The Struts – Strange Days
In what’s almost the complete countering direction to the way these things should work, it frequently feels like people should be paying more attention to The Struts. They almost had that window of superstardom a few years ago, something that should have been solidified by 2018’s Young & Dangerous, which was surprisingly good in its flipping of retro-rock banality into something flashier and bursting with glam-rock pomposity. The result was nothing close to deep, but it was a lot more fun that other throwback acts care to entertain, and when considering the subsequent routes The Struts have taken to get a Queen-calibre legacy, the showboating, performative nature of it all feels about right. After all, the headline-grabber on Strange Days has been just how much superstar clout they can wring out of themselves on a surface level, such is the case with guest stars as varied as Tom Morello, Phil Collen and Joe Elliot of Def Leppard and even Robbie Williams. But because The Struts are canny enough to know where the line between flagrantly plastic peacocking and bold-faced imitation lies, Strange Days becomes yet another example of this sort of thing being far better than it has any right to be. That’s because it naturally all centres on Luke Spiller as a frontman, the usual process of operations for bands like this, but without the human undertones that The Struts bring which show how much of a costume this actually is. Spiller isn’t the hard-livin’ rockstar he might want to believe he is or portray himself as, and though he tries to put up that facade on a track like Cool, there’s a notable insecurity on Do You Love Me and I Hate How Much I Want You that’s rooted in glam-rock ideals but not as explicitly as some might extol. He basically admits that this is a front on Another Hit Of Showmanship, which does shatter the illusion, but feels very deliberate about it. It’s the same effect that comes from Robbie Williams on the title track being the only guest star whose role is more than just a passing presence; he, too, is an artist who’s embraced the rockstar veneer in a very flawed and unconvincing way that’s ultimately been to his credit.
All that being said, The Struts aren’t a band that demand a lot of deeper analysis beyond that, and oftentimes they give the impression that they’re even stumbling into that side of themselves without a whole lot of forethought. Still, there’s a scrappy charm to that that feels completely counterintuitive with the big rock product they’re positioned as, particularly when a lot of this sound comes from ‘70s British glam-rock coaxed through the production gloss of modern pop-rock and hard rock. And for as easy to pin down where The Struts’ influences come from, they pull them off well; there’s clear Rolling Stones worship on All Dressed Up (With Nowhere To Go) and even more blatant pulls from Def Leppard on I Hate How Much I Want You, even when discounting its guest performers, but there’s a regal bombast that The Struts bring that makes it enjoyable in the most un-incisive, superficial kind of way. It’s the same sort of effect with the Tom Morello riff that’s better than they really deserve on Wild Child, or the sleek, camp lounge-rock of closer Am I Talking To The Champagne (Or Talking To You). It’s the sort of thing that plays its hand pretty quickly and doesn’t require a deep dive or multiple listens to parse out, but there’s a place for big, dumb fun that isn’t limited to those rigid ideals, and Strange Days is a pretty strong example of how that can turn out. Even with longevity being essentially factored out, for the short time this sticks around, it’s more enjoyable than it might appear, the sort of backhanded but sincere compliment that, for a band like The Struts, feels all too apt.
For fans of: Def Leppard, The Rolling Stones, Elton John
‘Strange Days’ by The Struts is out now on Interscope Records.
Mayday Parade – Out Of Here
The impression that Mayday Parade have given of themselves lately is that they’ve pretty much run their course. They’ve struggled to stay relevant with new releases for a good few album cycles now, and while they’ve still got a pretty consistent fanbase and touring hasn’t dried up for them, a lot of that is held by nostalgia and the high esteem they were held in within pop-rock in the 2000s. Both A Lesson In Romantics and Anywhere But Here are the certified money-pumpers that have gotten Mayday Parade to this point, where the output is middling but the momentum is ironclad thanks to the foundations it’s built on. As such, an inconsequential EP is an expected route to go down, to where the fact that Out Of Here hasn’t accumulated too much buzz isn’t a stellar sign, but it’s not exactly detrimental to Mayday Parade themselves. But at the same time, ‘inconsequential’ is about as strong of a descriptor for Out Of Here as they come, where the emo and indie-rock pivots of recent years have been shelved, and a return to workable, off-the-shelf pop-rock stands in their place for three tracks. And it’s not like these songs are even that bad either; they aren’t much to write home about, and they certainly beg the question of why Mayday Parade have decided to market this as a full release when it’s so slight, but the inherent strengths of Mayday Parade are still here. They’re melodically functional, if rarely outstanding – I Can Only Hope is the singular standout moment in its reminder of this band’s much-missed penchant for a guitar solo – but there’s a catchiness to all three that’s good, and the band themselves don’t sound bad at all. If anything, it’s kind of impressive how comfortably they slip back into the warm pop-rock mould, particularly in Derek Sanders’ vocals which have barely changed since about 2007. Give this EP to a Mayday Parade diehard, and there’ll be few complaints to have; it’s a recognisable, expected but workable outcome that this band can pull off.
But to leave any evaluation at that would be to ignore the fairly gaping hole that rends Out Of Here in two, namely what the purpose of this release actually is. That might sound like a pretty loaded question, but for as down-the-middle as this EP is in terms of quality, it’s not satisfying to listen to and seldom warrants a reaction stronger than a content nod. It’s really strange in a way that’s easily noticeable but difficult to articulate, though the general emotion boils down to confusion towards how little of themselves Mayday Parade are showing for seemingly no reason. Just the fact that this is three songs indicates that this isn’t a rigorous listen by any means, but on the whole, there’s nothing all that special about these songs, or worth giving them a release like this that, by design, places them so much further under the microscope. It’s pretty standard in terms of production – it’s polished and tight, but fairly organic – and lyrics which have the sense of romance and wistful, youthful longing that Mayday Parade have become known for, but that’s honestly it, and without the space to explore and deepen those particularly channels, which is something that this band have done in the past, it’s just kind of pointless. The inconsequential nature circles back around to something much more noticeable, where Mayday Parade have put out an EP seemingly because they’ve not done anything in a while, but it’s so barebones with little to speak of that it’s not worth writing home about even in the slightest. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, conversely, but this won’t be remembered in any capacity, and that just leaves it feeling kind of pointless.
For fans of: All Time Low, We The Kings, Cartel
‘Out Of Here’ by Mayday Parade is out now on Rise Records.
Hands Like Houses – Hands Like Houses
Hands Like Houses releasing a self-titled at this juncture of their career could be interpreted as more telling than the band themselves might like to admit. This is a band who’ve not been treated too kindly by advancing rock scenes, despite their best material still really holding up as some of the early-to-mid-2010s’ best melodic post-hardcore. But in their most recent recorded output, the drive and unique flair that Hands Like Houses displayed has been sanded away for a more broad, universal style of polished alt-rock and pop-rock, a decision that’s predictably seen them take more hits than ever before. Thus, a self-titled release now effectively serves as the effort to triple down on where they are and brand this notably weaker incarnation of Hands Like Houses as the definitive one, with the EP format being ideal to hold the fewer ideas they’re currently willing to bring. In all fairness though, this does feel like a step up compared to its predecessor -Anon.-, albeit a very marginal one when the same shortcomings do seem to be present. That can be attributed to the writing which continues to shove aside the detail and specificity that could make Hands Like Houses’ early material great, now pulling on a threadbare arc about Trenton Woodley’s disconnect and antisociality that’s almost brazen in its flimsiness. There’s clearly an attempt to pull back towards old touchstones of nature and liberation from society’s constraints on The Water and Space, only to then hold firm on a tired ‘technology bad’ message that, in all honesty, is far below what Hands Like Houses are capable of. Writing in this style just doesn’t benefit them when they’re clearly capable of more, a fact highlighted by the closer Wired which does actually have more personal stakes around Woodley’s own anxieties and predispositions, and though it’s far from their best, the germ of what they can do is still there.
It’s really only a factor of craft that elevates this EP, though that is an admittedly important one. For as simplistic as they are here, these are songs that do have an impressive amount of tunefulness and catchiness to them, and the worth of that is definitely seen. Space and Dangerous might have the sort of repetitive choruses that, again, fall below this band’s usual pay grade, but there’s a certain propulsiveness and ease of which to latch on that’s an invaluable boon, and the stop-start swagger of Stranger is probably the best instrumental on this release. On the grounds of pop-rock the production is very tight and sleek across the board, but that’s always been something that Hands Like Houses can work with, and they at least prove they’re willing to keep a tiny bit more texture and organic roil in the mix than some of their contemporaries, like with the gutsy fizz of The Water. From a purely sonic perspective, this does sound like a band less reliant on an overworked mix to do their work for them; guitars and drums do have prominence (though it would be nice to hear more bass every once in a while), and Woodley has always had a great, clear set of pipes that hasn’t changed a bit here. For a pretty short and ultimately throwaway EP, particularly in the writing, it’s somewhat refreshing to see the level of confidence that Hands Like Houses have gone into it with, even if they can clearly do better still. There’s still the shadow of wide-reaching expectations that looms over them, and the ceiling that places on them is more or less completely impregnable, but there’s a hint of pushing back here if nothing else, and that’s doesn’t go unheeded. It’s still more ‘split the difference’ scenario, though; those older albums haven’t gone anywhere, and they’re likely to hold a lot more weight and presence than this will.
For fans of: Too Close To Touch, Young Guns, Awaken I Am
‘Hands Like Houses’ by Hands Like Houses is released on 23rd October on UNFD.
Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
To an extent, some of the unwavering praise that Pallbearer have received up to now can feel a bit overshot. They’re definitely a talented band, and 2017’s Heartless was definitely their best to date at fusing psychedelic- and doom-metal expanse with the hallmarks of a very classic strain of prog, but it didn’t quite connect as deeply or viscerally as it did for some. Maybe it was the fact that the sprawling passages didn’t really benefit the overall strength of the songs themselves, but it’s a similar gripe that keeps Forgotten Days from ascending to greatness in the same way. And sure, it might be royally missing the point to criticise doom and old-school prog for overreaching their boundaries, but there’s such a thunderous weight to the sound of Pallbearer that it does sound like it’s dragging itself along, particularly on a track like Silver Wings that stretches that right to the twelve-minute mark. Sonically, Pallbearer aren’t that far removed from bands like Mastodon and Baroness, and when the extent of those comparisons click, it becomes so easy to see how the increased tightness of those bands would benefit, as the parts are all there already. Physical scope aside, Forgotten Days just sounds huge, anchored by the seismic rips of guitars from Brett Campbell and Devin Holt along with Joseph D. Rowland’s bass work, the sort of bedrock-drilled foundation that houses a low end deserving of every bit of praise it gets. There’s an almost stoner-metal / desert-rock feel to how barren and inhospitable the landscapes that Pallbearer create are, and indeed, when they do get a bit tighter like on The Quicksand Of Existing, where the rumbles feel even heavier and the spiralling leads can burn more colourfully within the heat haze, that shows where their greatest strengths lie.
That’s what can make Forgotten Days a fairly frustrating listen, in that the tangible form of true excellence lies within Pallbearer’s grasp, but the number of times they properly reach for it feels disproportionate. It doesn’t help that it’s hard to find a bad idea within the DNA of this album either; thematically it mightn’t be moving the earth as much as their sound probably could, but feeding the concept of self-decay and loss through the setting of family makes for some potentially potent emotionality, and while Campbell isn’t a virtuoso vocalist, there’s a cleanness and straight-up rock sensibility that isn’t that far removed from any of Mastodon’s singers, or even Josh Homme at times. The command of tone is what serves Pallbearer the best here, even when they incorporate their vastness into things, and while not always an engaging listen, it does ensure that Forgotten Days is consistently compelling and intriguing. Even if Pallbearer haven’t reached their full potential (and even if they do seem to be deliberately avoiding that more than would be preferred), Forgotten Days still does hit a mark that only music as gutturally heavy and simultaneously intricately composed can. Being a shade away from excellence is noteworthy, but not so much that it totally damages what’s otherwise a powerful and engulfing album.
For fans of: Sleep, Elder, Weedeater
‘Forgotten Days’ by Pallbearer is released on 23rd October on Nuclear Blast Records.
Nothing – The Great Dismal
A new Nothing album comes with a certain amount of expectation anyway, where the band’s heavy, sludged-out shoegaze acts as an ideal vehicle for each of Dominic Palermo’s own crushing life experiences to congeal into its own impossibly bleak wall of sound. Rarely has that creative prompt felt as on-the-nose as with The Great Dismal though, not only in that title but how this album’s thematic inspiration stemmed from the first photo taken of a black hole in 2019. Just conceptually, that comes across as Nothing distilled to their purest essence, and that’s indeed how The Great Dismal turns out, for better and for worse. At the best of times, Nothing’s immovably depressive focus can become tiring across their albums, and when The Great Dismal decides to double down on that – along with the bleary soundscape that shoegaze creates by its nature – the results are no better at sticking. Building an album around the mantra of “Existence hurts existence” can do that, with the desolation of Nothing’s writing and Palermo’s buried, barely-formed vocals struggling to really hold fast or do all that much, and that can really make this album drag. That’s probably part of the point for an album that has the collapse of the universe in its field of view, but it turns The Great Dismal into the sort of album that’s monolithic on the surface but, yet again, can’t reach the point of matching up beneath that.
If Nothing could actually achieve that, it isn’t hard to see how much better this album would be. They’ve already got the formidable sound that works well for what it is, capturing the size and scope that such a colossal theme requires, and executing it as the wall of sound and reverb that feels appropriate. It’s not even that Nothing are so unwaveringly bound to that shoegaze side of themselves either; the opening pair of A Fabricated Life and Say Less are extremely appropriate at showing that off, with the former being a surprisingly tender and delicate strings piece, and the latter having a guttural industrial crunch that’s probably the most immediate thing on this album. On the whole though, A Great Dismal’s sound matches its tremendous ambitions, and feels produced in a way to highlight both the destructive force and the shimmery, almost dreamlike ethereality of it all. And again, that’s certainly a magnified view of what Nothing have become known for, but The Great Dismal doesn’t actually achieve much more, and generally gives the same impression as any other Nothing album. It’s solid and will doubtlessly please fans to no end, but even being slightly more adventurous doesn’t refresh what can be a pretty immovable formula, and that’s where The Great Dismal ultimately falls down. Like always, the experience is potent and engulfing, but not exactly engaging, the thing that Nothing can struggle at with regularity.
For fans of: Cloakroom, Narrow Head, Slow Crush
‘The Great Dismal’ by Nothing is released on 30th October on Relapse Records.
Chamber – Cost Of Sacrifice
In what’s already been a strong year for hardcore, Chamber have their work cut out for them. That’s not even in a pessimistic, set-to-fail way either – they’ve generally impressed with everything they’ve done up to now – but when every square inch of hardcore seems to be populated by at least one great band flying the flag for their respective scene, Chamber have one mighty wall to ascend if they’re hoping their debut full-length can cut it. It’s probably the effect of what around it that makes Cost Of Sacrifice unable to quite rise to the occasion as well, as it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. Hardcore as fierce and razor-edged as this is always going to leave a mark, particularly when Chamber factor in the angular squeals and shards of dissonance that make it that much more impactful. They’re a step closer to bands like Vein in their contortions that are almost paying homage to blood-splatted industrial- and nu-metal, but the likes of Paranoia Bleeds, In Cleansing Fire and numerous others are unmistakably hardcore. That’s evident enough from Jacob Lilly as a vocalist who sounds about ready to burst an artery with every line, but guitars and drum patterns sharpened to fine points and embracing a mathcore-adjacent technicality do just as much, and Chamber can really deliver an incisive and incendiary bludgeoning through it.
That’s all a far stronger prospect when placed in a vacuum though, as where Chamber currently stand within hardcore, it’s difficult to really zoom in on what’s definitively theirs. No one can doubt that they’ve got volatility and destructiveness in spades, but there’s something about it that doesn’t stick to the extent of, say, Sharptooth or Year Of The Knife who’ve turned a similar approach into an individual, recognisable thing. Chamber don’t have that just yet; they’re clearly working towards it in how fine-tuned they can make metallic hardcore like this feel, but there’s not a distinct anchoring presence that can turn it into something more. It’s the same case in how they choose to channel emotions and anger within their music, occasionally with real impact like on In Cleansing Fire, but generally with the sort of to-the-point vitriol that doesn’t quite have the longevity they want or need. All of that is to say that Cost Of Sacrifice is more a flawed album than a bad one, or more accurately still, an album that’s had the burden of what’s come before thrust upon it at the same time as having to do its own thing. They aren’t ideal circumstances at all, and this is still a commendable effort despite all of that, especially for how heavy and violent Chamber do feel. But it’s not quite over the line that a lot of their contemporaries and peers have already scaled, and when that camp is getting fuller and fuller with each passing week, Chamber’s efforts falling slightly short become easier to notice.
For fans of: Year Of The Knife, Sanction, Inclination
‘Cost Of Sacrifice’ by Chamber is released on 23rd October on Pure Noise Records.
USA Nails – Character Stop
USA Nails’ prolificness arguably doesn’t represent their vision as a band all that well. Currently they’re up to their fifth album since forming in 2013, a fact that, on its face, belies just how focused, coiled and prickly their intentions are, to where they’ve become a very notable force within UK post-punk and noise-rock. All of that places them distinctly outside of the current post-punk wave, which does play into plenty of the reasons why fifth full-length Character Stop works so well. For one, USA Nails can still pull off intelligent and wryly witty commentary without having to fall into sloganeering (a clear effect of the Future Of The Left connection this band has), and without losing the taut energy that style of writing can bring. The flow and bottled Sprechgesang electricity in Steven Hodson’s voice are similar, but the likes of How Was Your Weekend? and I Am Posable feel a bit more fleshed in their writing, acting as the usual barbs laid into modern fickleness, but actually managing to break the skin. It helps that there’s more of a human focus to USA Nails’ work, in the demystification of personas that people will build for themselves – particularly online – as a way to mask a real sense of mental strain. Even just on a conceptual basis like that, Character Stop feels more exploratory than just throwing blanket criticism on modern life with no tact or precision.
On the whole, this is definitely a more powerful listen, which is to be expected given that USA Nails are so deeply grounded in noise-rock and the terse, nervy presentation that can bring. The matte post-punk finish acts as a keen balance to prevent them going too off-the-rails though, and that gives tracks like Revolution Worker and Preference For Cold an ominous knell to them, while remaining acutely aware of their own instability bubbling beneath the surface. Alongside the searing guitars and thick bass rumbles that stand as par for the course in both post-punk and noise-rock, there’s a sturdy yet flexible foundation to Character Stop that gives it a pretty solid pace. This isn’t a long album as it is, but USA Nails keep a firm grip on tightness to ensure that nothing drags or outstays its welcome; even the relative fragments of tracks in I Don’t Own Anything and Dumb Of Choice feel as though they contribute to a stronger whole. Honestly, it’s a level of quality and acumen that’s become expected of post-punk in recent years, and though nothing truly surprises or leaps off the page because of that, there isn’t really a weak moment on Character Stop to drag it down significantly. It’s just a solid, consistent addition to the genre pantheon that’s been building itself up tremendously, with USA Nails being a key example of what veering away from the pack can achieve.
For fans of: Future Of The Left, METZ, Heavy Lungs
‘Character Stop’ by USA Lungs is released on 23rd October on Bigout Records.
Rusty Eye – Dissecting Shadows
Look, retro-rock’s point of immovable staleness is so well-known and ubiquitous that anything which could potentially be a salve for that immediately seems worth investing in. That’s the case with Rusty Eye, a band that’s actually been around since 1995 with a blend of trad-metal, punk and bits of prog that’s found more success in Mexico than anywhere else. Still, if they were just a slight variation on the Motörhead formula as that description might suggest, that would be one thing, but Dissecting Shadows does feel a lot less than the sum of its parts. This certainly feels like the band who’ve spent the best part of two-and-a-half decades being ignored, given how rough-hewn and unrefined this sound actually is. There are solid moments of technicality strewn throughout that are given no leverage whatsover by production that’s so thin and flat, hampered further by more blatant attempts to look at prog on tracks like Mrs Baylock and Kanadarian Dreamin’, where the length of the former and the instrumental presentation of the latter cause them to run out of steam pretty quickly, and the squelchy, grinding synth tones evidently pulling from a much older source have so little conspicuity in how they’re blended. It’s a very budget, bar-band sort of sound that hasn’t evolved beyond its rudimentary parts, and besides on a couple of moments like Defacing Effigies that are sharp and fast enough to sideline any major pitfalls, these shortcomings get in the way more often than they don’t.
It’s really the vocals that prove to be Rusty Eye’s biggest stumbling block, in what’s easily the most front-and-centre of their issues that everything else orbits around. To put it simply, neither Miss Randall nor Mr. Rust (yes, they’re the actual stage names) are great singers, but it’s not as though they even use that to their advantage or play with what they have. Mr. Rust probably fares the best with a hoarse rasp that at least finds a home on This Is Permanent, but Miss Randall really doesn’t have the range or power to be a commanding presence. Frequently she sounds flat, and that only draws attention to the lack of depth this album has across all channels; there’s rarely even a lyrical motif that’s interesting, or that doesn’t feel ripped out the trad-metal playbook with maybe the most negligible coat of paint. It’s a very unfulfilling album overall, bunching together old sounds with scant knowledge of what to do with them when they’re there, or how to at least make them sound powerful or even slightly modern. Dissecting Shadows isn’t without merit, but factoring in everything that’s gone into it makes the seem as though it’s been stumbled across rather than deliberately planned, and it’s not a good look for Rusty Eye to have when, so far down the road, they’re still lacking a complete, fleshed-out presence. In other words, just listen to all the other bands that sound like this; they’re at least tuned up to a reasonable degree.
For fans of: Iron Maiden, Misfits, Ghost
‘Dissecting Shadows’ by Rusty Eye is released on 23rd October on Blood Blast Distribution.
Distant – Dawn Of Corruption
It’s still unclear what exactly it was that turned Distant’s Tyrannotophia into the divisive sacrificial lamb of deathcore that it was. Sure, it could drag, but no more than most other albums of its ilk, and for slam-inspired deathcore exploring the album’s titular world of damned souls and Lovecraftian horrors, it got the job done. That’s primarily the thought process behind Dawn Of Corruption as well, in what feels like something of a companion EP to continue the journey through Tyrannotophia and mask a lack of real evolution, but with the shorter runtime to be more manageable. Of course, it might be a bit overly hopeful to call what Distant are doing here ‘world-building’ when much of it is dyed-in-the-wool deathcore doombringing, but the howls of fallen souls that punctuate the title track is a nice touch for atmosphere’s sake, and on the whole, music this heavy is a perfectly fitting soundtrack for Distant’s own hellscape. This thing sounds like it weighs about 500 tons, for a start, appropriate for a band with three guitarists and a skull-shattering bass tone from Elmer Maurits alone, building a truly monolithic sound that doesn’t let up. It’s very similar to The Acacia Strain in its slow, methodical beatdown of the senses, but Distant do actually pick up the edge in how much more abject savagery is brought in Alan Grnja’s vocals.
On the whole, a lot of what Dawn Of Corruption gets right is what it needs to; this is a huge, heavy monster of an EP that hits its stride with a dirgelike pummelling and keeps that going essentially from front to back. And yet, Distant do feel somewhat – for lack of a better word – distanced from reaching greatness in deathcore or extreme metal. The production definitely factors into that, in what feels like a very clean and expansive mix that obviously jars with a sound designed to sound like it was plucked from the bowels of hell itself. It’s most noticeable on Jan Moto’s drums and the echoing crash that always seems to reverberate around them, but the level of precision that Distant bring can ultimately be their detriment for what they’re trying to do. On top of that, it would be remiss not to bring up the fact that they are kind of a one-trick pony, even if the slighter confines make that one trick a bit easier to swallow over and over again. But to an extent, criticising any of that does seem to be missing the point when it’s clear that Distant want to make music this heavy and this huge-sounding. They’re definitely good at what they do and the sheer might of the sound really is something to behold, even if this isn’t something that warrants extensive revisits, with this EP or on their full-lengths. The fans will undoubtedly love it though, and even if it’s not totally amazing, it’s still easy to see why.
For fans of: The Acacia Strain, Black Tongue, Ingested
‘Dawn Of Corruption’ by Distant is released on 23rd October on Unique Leader Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN)