I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Razzmatazz
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me have reached a point in their career now where it’s worth critically evaluating whether the amount of hype bestowed upon them has been worth it or not. That’s more an indictment of music press politics than themselves specifically, and attitudes to spotlighting bands that can be charitably described as cavalier (particularly when said bands have connections to a staple with as much crossover fuel as Panic! At The Disco), but in turn, the arrival of IDKHow’s debut full-length at least serves as a good opportunity to take stock of the situation they find themselves in. After all, they’ve not had much material up to now, and while it’s definitely bee good – especially considering the standards of alt-pop it’s measured against – the thought of whether too much faith has been placed on that at such an early stage does arise. Razzmatazz has been upheld as an anticipated and important debut full-length, but for reasons which don’t necessarily encompass it being the first true indication of how good IDKHow actually are. As for how well Razzmatazz accomplishes that, it certainly feels like a suitable extension of where IDKHow were going on their EPs, but they haven’t necessarily pushed that forward to where they’re a definitive version of themselves yet. It’s good to finally have a recorded rendition of Nobody Likes The Opening Band, but it’s not a hit in the same way that Social Climb or Do It All The Time were, and that’s something that this album feels lacking in. On the other side of that particular coin though, this is a more balanced version of IDKHow’s sound, where they’ve taken to fully dialling into ‘80s pop and new wave and having that as a more prominent feature than usual alt-pop fare. Opener Leave Me Alone serves as a pretty stark emblem of that in some rather close tones to David Bowie’s Fame, though nothing comes that close to full-blown imitation anywhere else. New Invention and Sugar Pills have a glossy, bass-driven feel to them, while Clusterhug makes use of the buzzy keys and swaying romanticism in a way that’s been done a lot in indie music (just look at the entirety of The Killers’ catalogue), but still remains sweet and likable. There’s also the buzz in the production designed to emulate analogue texture and warmth, and it’s something that IDKHow can pull off pretty well; it doesn’t sound nearly as intrusive as when similar tactics are jammed into a guitar line, and for an album based around sharp, tightly percussive grooves in which the drum machines and synthesisers are prominent, it sees an attempt to move away from traditional synthpop and into a less conventional area of electronic music. It means that Razzmatazz is nowhere near as smooth as most modern pop-rock, but lacking a bit of polish isn’t a bad thing, especially when this is a sound that can overall benefit from it when done well.
If nothing else, IDKHow’s particular reshaping of alt-pop has the willingness to experiment that many will cite but few will commit to, and even if the result is compact enough to hide the number of layers, they can still be seen, and it’s impressive how well they’re woven together. Because it’s not like, at their core, IDKHow are revolutionising the pop-rock formula, in what’s generally a continuation of snarky takes on fame barely held together by Dallon Weekes’ self-awareness of how insufferably clever he can be. Combined with a more detailed electronic backdrop to coat an otherwise sparse sense of progression though, and it does feels as though IDKHow’s commentary gets somewhere more often than it doesn’t. It’s why Nobody Likes The Opening Band’s weapons-grade self-awareness has become so easy to gravitate towards, and when there’s a similar approach to rockstar life that’s broken down and rebuilt in deliberately flawed fashion on Sugar Pills or the title track, the snideness might actually cross over to intelligence. That’s not to say that anything on Razzmatazz is truly transcendent within its genre – alt-pop especially seems to have a fascination with denouncing fame that tends to orbit around roughly the same markers – but it’s the self-awareness that allows IDKHow to stick the landing more than most. Coupled with Weekes’ vocals that aren’t the most vivid or expressive but have the knowing wink baked into pretty much every line at times, and it makes for an album that’s well aware of how smart it is, but can avoid being obnoxious about it. That’s not to say this is great, but when pop-rock is in dire need of a shot in the arm, IDKHow have been the closest to administer it fully in some time. They clearly know what they’re doing and how to do it well, and that’s a pretty significant hurdle cleared right from the off; the fact that they’ve got the sound and songs to back it up only magnifies and solidifies that further. • LN
For fans of: Palaye Royale, Twenty One Pilots, half•alive
‘Razzmatazz’ by I Don’t Know How But They Found Me is out now on Fearless Records.
Ghostemane – Anti-Icon
As much as the narrative has been passed around that Ghostemane is reshaping and revolutionising alternative music as we know it, he’s really not an artist with much to write home about. He might have a bit more aggression and rock chops that many emo-rap and hard-rap peers, but he tends to rehash the Scarlxrd issue in galling fashion, where the general idea rarely shifts from release to release, and yet he continues to vomit out projects that refuse to stick because of it. But the biggest problem with the pedestal that Ghostemane is place on runs deeper, because everything that’s surrounded him so far is nothing new, by any standard. The crux of his appeal rests of pure shock value akin to nu-metal over 20 years ago (especially with how that hideous promo photo for this album has followed him around), and with the attention that’s been given to his relationship with Poppy, he’s been fed through the exact media circus that always overshadows the music in its wake – it’s absolutely no different. All that being said though, Anti-Icon is probably the best example of Ghostemane at least attempting to extrapolate the hard-rap formula, with the crushing, dissonant blasts of noise plucked from the likes of Code Orange that makes for a sound rooted much more deeply in industrial music that straight hip-hop. It’s where Ghostemane undoubtedly shines the brightest as an artist, and the cold, enclosed atmosphere across Anti-Icon really can be excellent when it wants to be. There’s the quaking foundations of AI and Hydrochloride that hold together the lockstep grooves and rumbling instability throughout, while the likes of Lazaretto and Sacrilege are fed through clinical industrial-metal filters that have a fair amount of heft to them, and edges that are only sharpened further by the whiplash transitions back to bass-heavy production. In terms of individual parts, Anti-Icon really impresses with how far Ghostemane has gone down this particular path; even on a more ‘normal’ hip-hop track like Hellrap, the suffocating atmosphere and clinking beat have more in common with something like clipping. than the average emo-rapper. But it’s worth noting how that appeal is almost exclusively tied to those individual parts, and while the sharp dissonance is entirely part of the point, there’s rarely a satisfying musical moment that comes from it. It’s hardly a surprise that the best songs here are the ones that exceed three minutes, just because there’s space for them to feel developed and come together as a whole piece; Anti-Social Masochistic Rage has the same moving parts as everything else, but allowing it to solidify itself as a decent Marilyn Manson pastiche is where that core appeal comes from. It’s a similar case with Melancholic and Falling Down, where the slower, more methodical pace lends itself a lot more to tracks that grow naturally.
