Orianthi – O
There can’t have been many who expected Orianthi to have a consistent hitmaking career after According To You. She’s always been better known as a guitarist anyway, spotted by the likes of Alice Cooper and even Michael Jackson for a wildly proficient, borderline prodigious level of skill, and back in 2010 when According To You eked its minor hit status, the market simply wasn’t trending towards songs like that. Still, even a decade later, that song remains a breath of the freshest air for what it was at the time, taking the pop-rock of Avril Lavigne or early Kelly Clarkson, leaving all of the gloss and attitude intact, and injecting it with the sort of bracing hair-metal guitar work that was unlike anything else to touch the charts at the time. It was the sort of wild anomaly that was never going to spawn a natural follow-up, and the fact that Orianthi has remained a pretty under-the-radar presence ever since isn’t too surprising. Very little interest was shown in her 2013 album Heaven In This Hell or in her collaborative album with Richie Sambora in 2018, though with O, the generally nonplussed response towards Orianthi sadly feels more justified than ever. The reasoning couldn’t be more blatant either, given than any pop finish or spark has been thoroughly scrubbed for yet another middle-of-the-road throwback-rock snorer, complete with the traditional Frontiers Records stamp of being as ill-equipped as possible to stand in any modern environment. To be fair, the attempts at modernity can be seen, but they come in stiff, programmed drums on Blow and Sorry or a plinking electronic flutter behind Company, both of which feel more perfunctory in order to draw at least a thread – and not a very inconspicuous one – between where Orianthi was and where she is now. It’s much worse on the slappy percussive pop of Moonwalker, in which Orianthi’s real talent as a guitarist is marginalised for a weedy, plodding beat that closes the album on a real downer because of that. That’s at least something that O has going for it – Orianthi herself has genuine musical ability that, on a purely technical basis, can send her further across the line than many throwback acts can muster. That’s not saying much when it’s not used to much effect here though; it’s always good when a winding solo or riff comes through, but that’s less often than might be expected, and the thrill can be substantially dulled when that’s against a bland, mid-tempo blues-rock background. According To You worked because there was life and sharpness brought out from pop; the majority of O falls deeply in line with what’s expected and stands out significantly less for it.
And while there’s something to be said for Orianthi as a guitarist here, she’s not a frontwoman with nearly as much power behind her. She’s fine enough as a singer – she definitely falls into the archetypal ‘rock chick’ mould that’s kind of derivative but not exactly unworkable – but there’s not much individuality that leaps off the page, nor does she do much to really forge an interesting artistic presence for herself within her lane. It says a lot that the most compelling moment here is a return to the thematic well of her big hit on Crawling Out Of The Dark, just with a more mournful and downbeat tone, but otherwise, O really does seem content with cycling through the trad-rock lyric book and taking whatever it can from there. There are the usual touchstones about how messed up the world is on Contagious and Streams Of Consciousness that don’t offer any sort of different or individual perspective, but that’s compounded further on songs likes Blow and Impulsive, which take a lot of hair-metal-friendly skews towards sex songs and make them feel as basic and boilerplate as possible. All the while, Orianthi gives off no impression that she’s really invested in this, making up for it with technical skill but with no passion below the surface. It’s a shame, because she is a genuinely good artist capable of strong material, but fenced into such a depressingly rote mould as this does no favours for her at all. O might sound like the big, mature album to facilitate her comeback, but it’s got none of the personality or flash that once made her such a ray of light within pop and rock. Now, she’s just another rock revivalist with the same dearth of uniqueness as all the others, and with as forgettable as this album is, it shows that’s not the right way to go.
For fans of: Halestorm, In This Moment, Diamanté
‘O’ by Orianthi is out now on Frontiers Records.
