas come from the bands that came before them. Barely anything here feels like their own, and for a pretty long album that rarely captures the interest long enough to see it all through, it just doesn’t feel worth it. It’ll have its audience, but so does every band like this; that doesn’t make them all that essential. • LN


For fans of: AC/DC, Halestorm, Airbourne

‘Heatwave’ by Thundermother is released on 31st July on AFM Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)

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