But that sense of thrown-together ‘DIY’ is what emo-rap is built on, after all, and while Ghostemane certainly has the capacity to move beyond the unflinchingly rigid rubric of his genre, this is still very much a genre album that has to encompass all the same trappings, including those that Ghostemane himself has been burdened by in the past. That’s primarily in his own method as a performer, where he has about four or five different voices and accents that he regularly cycles between, none of which sound like he’s taking what he’s doing all that seriously. Particularly when he opts for his cartoonish yammering, it feels like he’s playing a character throughout, and when so much of what he’s saying devolves to a lot of the same nihilism and misanthropy that serves as the core appeal to artists in his lane, the impression becomes that it’s all an act, more so than it might have seemed otherwise. After all, he’s not exactly a gifted writer; there’s a bit more detail than the norm on Vagabond and especially Falling Down, but most of this just seems to clump together as ramblings about blood and pain that just feels so checked out, regardless of how sincere it might actually be. Even Hellrap, the moment of flexing that starts out as a pretty decent palate cleanser among everything else, circles back to how Ghostemane wants to kill something with the throughline to get there seeming choppy at best. The overall sound might make it a tad more believable than the general malaise spurred on by so much hollow posturing within this scene, but at its core, Anti-Icon is just another one of these albums, where the same beats can be recycled for an easy spurt of success before the next one rolls around inevitably a few months later. At least Ghostemane sounds like he’s trying a bit harder than some of his contemporaries, and if that could be channelled into a full release that can actually make good on its influences, there’d be no qualms in endorsing him as a genuinely exciting crossover artist. Right now though, when he’s hitting the same formula as all the rest but just a bit harder, it doesn’t feel that worth it. • LN
For fans of: Scarlxrd, $uicideBoy$, Code Orange
‘Anti-Icon’ by Ghostemane is out now on Blackmage Records.
Black Foxxes – Black Foxxes
It’s no secret that Black Foxxes have never gotten anywhere close to the appreciation they deserved. They established themselves among the very upper tiers of emo and Britrock with both I’m Not Well and Reiði – albums which were both among the best of their respective years, for the record – but that never seemed to translate to real empirical success, despite having all means necessary to actually get there. Hell, when frontman Mark Holley was the only remaining member left earlier this year, it seemed to herald the all-too-familiar scenario of a well-loved band with all the potential in the world left high and dry by the inability to hold up the pressures of a hostile, fickle industry. There are notable reflections of that on this self-titled album too, in which the look of Black Foxxes might be new but the intent and drive has only intensified, now with Holley as a fractious, unstable personality held down by mental health that’s all-consuming and self-medication that’s ultimately futile. What really makes him stand out here is how excellent he’s able to shape his vocal performance to really throw himself into the midst of the turmoil; tracks like My Skin have the blanked, dejected glaze of a man just looking to get by as painlessly as possible, but having that morph into strangled whispers on Drug Holiday and Pacific takes that line even further, and the panicked freneticism that unspools across Badlands keeps it perfectly engaging despite the lenghty runtime. There’s very little artifice to speak of, even more impressive considering how that was seldom a factor to start with, but when this time around it hasn’t been trimmed and truncated to fit into a particular box of convention, the impact is even more noticeable.
That’s the same with how this album sounds as well, with emo and Britrock being largely garnish for a rougher, meaner alt-rock sound that isn’t all that easy to classify beyond that. That in itself is notable, but there’s also a looseness to Black Foxxes’ overall progressiveness that really cracks this sound open to do basically whatever they want with it. It’s the only explanation for both Badlands and The Diving Bell for how expansively they’ve been pushed out, but there’s also the seismic, tense build of I Am and forays into more conventional rock on My Skin and Jungle Skies that venture into some hitherto unexplored territory, the former in a blatant but welcome bit of Placebo worship and the latter as a jangly, folk-adjacent alt-rock track that’s easily this album’s lightest moment. It can be a difficult listen at times, particularly when coming from the more regimented conventionality of their past work, but it’s never implacable, and there’s always something to hold onto, be it a melody, a hook, or just a great bassline from Jack Henley that’s given plenty of airtime. It’s also produced in a way to magnify that rawness and darkness further, with very little intrusiveness coming anywhere, but without marginalising glimpses of brightness that come in the horns on Jungle Skies and the glistening guitar work on Pacific. It’s the sort of album that keeps itself in such stunning equilibrium that it’s hard to look away from at any given time, especially when it’s constantly unfurling itself to bring new elements into play and showing just how deeply Black Foxxes have gone in on this one. Because of that, it’s probably their most difficult album, but it’s just as satisfying and captivating as what’s come before, even more so in some instances, and it feels like a turning point in Black Foxxes’ career with regards to the directions it’s pointed in. The mainstream intentions are more buried than ever, and that ultimately yields the strongest result, as a band who can clearly do more than that are given their opportunity to shine, and delivering another great piece of work through it. • LN
For fans of: Balance And Composure, Black Peaks, Fangclub
‘Black Foxxes’ by Black Foxxes is released on 30th October on Spinefarm Records / Search & Destroy.
PUP – This Place Sucks Ass
As an assessment of the state of things in general, This Place Sucks Ass couldn’t seem like a more fitting summation from a band like PUP, who’ve always excelled at channelling chronic disillusionment and ennui into ripping slacker-punk dripping with snark. It’s even more apt when most of the songs on this EP were repurposed from the sessions of their last album Morbid Stuff, almost as though to hold back on some of that particular flavour of dejection for when it could be put to better use elsewhere. And even on what’s effectively a collection of cast-offs, there’s the unmistakable PUP flavour that comes from these tracks, in how Stefan Babcock translates his own low tendencies into self-deprecating humour and deflection, if only to mask how tired he really is. Unsurprisingly this shines the most on the brand new song Rot, where his negative thoughts only seem to fester and curdle more and more as he’s left alone with them, but there’s also Anaphylaxis where they start to hit with a depressing amount of regularity, before finally crystallising into the rage that has him fully lash out on Edmonton. Again, it’s all very emblematic of an arc that PUP would take, in which they find themselves systematically beaten down by the world around them through a process of blunt attrition, but it works as well as it always has, especially with Babcock’s knack for snotty lyrical detail that only lends further layers of dishevelled punch.
Granted, that all comes from a companion piece above everything else, and so obviously it does have the rough edges (not by design this time) that a full album wouldn’t. It’s not as well developed as a whole, and the great, standout hooks aren’t in nearly as much supply. That’s not to say this isn’t still good though, or that PUP have packaged their outright duds here. Sonically it’s their usual fare that’s definitely appreciated, particularly when they bring more of a fiddly indie tone on Nothing Changes, and there’s still the grotty, borderline slapdash way the likes of Anaphylaxis and their rendition of A.M. 180 are thrown together that makes of the most of that garage-punk aesthetic. It sounds about as authentic to its name as ‘garage-punk’ can, operating on a DIY basis that lets the guitars and bass roar with a lot of fuzz and volume, and Babcock as a vocalist to make use of an admittedly limited range to fit exactly the mood that’s intended. In other words, it’s the most natural continuation of PUP’s thread imaginable, in that not a lot has really changed but it doesn’t have to. The fact they’re pulling from the same sources that made their last album so beloved will be enough to hook in plenty, and while it’s unlikely to be as revered as that album was, This Place Suck Ass is a good sampler to extend what Morbid Stuff wanted to do. Even if it’s unlikely to do as much for them on its own, it’s hard to see how anyone who’s already onboard will be disappointed by this. • LN
For fans of: Jeff Rosenstock, Spanish Love Songs, Iron Chic
‘This Place Sucks Ass’ by PUP is out now on BMG.
Fever 333 – Wrong Generation
A band like Fever 333 is more vital in times like now than at any other. A band that describes themselves as a vehicle for protest almost has a duty to respond the civil unrest that’s been going on worldwide during the summer, particularly when said unrest is rooted in beating back against racist police behaviour which falls even deeper within Fever 333’s wheelhouse. And in that vein, Wrong Generation certainly feels like the protest album that Fever 333 would come out with – it’s tight and tense with a hit that’s concentrated to speak to the widest audience possible while having as much venom and punch as it can. It’s why Jason Butler is such an invaluable asset to this band, where even lyrics tilted towards sloganeering on a track like U Wanted A Fight still sound unflinchingly vicious. He just has the sort of voice to make material like this connect; the likes of Bite Back and For The Record have his shrieks turned up to their most barbed (and having Rotting Out’s Walter Delgado on what’s pretty much a straight-up hardcore track in the latter’s case doesn’t hurt either), while leaning into hip-hop on Block Is On Fire and the title track brings it all down to a street level. On the whole, it’s perhaps their most concentrated example of their “all power to all people” mantra to date, spoiling for a fight with anyone who’d stand in the way of that and having the drive to facilitate and mobilise change in a way that a lot of politically-minded bands struggle to hit the same wavelength of. If anything, it might the first time that Fever 333 have hit that mark of true protest music, and while that can thin out some thematic depth overall, the EP itself is short and direct enough to circumvent any issues that might have and strike for the heart and the jugular with equal force.
The only real problem to be found comes in the sound, but even then, it’s nothing particularly new or newly detrimental for Fever 333. Once again, there’s a bit of disconnect between the voracity of the band’s ideals and what’s otherwise a very clean and precise sound, particularly on a song like Supremacy which uses its Blondie / KRS-One interpolation well, but has the electro-rock rumble that can be distressingly reminiscent of Hollywood Undead. It’s a Jon Feldmann production job to the letter, but as Fever 333 have demonstrated before, they’re perfectly capable of bucking some of the less helpful qualities that may bring and letting their own talent take precedence. Guitars and terse hip-hop beats will puncture any film that might be placed over everything, finding that heft and destructiveness on Bite Back and For The Record, and coming back to familiarly welcome territory on U Wanted A Fight in a blatant Rage Against The Machine riff. But of course, it’s Butler who’s at the centre of it all, with a voice that makes every word seem as though it’s coming from a place of the most white-hot intent. He’s easily the lynchpin for why Fever 333 works so well, and how they can still thrive within post-hardcore despite their ideas sometimes not rising to the level of their peers. They’re arguably one of the most focused bands around, and can channel their rage into a vital, volatile Molotov that hits every target its thrown at. This mightn’t be their best work, but the relevance of it easily makes up for any shortcomings, especially when few bands in rock can claim to have the same sort of force. • LN
For fans of: Rage Against The Machine, Beartooth, Hyro The Hero
‘Wrong Generation’ by Fever 333 is out now on 333 Wreckords Crew.
Like Moths To Flames – No Eternity In Gold
Like Moths To Flames really do make the worst kind of metalcore, that being the stuff that’s so middling and bereft of individuality that it produces absolutely nothing to say. They’ve been like since the beginning, and yet, even among the shifting metalcore paradigm that’s forced so many bands to evolve or die, but they’ve just decided not to. Their move from Rise to UNFD for this fifth album is a lateral one at best (and even that’s being generous), and in itself stands as the only shake-up of note to emerge from No Eternity In Gold so far. That reality stretching across yet another full-length ensures the needle remains firmly in place with Like Moths To Flames, perhaps more than ever establishing them as caught in the metalcore overspill, and desperately trying to cling on for safety. At least the team of Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland behind the scenes helps to elevate them from the doldrums somewhat, now with a crunchier, clinical sound that’s still sleek while being free of noticeable overproduction, but the unaddressed issues with Like Moths To Flames haven’t shifted just because of that. They’re still hampered by a lack of sonic diversity, which manifests in the form of 2013-style metalcore heft with few concessions made to modernity or individuality. As a whole, it doesn’t sound bad, but for a band this deep in to still have as little discernible identity as Like Moths To Flames do is tremendously discouraging. A lot of these songs run together as it is, and a lack of notable personality throughout causes No Eternity In Gold to drag profoundly. To be charitable, there’s enough about YOTM or Demon Of My Own to keep them afloat, but even that’s grasping to find something noteworthy in a scenery that just refuses to provide it.
It clearly isn’t a lack of effort on the band’s part either, because there’s definitely some form of drive here. Chris Roetter has regularly impressed as a screamer and that hasn’t changed, and the fact that this isn’t the style-over-substance fluff that a lot of 2010s metalcore bands pump out is commendable all the same. The problem comes in how Like Moths To Flames still aren’t applying that to anything deeper, and so what could be a heavier, more raw metalcore listen just ends up resting on the surface once again, almost like the rest of generic genre padding with a slight coat of paint. The same reasoning applies to the writing too; there’s definitely more of a personal aspect in how Roetter’s moving away from faith saw a new perspective on his own internal struggles and demons open up, but removing that one piece of context effectively shunts everything back to the norm of turmoil that’s become disappointingly rote and predictable. That might as well be the tagline for Like Moths To Flames – a band who’ve become one step removed from the absolute middle of the road, and still find themselves precariously balanced on that threshold as it is. That might sound unfair for an album that’s clearly had at least a modicum more thought put into it, but when there still isn’t a definitively interesting idea about this band coming through after five albums, it’s worth wondering what they’re actually bringing. No Eternity In Gold is far from the worst that metalcore has to offer, but that’s about as strong as any recommendation for it can be; it doesn’t stand out or define itself in any conceivable way, continuing Like Moths To Flames’ bafflingly long streak of doing so that, worryingly, doesn’t appear to be coming to an end. • LN
For fans of: In Hearts Wake, The Plot In You, Dream On Dreamer
‘No Eternity In Gold’ by Like Moths To Flames is released on 30th October on UNFD.
Salem – Salem
It’s wonderful that a project like Salem exists, because they essentially serve as an alternate timeline version of Creeper. This is Will Gould’s new band that seem to be continuing from exactly where Creeper were pre-Eternity, In Your Arms, where they weren’t as refined and nowhere near as expansive, but had the drive and undisputed punk acumen that earmarked them as stars right from the jump. Of course, Creeper are far more ambitious now, but this sort of to-the-side continuation brings back a more youthful snappiness and exuberance than what the band themselves have grown into. There’s seemingly no bones made about the fact that Salem is a side-project, but it’s a near-perfect emulation of those earlier EPs, with a darting punk backdrop behind an electrified Gould who might show shades of the theatricality he’s developed in recent years, but returns to the tried-and-true well of Alkaline Trio worship with aplomb. It’s all very familiar territory lyrically as well, scaling back the grand, melodramatic romances to ground-level stories of love between outcasts, told with the wryness and wit that ensures that this isn’t just a complete downgrade. There’s still the recognisable flair on songs like Destroy Me and Throat, and the larger-than-life vamping pared with that connects just as well as it always has; there’s something so wonderful centralised to Gould as an artist in lines like “She said “Boy, you look like death / But healthy guys are such an eyesore””, and to have such focus placed on it with Salem is really entertaining stuff.
It’s why it’s ideal to view Salem as a companion to Creeper rather than an outright comparison; on the same metric of songwriting and musicianship, it’s hardly even a contest, but this is a handy little project to have to be able to fill in any gaps in sound, and it does that well. It’s very lean and punchy in its punk stylings, returning to the bracing gallop of Hiding With Boys or Honeymoon Suite on Destroy Me and Doomed (for each other), and keeping the focus on punk melody keenly across the board. It’s a tight fifteen minutes with barely a second wasted, and though it’s maybe a couple of shades less dark than Creeper, there’s still the gothic touches here and there that keep things distinct. It does definitively feel like something Creeper would’ve dropped in their earlier days, and while hammering that likeness fully goes against the aforementioned notion of Salem operating in tandem, it’s not a bad thing to recognise how well those similarities work, in the same of a different context. There’s a lack of tantamount gravity to Salem, simply because this is a sound that’s already broken out into bigger things, but it’s also hard to begrudge the fun that comes from Gould returning to his roots and being free of the pressure or grander expectations. Whether or not much more will come from Salem remains to be seen, but this is exactly the sort of project for which the appeal can be greatly appreciated for however long it lasts. • LN
For fans of: Creeper, Alkaline Trio, AFI
‘Salem’ by Salem is out now on Roadrunner Records.
Ashton Irwin – Superbloom
This has to be one of the less-expected side-projects to emerge from this year, especially when the severe decline of 5 Seconds Of Summer would have anyone believing that musical integrity was off the cards for good. Still, if there’s a bright spot to be found among their current incarnation, Ashton Irwin would be it, as a drummer who’s regularly a lot more talented in his attention to detail and intricacy than what’s expected of him. He’s far from the breakout face of the band, but a solo venture moving towards indie music is at least an understandable throughline to draw, especially when there’s a lot of cues taken from the way Harry Styles broke away from his pop roots on both of his albums. It’s very lush and soft-focus a lot of the time, and while Irwin’s production has a muddiness at times that can make some of vocal and instrumental layering sound far more unwieldy than it was presumably supposed to, the distances that Superbloom goes to break from modern pop traditionalism is frankly bewildering to see. Even compared to Styles’ embrace of classic rock, Irwin’s influences run a lot deeper and wider, touching on that soft-rock style on Skinny Skinny but also weaving in approximations of jangly, unplugged grunge on Scar, borderline prog on Greyhound and blaring, cinematic hard rock on The Sweetness. The production keeps it from true brilliance at points (especially in the case of The Sweetness), but that can honestly be looked past for just how sweeping and daring this can be. Corners haven’t been cut and nothing’s been watered down; this feels like a passion project in every essence, as Irwin smashes together musical ideas under a fuzzier, indie-rock-ish umbrella to get everything into place, and it’s amazing how much sticking power it has.
It helps that Irwin has more of a voice for rock as it is, with a lower timbre that’s less abjectly polished and preened which is easier to have playing a part in a wider musical canvas like this. He’s more of an element of this album rather than something that everything else is built around, and that lets him try some less-conventional ideas to widen the sonic breadth, like the harps on Scar or the wavy, Middle Eastern-inspired strings that shape The Sweetness and Perfect Lie. It’s a very lucid album that opens up completely naturally, appropriate enough for writing that leans on self-betterment and healing that isn’t cloying or trite. Just look at Skinny Skinny, a song about body dysmorphia and bulimia that’s particularly grounded and surprisingly real in how little glamour it has, buoyed by a very minimal and solemn acoustic guitar and nothing else. It’s a grown-up album that exceeds the estimations of what that usually signifies, both in sound and approach, and it’s to Irwin’s enormous credit that he’s managed to pull something the extensive off. In every conceivable way, it’s roughly a good few miles away from where 5 Seconds Of Summer have ended up, something that makes the creative breadth and extensiveness all the more satisfying, even with production that mightn’t always paint it in the best light. That’s a minor complaint for what’s ultimately a great triumph though, the sort of project that it’s unlikely will get the same amount of airtime as Irwin’s more straight-laced fare, but barrels past that when it comes to real artistic vision. • LN
For fans of: Declan McKenna, Harry Styles, Wallows
‘Superbloom’ by Ashton Irwin is out now.
Sevendust – Blood & Stone
The general consensus around Sevendust is that they might be among the usual radio-metal crowd, but they’re also one of the better ones. That’s not exactly wrong either, thanks to Lajon Witherspoon proving himself to be a genuinely terrific vocalist on more than a few occasions, but it’s also never been enough on its own to see Sevendust break those shackles which are still tied remarkably tightly to the limitations that scene bears in earnest. Honestly, it all just evens out to something that isn’t offensive but would rarely get spun out of genuine desire, and that’s pretty much Blood & Stone in a nutshell. It’s a Sevendust album with everything that goes towards that in the correct place, and while that’s not a terrible thing, it’s not as though there’s any standout quality to this album in particular. Sevendust continue to have all the qualities of ready-for-radio alt-metal – the big choruses; the low-slung riffs; the slower tempos to make it all seem that bit more powerful – and it’s arranged in an almost unchanged way across these thirteen tracks. If it wasn’t for Witherspoon as a singer they’d be in much hotter water, as he at least brings some cavernous emotionality to tracks like Love and Criminal, and that can actually hit those bigger moments that are so important for a band like this. It’s also a bit less necessary that the lyrics are standard radio-metal fare, if only because Witherspoon can sell them well enough to hit the big, broad targets as designed.
Beyond that solitary layer though, there really isn’t much to go wild about with Sevendust as a whole, just as always. They aren’t very diverse in their sound, nor do they really make the effort to give an album this long a sense of flow, rather than just leaving it all to congeal in its middling pace. To their credit, the production isn’t as bad as so many in their lane can be, once again taking some of the more modern metal stylings of their Rise Records home and using that to their advantage, as well as couple of layers of strings here and there which make the likes of Feel Like Going On more grand and dramatic. But as has become very commonplace with Sevendust, what works for them doesn’t hold fast for very long, and a sound as monotonous and low-end heavy as theirs proves to be just as unsustainable as expected when not a lot of it proves all that memorable. It really feels like a band going through the motions, and even if that does turn out a marginally more successful version than what most of their contemporaries are capable of, it’s still not something that holds a lot of weight or demands considerable attention. It’s a Sevendust album for the fans who know exactly what to expect, and complaining about that just doesn’t feel worth it. • LN
For fans of: Chevelle, Crossfade, Nonpoint
‘Blood & Stone’ by Sevendust is out now on Rise Records.
Happy. – Imposter Syndrome
It’s an unfortunate fact that Happy. probably aren’t going to hit the heights they want to, given that their pop-punk deliberately stylised to reflect 2000s nostalgia isn’t something that’s been picked up too much. Their debut Cult Classic was decent, but it was also an example of an optimistic name faceplanting on the wall of reality, and is yet to be completely removed at that. At least, that’s the impression that Imposter Syndrome gives, in which Marc McClusky has now been recruited for production to shift focus onto chunkier college-rock tones akin to Motion City Soundtrack or Weezer. It’s clear that Happy. have their sights set on a very particular era of pop-punk history, but like its predecessor, Imposter Syndrome isn’t the application of that influence that’ll ultimately see Happy. rise beyond being just another okay pop-punk band. Because this is okay overall, and the big, fuzzy melodies of Dull Boy and Afternoon Special do come with a certain pop-punk purity – for lack of a better term – that could be best attributed to a band like American Hi-Fi or plenty other American Pie soundtrack alumni. It’s about as listenable as any pop-punk this flagrantly nostalgia-driven can be, and while that makes for an easy wind-down, Happy. are still trying to build a brand for themselves, and to double down on something like this instead of building on and expanding it doesn’t feel like an auspicious move. It doesn’t help that this album is held back by some notable issues of its own, namely how cramped and muddy the focus on the low end can seem, and it just nails down the hindering presence that’s stopping Happy. from advancing beyond a comfortable mid-tier slot.
Now, to judge them in relation to that environment, it’s not like Imposter Sydrome is particularly revelatory, but the hooks do have a good amount of staying power, and the snotty, slackerish energy that Happy. bring definitely has a place, and they pull it off well. Tate Logan has the distinctly-shaped emo curl to his vocals that really gives the throwback some legs, and there’s definitely a charm to be found in the likes of Hooky and April Is For Fools that look to temper some of the album’s more depressive and melancholy themes with some light and rubbery levity. On the whole, there’s a good amount of layering to the way that Happy. craft their songs and lyrics, chronicling the ongoing push and pull of trying to succeed as a full-time musician while being impounded by thoughts of not being good enough. It even gives some gravity to the rote ‘acoustic pop-punk ballad’ template on Black Picket Fence; the sound isn’t all that enthusing, but the sentiment of having someone else that makes all the perseverance through the dark clouds worth it is a nice one that feels especially conducive with the mood this album fosters. It’s an elevating factor for certain, perhaps not enough of one to make Imposter Sydrome a killer listen, but resulting in a bit more longevity that similar older bands might not have had. That’s not nothing, and though Happy. still need to do a fair bit more if long-term survival is a goal, where they’re currently up to isn’t objectionable either. • LN
For fans of: Motion City Soundtrack, The Front Bottoms, The Ataris
‘Imposter Syndrome’ by Happy. is released on 30th October on Rude Records.
Blue October – This Is What I Live For
It’s gotten really difficult to be excited for new music from Blue October, and that’s not down to any sort of hang-up about quality. They’re better than any band on the post-grunge end of radio-friendly art-rock have any right to be, but it’s gotten to a point where full albums from them have gotten so draining, not only in a length that will encroach upon the hour mark without fail, but in how unfailingly dense and heavy those albums will be on top of that. What makes the situation even less manageable is when an album like This Is What I Live For comes around, which is undoubtedly brighter and more polished in tone, but still has the issue of the sheer volume of material that makes Blue October a commitment that’s rather time-consuming, especially on an album like this where it mightn’t be worth it. At least in the past, there’s been the overwritten lyrical unravellings from Justin Furstenfeld that can be compelling to unpack, whereas this album’s shiny, radio-ready approach significantly pares that back, and winds up as an album whose shallowness is magnified to more than it is because of the space it’s trying to fill. It’s a nice change of pace in more uplifting, even happier material where the likes of Oh My My and The Weatherman are concerned, but This Is What I Live For can’t manage that tone in a way that’s consistent with those examples. It’s supremely bloated, and generally just feels padded out for no good reason other than discographical consistency; there’s certainly no reason for this to be almost an hour long when it doesn’t have the material to fill that time.
And when that thread is pulled, it’s hard to avoid the holes in Blue October’s operation that it reveals. They’ve never been a gritty or rough-edged band, but that can tilt towards saccharine here without the necessary weight to modulate it, like with the open-ended but utterly washed-out radio-indie of Fight For Love, or the twee stabs at pop-country on Moving On (So Long). There isn’t much flavour to be found here, as Blue October just sort of go through the motions when it comes to making a radio-friendly album, perhaps more so than usual but not to the extend where they’re fully devoid of personality either. That’s mainly a result of Furstenfeld being as booming and earnest of a frontman as he is, and in the rare moments where he does dredge up a bit more visceral detail like I Laugh At Myself and Stay With Me, the flashes of the older, more reliable Blue October do come back. Otherwise, the potential for a decent hook is there, but for a band who’ve already become as inherently flawed as Blue October have, something like that on an album that’s already decidedly weaker doesn’t quite cut it, no matter how good they can be. As such, This Is What I Live For just ends up being kind of toothless, an album with the spirit of Blue October but none of depth or relative firepower, and when those two things were typically the saving graces on overlong, overworked albums, not having them there can really be felt in a negative way. • LN
For fans of: Fuel, Lifehouse, Needtobreathe
‘This Is What I Live For’ by Blue October is out now on Up/Down-Brando Records.
Leaves’ Eyes – The Last Viking
Leaves’ Eyes have returned with their new album The Last Viking. This album sees their Viking tales draw to a dramatic close having explored Leif Eriksson’s discovery of America and the life of Norway’s first king in Vinland Saga (2005) and King of Kings (2015). The Vikings’ last battle – England in the year 1066. The decisive battle near Stamford Bridge. Warriors fighting death, the grounds soaked in blood. Norway’s king Harald III, called ardrada (“the hard ruler”) lies dying. His whole life flashes before his eyes: cruel wars, fights over ower, journeys to exotic worlds guiding to powerful women, emperors and kings falling into ruin. The last Viking King is dead – the Vikings’ age is over. Long live the Vikings. Death Of A King brings a dramatic opening to the album with raw, powerful percussion and a dynamic array of traditional instruments. The orchestral build up is very emotive and the harsh vocals in the background give a hint towards the heavier side of their sound. It would have been nice to see distorted guitars introduced here too. What immediately stands out when listening to this album as a whole, are the guitar tones. They have been very well chosen for each track and the moods they want to portray. The variety across the tracks on this album sees Leaves’ Eyes delvier some wonderful styles and performances. Black Butterfly explores beautiful vocal harmonies between Elina Siirala and the guest vocalist Clementine Delauney. The chord progressions beneath the vocals have an elevating effect, complementing the vocal melody lines well.
Serpents And Dragons brings a wonderful blend of symphonic metal, drama and a catchy chorus. Dark Love Empress also brings the traditional symphonic metal feel with a very catchy chorus. These tracks feel reminiscent of some of Within Temptation’s early work. Not necessarily in terms of replication, but the way in which the symphonic metal genre is portrayed through their instrumentation. At times, in some of their tracks, the mix feels a little compressed with the vocals needing to be slightly louder. Two Kings One Realm is a fantastic track. Alexander Krull’s vocals bring a powerful low whilst high vocals soar. The raw drum brings a fantastic Nordic feel whilst the addition of other traditional instruments introduces an extra something into the soundscape. It has a very deep emotional feel. The hunting conclusion brought with the title track, sees a mourning low rumble and war horn motif repeated. It’s incredibly dark and dramatic. The Last Viking is a powerful album from Leaves’ Eyes. It shows off a wide scope of their sound and musical abilities. As the album progresses the tracks do become stronger. At times vocals feel a little low in the mix but overall, fairly well balanced. The guitars are quite high, but this works well to give more of an impactful sound. • HR
For fans of: Myrkur, Eluveitie, Epica
‘The Last Viking’ by Leaves’ Eyes is out now on AFM Records.
The OBGMs – The Ends
From the way that frontman Densil McFarlane has referenced The Beatles, Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix when talking about The Ends, it’s clear that he holds The OBGMs’ second album in high regard. It’s easy to see why when it was conceived following a period that almost saw him give up music entirely, but there’s also quite a loud ring of optimism there that might be a fair overreach. For snarling, rapid-fire garage-punk, The OBGMs’ debut was certainly good, but the vast expectations that have been affixed to this follow-up feel like a considerable leap, and it’s not much of a surprise that The Ends isn’t quite to that level. That’s not to say this isn’t good though; on the contrary, for a relatively short and direct punk album that hits all the right beats and sweet spots, The Ends really does deliver, especially when it does hit its faster, grottier stride like with Cash and Karen O’s that makes the layer of grime on the surface properly stand out. In sound and ambition, it’s reminiscent of ‘90s rock in its self-assuredness, and the hints of genre-clash from grunge and hip-hop (not to mention some fantastic hand percussion on a track like Outsah) do cast the net out a bit further than being nailed down to punk. Still, that punk core is resoundingly strong all the way through, in guitars and bass that have a ragged, bashed-out growl to them behind McFarlane’s voice, often placed behind a scuzzy filter but never obscured and dulled as a result.
There’s a constant electricity to this album that keeps it moving, even in its slower moments, and that does feel fitting when it’s all centred around being beaten down again and again, and mustering up the energy to keep getting back up again. It’s easy to attribute that to where a lot of McFarlane’s viscerality comes from – both in his own musical journey and as a black man in a predominantly white rock scene – and thus, the pace and tone of The Ends remaining so consistently biting and jagged has even more importance to it. Musically it’s not a vast departure from a lot of punk and garage-rock, but the sense of tenacity in The OBGMs’ particular iteration is particularly notable, and as a driving force paired with a sound that’s frequently been feeling as though it lacks one, it does hit much harder and faster. Brevity is a key factor, and though that itself can short circuit the grandeur that a lot of McFarlane’s statements have hinged on, it gives The Ends a real boost for a punk album achieving a strong version of what its goals are. It’s a fine continuation from a band who might not have got the love they deserved last time, now reaching a point where they’re forceful and refined enough to grab it and keep it held in an ironclad grip. • LN
For fans of: Cerebral Ballzy, PUP, Nova Twins
‘The Ends’ by The OBGMs is released on 30th October on Black Box Recordings.
LÉON – Apart
LÉON might have all the qualifications of another burgeoning indie-synthpop songstress – a mononymmed, European singer who’s already displayed a notable precociousness – but she’s actually a bit more unique of a prospect than just that. Her self-titled debut fit the general rubric, but it was also less polished and sharp, with a mix that fit in elements of indie-pop and soft-rock for a looser overall sound. That’s definitely meant as a compliment though, especially on Apart where LÉON has really grown into an artist defiantly in her own lane. The move away from wiry tightness works especially well for how organic this album feels; comparisons to Fleetwood Mac – and Stevie Nicks in particular – have been attributed to LÉON before, but the warm acoustics on In A Stranger’s Arms and the burnished, AM rock sway of Who You Lovin’ really do pick up on that hazy ‘70s rock vibe well. It’s just as impressive when it meshes with the glittering embellishments and modern production techniques, lending a genuinely phenomenal opulence and clarity to And It Breaks My Heart thanks to the cascading strings running through a mix with plenty of room to breathe, and a good amount of texture to the likes of Chasing A Feeling and Seventeen in some tasteful and expected but generally worthwhile new wave pivots. That said, it is fairly on that one level, and it would be nice to see LÉON hit those peaks of synthpop euphoria that she builds towards at certain points here, but never quite reaches. It’s a small gripe and one that, honestly, might not make a lot of sense considering the rootsier tones and textures she plays around with, but Apart can suffer from being a bit one-note at points, particularly towards the end, and something to alleviate that wouldn’t go amiss.
At least with its current tone though, there’s a grounded sense to Apart that really holds steady what could otherwise be a pretty average post-relationship narrative. There’s definitely moments of heated emotion, but even they’re typically grounded in melancholy and a maturity that has a greater weight to it. There isn’t a lot all that new done with the theming, but it feels less throwaway and with more human intention behind it by design, particularly on more stark moments like the piano ballad Falling Apart that lets the weathered cracks in LÉON’s voice fully show. She’s exactly the sort of performer to pull this sort of thing off too, deliberately missing the flash or snappiness of other vocalists in her field, and instead coming through with a rawer, throatier timbre that does earn those aforementioned Stevie Nicks likenesses. She feels like an indie singer just through her presence, and that ties together the whole album rather neatly and outlines those intentions much more firmly. It’s still an accessible and deeply likable album, but with looser ties to its synthpop extended family that arguably push it forward a fair bit more. What Apart lacks in a definitive killer moment, it makes up for in a unique, fully-realised sound and a performer with a built-in longevity she’s already beginning to tap into, the sort of under-the-radar treat that just makes its scene that much stronger overall. • LN
For fans of: Maggie Rogers, Anna Of The North, HAIM
‘Apart’ by LÉON is released on 30th October on BMG.
Hector Gannet – Big Harcar
Hector Gannet couldn’t come across less like a contemporary indie band, with a sound informed by windswept landscapes of English geography and history that’s become an unfortunate rarity. It can be a rather acquired taste in how low-key and literate it can be at times, but the impression that Big Harcar gives is that it’s not supposed to be a straightforward listen. There are winding tales and explorations of nature and somewhat obscure historical events that really feel like their own thing, and what’s particularly noteworthy is how well the language that Hector Gannet use reflects that. The interesting words and images are packed in ridiculously tightly, and it makes for the sort of rich lyrical landscape that’s fascinating in its own right, particularly on a track like Dead Nag which has such an evocative, poetic aura about it. To top that off further, Aaron Duff has the sort of unassumingly potent voice that’s excellent for parsing out the emotions locked in these images, the sort of things that encourages the multiple listens it takes for this album to fully unfurl and open itself out.
It’s a very similar story sonically too, as a slow-burn listen with very few moments of direct punch that still manages to captivate thanks to how much care and work has been put into it. A track like The Haven Of St Aidan’s is the most obvious example, reaching almost ten minutes with the expansive, swooping progressions that even begin to touch on prog at points, but there’s also Into The Deep and The Launch, the twin lynchpins at the album’s centre in which the lush, gorgeously produced indie-folk takes precedence over lyrics or vocals, particularly in the latter, and bring the sense of scope to Hector Gannet’s work that it clearly needs. It’s a very elemental sound in a way, with production that isn’t exactly vibrant but nor is it dreary, instead capturing an almost coastal feel to how the sweeping nature of it comes together. It’s fitting, then, that the band themselves are named after a sunken rescue ship, and it’s in details like that which tightens the tapestry that Hector Gannet build within their music. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that would sit on permanent rotation, even in its more ‘accessible’ moments like In Fading Light or Serpentine, but Big Harcar’s slowly revealing wonder is what makes it shine, and for a long-term listen that’s fully aware of how dense but fascinating it is, that’s as good as it gets. • LN
For fans of: British Sea Power, Frightened Rabbit, Guillemots
‘Big Harcar’ by Hector Gannet is released on 30th October on GUGA Records.
No Life On Earth – Into Fire We Burn
If there’s one bit of credit to be given to No Life On Earth, it’s that they’ve got good adaptability. This is a project formed in quarantine between various American and Brazillian musicians as a metal side-venture, bolstered by a decent guest cast as a means of maintaining some kind of creative norm when everything else seemed to have stalled out. But while that’s obviously a positive outcome from a less-than-ideal situation, that being wheeled out as No Life On Earth’s primary point of note indicates this isn’t something built to last, and Into Fire We Burn unfortunately gives the same impression. It gives off the underwhelming complacency that metal side-projects like this can sometimes have, where there isn’t a great deal of creativity to boon performances that are generally fine but never jump off the page at any point. The closest they come to that is in the title track, the clearest example of bassist PJ being given the most room to work, but even that song never comes together completely when the production on Andre Acosta’s vocals sounds as woeful as it does. Really, the vocals across the board serve as the greatest sticking point to remote recording that this EP has, and it makes for an amateurish vibe when one really shouldn’t be there.
Beyond that though, this is usual melodeath fare, shorn of any real flair or standout qualities, and just ending up as part of the pack. There’s a solid crunch to the sound of it all, but it’s nothing monumentally different, even when you get Sepultura’s Andreas Kisser or Ministry’s Cesar Soto to provide solos on individual tracks which, even then, don’t turn up with much of note. It’s very standard and unambitious in almost every respect; sonically, it’s passable but never more than that, and the writing is completely not worth caring about in any instance. It’s not an intrinsically harmful presence, whether that’s within metal itself or towards its own creators (though it does help that no one in the core lineup can really be considered an A-lister), but in a way, that only further amplifies the anonymity of Into Fire We Burn. Strip away the guest stars and the circumstances of its creation, and what’s left is a by-the-numbers metal EP that exists to burn through some free time and feels exactly like that. Give it a go if you want, but anyone curious about something like this will have heard this product countless times before, and with a bit more gumption to back it up. • LN
For fans of: Trivium, Sepultura, Machine Head
‘Into Fire We Burn’ by No Life On Earth is released on 30th October on Blood Blast Distribution.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)