L.A. Guns – Renegades
In situations like this one where the release of L.A. Guns’ Renegades is vastly overshadowed by behind-the-scenes drama, it would be tempting to lead off with that, provided that anyone is really that interesting in L.A. Guns in 2020. They were among the same Sunset Strip glam-metal scene that spawned Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe, and though they actually had a hand in the genesis of the former, it’s fair to say L.A. Guns have been completely subsumed by the legacies those around them have created and maintained. Thus, it might actually come as a surprise that there’s currently two incarnations of L.A. Guns with the same name, with this version featuring longtime drummer Steve Riley recently coming under fire from the Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis version for trademark infringement for the use of the name. It’s a messy, complicated situation that this writer won’t even pretend to have any sort of stake in, but in terms of being the background for Renegades as a body of work, it’s more fuss than an album this unexciting honestly deserves. In terms of glam-metal dinosaurs trying to recapture past glories, Renegades is definitely up there in terms of redundancy for all the usual reasons, chief among them being that L.A. Guns sound remarkably out of their depth in the current state. It’s as interchangeable as it gets, feeling like a result of pre-packaged hair-metal assets clunked together in a way that has no real identity or unique direction, but has all the right parts for a functioning product regardless. That in itself minimises the danger and bravado that the best glam-metal has, and instead leaves a warmed-over pastiche that gets a surface-level impression nailed down but little else. Of course, the super-clear production on Renegades doesn’t help, particularly when it places a vocalist as limited as Kurt Frohlich in such a clear spotlight, as he cycles between complete anonymity, low-end Axl Rose impressions and, on the title track, a flat, flaccid delivery has absolutely nothing going for it. On the other hand, there’s some surprisingly supple and prominent bass work from Kelly Nickels, but it’s a high that only marginally sparkles up an otherwise drab and formulaic set of instrumentals.
The worst part of it is that there’s clearly the idea swilling around L.A. Guns’ collective heads that this is the throwback they’ve needed to pull off to reach modern relevance, when in reality they sound exactly like the also-rans that they are. Fittingly, it feels like a midlife crisis put to music, where these middle-aged men are trying to reclaim their rockstar lifestyles by throwing back with as much blunt force as they can muster, which ultimately leads to the broad archetypes of glam-metal regurgitated in a pretty shabby fashion. That’s down to the bones too, making it all too clear that L.A. Guns aren’t throwing in anything original here; Crawl and Witchcraft tick the box for songs about capricious but irresistible women, while Lost Boys and the title track serve as the customary sketches of the rebellious rockstar lifestyle, with none of those examples named going much deeper beyond those extremely potted descriptions. There’s even a couple of attempts at glam-metal power-ballads on You Can’t Walk Away and Would to really drive home how much of the B-tier’s crib sheet L.A. Guns are going off, and tying it all together with Well Oiled Machine – a song which, under a literal interpretation, is about how much Frohlich wants to fuck his motorcycle – makes it clear that any creative impetus gone into making this album has been negligible at best. Though, for what’s by all accounts a spin-off of another band, that was pretty easy to predict, especially when the L.A. Guns name, in both its forms, has generally been buried by the sands of time, and only resurfacing for some mild brand recognition every now and then. A dedicated glam-metal anorak might find something to enjoy with Renegades, but it’s honestly not that likely, not when it’s such a tired and drab attempt at clinging onto the coattails of a scene that’s largely been dead for decades now. Apparently the other L.A. Guns have an album coming out soon as well, and while the same stipulations mean it won’t automatically be better than this, it’ll be hard for it to feel more unnecessary.
For fans of: Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Poison
‘Renegades’ by L.A. Guns is released on 13th November on Golden Robot Records.
Superlove – Superlove
You can tell that Superlove are still a pretty new band with how brazenly they wear their key influence on their sleeve. With the blend of a dense pop factor and a sturdier Britrock crunch (plus, y’know, the name), this is a band who really want to be Don Broco. It’s only a couple of steps away from genuine cover band status, to where the similarities in Superlove’s original music on this EP feel incredibly stark in very identifiable ways. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, and while they’re desperately crying out for something to call their own, Superlove already feel like pretty refined musicians on this basis. They can’t get the same pinpoint accuracy in their heavier moments like THINK ABT U, but in I Love It and Life Is Great when the poppy soundscapes come to the fore, Superlove have a sharpness that’s decidedly modern, in the surging low end of the former and the glistening shimmer draped all across the latter. As much as Bruce might serve as the obvious weak link as a sagging nonentity of a song, Superlove definitely have tightness and focus, coupled with the melodic chops to at least pull off some heavy lifting. The overt comparisons might continue in how frontman Jacob Rice sounds almost distractingly like Matt Donnelly at points, but there’s a steamrolling size to that kind of delivery that benefits what Superlove are going for, particularly when it hits its highs like on I Love It.
Of course, when the similarities are that front-and-centre, it makes picking out cracks a lot easier, and that’s undoubtedly where Superlove are falling at this stage. Ultimately they’re weighed down by the extent of which they’re aping they’re influences and coming across like a lesser version, down to lad-rock lyrics that can be kind of underweight and a very cut-and-dry sense of sonic progression that leaves basically no room at this stage for their own input. This could be a Don Broco EP with little modification, and honestly a weaker one at that. It’s inexperience that’s holding Superlove back most of all, and while they’re good at masking it – they’ve clearly got the budget to make this sound as vast and expensive as they want – that naivety can still peak through and make itself known. Perhaps that’s putting too much stock in what’s ultimately a pretty decent release, but it would still be nice to see at least a drop of what makes Superlove their own original entity, if only to fill in some of the gaps that they leave. It’s something that has to be rectified pretty quickly too; this is good for where they are now, but a sonic proximity that has them basically overlapping the band they draw the most from isn’t going to take them to new heights down the line.
For fans of: Don Broco, Blitz Kids, All Ears Avow
‘Superlove’ by Superlove is released on 13th November on Rude Records.
Helen Love – Power On
An artist like Helen Love is a notable anomaly within modern music, where innovation and being on the cutting edge of relevance are seen as necessary to advance. Of course, with Love and her eponymous band being around since 1992 and remaining a cult act ever since, that clearly isn’t the method of progression for them, but especially on their new album Power On, the simplicity it’s played with is almost ludicrous to be coming from an album in 2020. This is the sort of thing that’s not only the embodiment of punk, where being scrappy and rough around the edges is unquestionably a feature over a flaw, but also but also very classic pop in its embrace of big, sincere emotions and the simple articulation of them. Thus, Power On ends up with barely no depth to speak of, but has such charm and sparkle in what it’s doing that it never really matters. As glib as it might sound, it’s Love’s passion for making and enjoying music that shapes this album, and reverting back into that headspace creates almost a sense of whimsy for this album to bask in. It’s laid out bare too, in interpolations of Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up and The Ramones’ Rockaway Beach on Debbie Take Control Of The Stereo and references to The Modern Lovers on You Wear Your Hair Long. Above all else though, it’s the culture of being a music fan that fuels this album’s buoyancy, across Top Of The Pop Chart, Star, The Leader Of The Band and others that zeroes in on a sense of fun that a self-serious music industry can often feel shorn of.
Granted, it’s not like there’s much of a deeper analysis beyond that, and realising that Power On is effectively that one mood across the board – delivered at a pretty feverish pace, at that – can tire the experience out rather quickly. That’s true of the old punk that’s being emulated though, and fed through Love’s filter of power-pop and bubblegum indie-punk, it’s a more colourful and sugary experience overall that keeps it bounding along at a good pace. There’s a lot of fuzzy guitars with bright keys and horns bursting through, with very little modulation to that, though none is really needed. It’s got the sort of riotous, good-time energy that an album this in love with music deserves, and the instantly repetitive and staccato hooks on the likes of Sandra Dee and Summer Pop keep it moving at a remarkably brisk pace. As for Love herself, she isn’t the most gifted singer technically, but again, it’s personality that drives this album, and there’s a wide-eyed excitement across the board that’s really nice to see and take in. It’s a very excitable album on the whole, and that’s to its immense credit; it’s not often that music feels so content with barrelling through joy as Power On does, and it’s something that the dourness of modern scenes – and modern life as a whole, in fact – could do with more of. For as weightless as it is, Power On makes the absolute most of everything at its disposal.
For fans of: The Ramones, The Rezillos, The Just Joans
‘Power On’ by Helen Love is released on 20th November on Alcopop! Records.
Scarlet – Obey The Queen
So much emphasis is placed on Scarlet’s image and deliberately edgy persona well before any discussion of her actual music, and that serves as the first red flag thrown up. It’s the same situation that’s led to underperformance from In This Moment or – to a lesser but still relevant extent – Poppy, where the notion of a distinctive female voice has been allowed to supersede the output’s quality. But even in those examples, there’s usually some moment of workability stumbled upon; on Obey The Queen, Scarlet doesn’t even appear to be that fortunate, given how little of this manages to hit any sort of positive mark. And yes, a good portion of that comes from the personality she’s trying to foster, and how unconvincingly try-hard it feels. There’s a lot of posturing and attempts made at provocation that feel exceptionally shallow, and seldom does it even come close to improving. The fierce, sex-driven demoness isn’t an unworkable template in itself, but in Scarlet’s combination of bizarrely straight-faced schlock and E-girl imposing, there’s such an awkwardness and clunkiness that’s impossible to miss and get by with. Other than how flat the overall effort feels, Scarlet just doesn’t have the magnetism to believably play the ruthless ruler of the music industry on the title track or the literal man-eater on Ugly Fucker, and when compounded with the laughable rapping and overall obnoxiousness of #bossbitch and the attempt at a horror story that kneecaps its own impact from the very beginning in Devil Twins, this sort of act just ends up going nowhere with few concessions.
That becomes all the easier to make sense of when considering the actual music on this album however, and how Scarlet’s main points of reference for shock-rock are clearly more in line with the Attila or Falling In Reverse versions. The majority of the time, it’s represented though a hefty slab nu-metal noise that has some solid heft, but is also so bricked-out and reliant on filling every square inch of that low end in order to sound big and imposing. It rarely sounds all that good, and when further leeched down by super-slick production and the occasional trap passage, it’s very much a style-over-substance affair that, after everything else, still lacks on the style. After all, it’s not like there’s a great deal of modulation or momentum within Scarlet’s sound; even on a song like Love Heroin which is the token expansive ballad, the production still crams everything into place, to the point where nothing all that workable can be pulled out. That song probably has Scarlet’s strongest vocal performance on this album, but otherwise, this sort of booming sound driven by its own ego and delusions of transgression falls as swiftly as every example that’s come before it. Scarlet just isn’t as interesting and provocative as she thinks she is, and for an artist like her who’s clearly looking to thrive on some kind of manufactured controversy, that’s the worst thing she can be. There’s just so little worth paying attention to on this album, and when it’s trying to shove itself in the listener’s face at every turn, it’s hard to think of a more damning indictment.
For fans of: Attila, Falling In Reverse, New Years Day
‘Obey The Queen’ by Scarlet is released on 13th November on Arising Empire.
GHØSTKID – GHØSTKID
What exactly is there to be excited about with GHØSTKID? The fact they’re formed of ex-Eskimo Callboy vocalist Sebastian ‘Sushi’ Biesler and members of To The Rats And Wolves already does nothing to scream ‘pedigree’, and output described simply as “contemporary rock music” has some very specific connotations of overproduced metalcore dreck given the bands its members originated in. In other words, they’re cribbing from Asking Alexandria in some very obvious ways, with the same mediocrity that those ways do such a good job of telegraphing. The sound and production are very similar for a start, where the immense density of it all finds everything crushed together to sound big but ultimately airless, and the lack of definition can make this feel like a real slog to get through at times. They stumble upon moments of more overt heaviness on SUPERNØVA and ZERØ, but more often than not, this is the usual blend of overworked sound and cumbersome execution that’s seen modern metalcore become so painfully boring. And of course, that’s compounded even further when GHØSTKID double down on their synthetic elements designed to sound even more cutting-edge only to sound the exact opposite, especially on both versions of THIS IS NØT HØLLYWØØD which are among the clunkiest songs here. On the whole, it just doesn’t sound very good, and not even in a way that’s uniquely noticeable; GHØSTKID are more or less following the formula that’s dragged metalcore down since the early 2010s, and funnily enough, doing the bare minimum to mix that up yields the same poor results.
That can just as easily be applied to the writing, or maybe more so seeing as GHØSTKID have even less that’s noteworthy about themselves in that regard. It’s all the usual metalcore beats pretty much ripped verbatim from the genre’s other countless clones, with barely any flair or substance behind them besides what meagre amounts might be there anyway. It only furthers the tedium even more, particularly on how flagrantly hollow the posturing on a song like START A FIGHT is, and how there seems to be no creative drive behind any of this. That might be a casualty of Biesler being a rather underwhelming singer at the best of times (again, see both versions of THIS IS NØT HØLLYWØØD for a real low point), but the main hindrance is that there seems to be no effort put behind trying to rectify that. It mightn’t be as utterly worthless as some examples of this have been in the past, but that’s not a bar that GHØSTKID should be commended for crossing, especially when this is still a fairly shoddy example of modern metalcore with barely a single idea of its own rattling around its head. The only reason that Asking Alexandria can get away with something like this (and even then, they really shouldn’t by all rights) is because they’re too big to fail that much; GHØSTKID don’t have that luxury, and pretending that they do with nothing to justfy it only reveals how spent they already are.
For fans of: Asking Alexandria, Callejon, Annisokay
‘GHØSTKID’ by GHØSTKID is released on 13th November on Century Media Records.
Newmeds – Nothing Is Heavier Than The Mind
With an unflinchingly DIY attitude and a storied history that has them comprised of members from such diverse sources as Winterfylleth, The Colour Line and Drowners, Newmeds have already hit the sweet spot when it comes to making potentially great punk. As much as their singles and a BBC Introducing appearance might have greased the wheels though, an EP like Nothing Is Heavier Than The Mind (tongue-in-cheekly touted as their ‘longest release to date’, at a meaty ten minutes) feels like where everything is starting to click into place properly. There’s definitely more of an Americanised version of hardcore that colours their sound, given how the title track or Twenty Three feel a bit sharper and more vivacious in the vein of Turnstile or even Alexisonfire in spots, but the energy of Frank Carter-era Gallows among it all is unmistakable. It’s a result of having a more clearly defined punk side which is balanced out with very few hitches, and with how lean and to-the-point this EP is, it rarely misses a beat as far as pacing and power goes. Perhaps Joe Brodie’s drumming could be given a bit more body, especially on the title track where it can be distractingly thin, but Mark Wood’s guitar work can pull off both a wiriness and a more full-throated snarl with equal amounts of ease, and the volatile snap of Sam Rudderforth’s bass given a clear spot near the front only feeds into the gnarled and knotted sneer of it all. It’s a remarkably tight-sounding release, and Nick Cobley has the sort of bug-eyed, almost rickety half-scream that serves as yet another jolt of electricity running through the centre.
At only ten minutes, there isn’t a lot of it, mind, but what’s here already has the acuteness tight-knit foundations of a band who clearly know what they’re doing and how to move forward with it. That’s impressive for only three tracks, and the fact that Newmeds are already exploring layers of depth and personality within that is even more so. Conley goes into his own depression on the title track and his struggle with Crohn’s Disease on Twenty Three, while The High Life brings that all together in a sentiment of how fleeting and accidental life actually is for everyone, regardless of who they are. It’s not as explicitly bleak as that description might seem, though; instead Newmeds’ inherent firepower sends it surging forward with the drive and gumption that, even across a release as pared-back as this, already feels like the norm for them. There’s growth to be done among that, but the fact that some enormous potential is already in full view despite that goes a long way to determining an especially exciting new punk and hardcore property. The momentum that Newmeds have picked up only seems to be increasing, so let’s hope things really start to pick up soon and they can hit the stride they’re certainly capable of.
For fans of: Turnstile, The Bronx, Alexisonfire
‘Nothing Is Heavier Than The Mind’ by Newmeds is released on 13th November on Man Demolish Records.
Boundaries – Your Receding Warmth
The opening track on Boundaries’ Your Receding Warmth is called Is Survived By, a decision that might automatically skew the perception of what this band is. In reality though, Boundaries’ hardcore falls on a completely different spectrum to that of Touché Amoré’s, instead opting for something much more direct in its heaviness, and playing with a lot more beatdowns and nu-metal inspiration to achieve that. It’s reminiscent of bands like Kublai Khan in how an inherent darkness is used to make the music punish all the more, and just like Kublai Khan, there’s a sense that Boundaries are yet to really find what makes their music special. It’s far from bad, with the automatic benefit of pitch-black production and downtuned heft being a compelling pairing in its own right, and there’s a tense, panicked quality to Matthew McDougal’s low-end screams that maintains its ferocity thanks to darkness around it. Then again though, they’ve kind of just got the one trick, and despite being proficient at it, it does get to a point where some variety wouldn’t go amiss; after the umpteenth iteration of caustic guitar rumbles and lyrics about the bleakness of life, Boundaries aren’t looking to push more readily beyond that.
They’re without question a one-trick pony, but at the same time, they’re pretty good at that trick, to the point where Your Receding Warmth does fit the bill as another solid bit of mosh fodder. Already, Boundaries feel like a very fully-formed band, and with few obvious weak spots in production or execution, it’s definitely worth a listen. But then that circles back to the fact that there isn’t much here that stands out, nor do Boundaries really have an identity of their own. That, like with so many other metallic hardcore bands in their field, is what’s holding them back more than anything, and stopping them from being more than just another band dishing out thick, heavy destructiveness. There’s a lot of growth to be done to reach a point where they’re more than that, but that’s not to denounce where they are now either; this is still pretty good, if a little generic, and that’s never stopped other bands like this from reaching great success. That’s jumping the gun a bit in this particular sense, but hey, stranger things have happened.
For fans of: Kublai Khan, Hatebreed, The Acacia Strain
‘Your Receding Warmth’ by Boundaries is released on 13th November on Unbeaten Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall