Palm Reader’s progression has been unfortunately emblematic of where a lot of hardcore ends up in the wider musical landscape, where a band will display immense talent on a regular basis but receive no due recourse on a bigger scale to make the leap they almost certainly could. They aren’t the only example of this, but they’re by far one of the most unexplainable, not only for their great proficiency, but in the fact that their sound has been expanded and streamlined album after album, without losing so much of the intensity that made them such a thrilling prospect in the first place. This isn’t the same band who was once touted as the UK’s answer to The Dillinger Escape Plan, but the drive hasn’t budged an inch, and to see that recontextualised so wonderfully on an album like Sleepless is a force in its own right. It does take a bit of time to reach that conclusion, mind – of all of Palm Reader’s albums, this is easily the one whose appeal can be most greatly classified as a slow burn – but when it hits, the immense power is difficult to escape from. They use their more progressive tendencies to flesh out a song like Stay Down while also retooling it for more of a jazz influence on A Love That Tethers, but Sleepless’ killer app is how well Palm Reader can deal with expanse and scale. More often than not, they weave in softer tones and have Josh Mckeown in his clean register, to create a tangible mood that’s simultaneously haunting but also completely bracing at the same time. A song like Willow is absolutely colossal in how straightforwardly passionate its chorus is, while still being able to occupy the same space as the hazy post-rock interlude Islay, or the chiming pianos and pulsing synth backdrop of False Thirst. It all sounds beautifully elegant, even when the more visceral hardcore moments come crashing through, and wrapped together in production that emphasises the clarity of it all without being overly polished or pristine. In the same vein that atmosphere has become such an asset within post-hardcore, Palm Reader have taken that ethos and applied it to the construction of the music itself, rather than just making everything sound bigger, and the differences – and improvements – are stark.
It makes for a more contemplative, heavily toned album overall, something that’s far from new ground for Palm Reader, but has never felt this competent at balancing elements of light and dark in a way that can leave a lasting impression for the duration of a full album. Probably the best example is A Bird And Its Feathers, which the band themselves describe as a rare love song, in how there’s definitely lighter, softer imagery in place, though the underlying sense of dread and destruction doesn’t necessarily shift because of that. It’s one of the benefits in making an album as wide-reaching as Sleepless is – there’s definitely room for interpretation in abundance, but that only furthers the balance of the album. One of the key underlying themes is empathy and applying that to greater, broader situations, and while that can definitely be felt, it’s not really necessary to feel the weight and emotional rigour of the succumbing to the binds of toxic masculinity on Hold / Release, or the story of a mother’s consuming grief after losing her child on Willow. Perhaps that greatest distinction on Sleepless is that, for all of its possible interpretations of its emotionality, very rarely does anger feel like one of them. That’s not a criticism by any means though; if anything, it creates the sort of evenness throughout the album that unequivocally benefits Palm Reader themselves, not only in broadening the size of the album’s reach, but also fostering a sense of greater maturity that they lean into expertly. It’s hard to say whether this is Palm Reader’s best album – they’ve undergone so many changes that it probably wouldn’t be economical to make that distinction – but it’s definitely one of their boldest, and when so many of the creative decisions they’ve made succeed to this magnitude, it needs to be noted that Palm Reader really are on their way to becoming something truly special. They’re a band with the fearlessness to do their own thing and the talent to pull it off without question, and that’s ultimately what’s going to take them over the top sooner rather than later.
For fans of: Svalbard, Brotherhood Of The Lake, Holding Absence
‘Sleepless’ by Palm Reader is released on 27th November on Church Road Records.
Halo Of Hurt
As Seahaven reintroduce themselves to the musical landscape, they feel more than ever like a band from a completely different time. The bands that inhabited their pocket of beloved and acclaimed emo are either no longer with us (Balance And Composure, Transit et al) or have distanced themselves from the genre completely (Turnover), which leaves a band like Seahaven in a precarious spot. Although they never officially went away, it certainly felt like they did, and when they often felt more alien and undefined compared to their contemporaries, standing as the solitary thread to that particular scene can seem a rather thankless task. Emo has made innumerable, often unrecognisable shifts in the six years since their last album, and returning to the sound that was so prevalent in the first half of the 2010s after disappointing stabs at shoegaze on Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only is a somewhat strange move to make for a band who’ve spent so long in hibernation. But right from Void, the six-minute opener of Halo Of Hurt and the album’s unquestionable high point, there’s the feeling that Seahaven feel somewhat revived as an emo band proper once more. The sound had a sepia-toned hue of that earlier wave, where the guitars will ring out with liability to flicker into more deft touches, while the bass remains a key presence in just how warm it is and the percussion has a more notable amount of force. It’s a very familiar sound in its composite parts, arranged by Seahaven in a way that has a more lucid, dreamlike quality (sometimes to the album’s overall detriment in terms of pacing) that can still feel wide and powerful. Void has the sort of nervy tension in its builds that make it a legitimately excellent opener, and bringing that into the drifting, often simmering passages of Dandelion or the beautifully layer grunge of Harbor shows an impressive pliability that Seahaven have. They don’t make immediate songs, but when what they’ve got sticks, it really leaves an impact.
In essence though, a lot of what Halo Of Hurt offers is pretty deeply within Seahaven’s wheelhouse, and in terms of the absolute best to come from their particular wave of emo, there’s just a bit too little adventurousness on here to really stand up at the highest heights. But then again, Seahaven going back to what they’re best at after a pretty notable misstep yields a result that doesn’t seem to have missed a beat; Kyle Soto’s vocals have a restlessness below the surface of the traditional emo vulnerability, and that lends a good amount of dimensionality to this writing, where a lot of the relationships on display are captured in more expansive imagery that Seahaven have often found the right way to apply. It fits with the lushness and deep production style that makes it such an all-encompassing listen, albeit one that can feel lacking in some tempo in spots. That’s a gripe that does seem to come up throughout Halo Of Hurt, mostly because of how Seahaven as a band operate, and while it is notable, particularly towards the end, it’s hardly something that’s going to turn off those who’ve been waiting over half a decade for this album. For those people – especially the ones for whom Reverie Lagoon… didn’t scratch their particular itch – there’s a familiarity to Halo Of Hurt that’ll click a lot more effectively, though it’s not one that’s conducive with a band just recycling their old ideas. This does feel like progression, where maturity and an expanded vision feel more commonplace, and bringing it together makes for an album that does generally feel like a satisfying listen. That’ll be more true for some than others, but Seahaven bringing a thread of intrigue into modern emo once again is something that anyone can appreciate.
For fans of: Balance And Composure, Basement, Tigers Jaw
‘Halo Of Hurt’ by Seahaven is out now on Pure Noise Records.
I Am The Avalanche
For as relatively rare as new I Am The Avalanche albums are (this is their first since 2014, for the record), they don’t nearly generate as much excitement as they should. Even passed the fact that Vinnie Caruana is and always has been a tremendously underrated songwriter, there’s just such a joyousness and verve in I Am The Avalanche’s music in the same modern punk bracket as The Menzingers or the best of Hot Water Music. It’s always been perennially underrated and underappreciated stuff, and so to see DIVE come as release that’s had next to no buildup – particularly from punk communities who really should be clued in by now – is disappointing but not all that surprising. What’s even less surprising is that DIVE is another great album, perhaps not quite up to standard of barn-burners like Avalanche United and especially Wolverines, but not that far off really. It’s down to how potent the simplicity of it all is, particularly in the case of Caruana and the level of simultaneous force and passion he brings to these songs. It’s familiar territory, about perseverance against the odds and finding solace in moments of closeness when everything else seems to be crashing down, but the directness of it all is what really pays dividends. There’s a universality to songs like Fake Weed and Are You Listening? that still feels detailled, and Love Song 69 and The Morning come as regular punctuations of intimacy that feel duly earned and entirely satisfying among everything else. Carrying it all is Caruana’s voice, with the vulnerability that would characterise his 2000s emo beginnings, mixed with the roughshod bravado and heart of the modern punk he’s currently aligning himself with. It’s pretty much the standard set for I Am The Avalanche, but it’s the sort of thing that pierces through most critical faculties to directly hit the joy receptors with barely any effort.
That’s true for I Am The Avalanche as a whole really, in how they occupy the same punk space as the aforementioned Menzingers and Hot Water Music, in which even a lack of real innovation between albums really isn’t enough to stop them being great. It’s the roiling, roaring spirit that makes DIVE such a thrilling listen, condensed down to just under half-an-hour and moving at a clip that feels even quicker than that. It’s packed to the rafters with the communal, anthemic shout-alongs that punk like this thrives on, but honestly, when I Am The Avalanche hit their most melodic stride, like on You’re No Good To Me Dead and Tokyo, that’s when it really hits its peak. It feels powerful and purposeful, with production that keeps the grit and sawdust left in for the guitars to roar and the instrumental canvas as a whole to feel burnished and rugged in equal measures. Perhaps the onus on darker tones on Earthquake Weather isn’t as appealing on the whole – it doesn’t pop out in the same way – but it’s still not a bad moment on an album that genuinely doesn’t have many, if any of them. It’s incredibly punk in its execution in the most traditional way, where every bit of space is filled in a notably efficient way, and yields a product that still manages to feel immensely filling. Again, I Am The Avalanche have hit a slightly higher bar of quality with their previous two albums, but moving down by the very slightest of notches is nothing to complain about. DIVE is still well worth the time of any fan of punk’s modern wave, doubly so for those who’ve yet to give I Am The Avalanche the attention they so readily deserve.
For fans of: The Menzingers, Hot Water Music, A Loss For Words
‘DIVE’ by I Am The Avalanche is out now on I Surrender Records.
Weight Of The False Self
There’s really only so many ways to talk about Hatebreed, and frequently the impression is given that the band wouldn’t have it any other way. Between the fact that they’ve essentially risen to the top of the metallic hardcore ladder on consistency alone and the degree to which they can hit their mark, Hatebreed aren’t a band that demand great scrutiny, especially now that they’re going into their eighth album. They’ve even more or less cut out the middleman entirely with the artwork, that this is the sort of traditionally masculine workout music to serve as the soundtrack to chisel out the best version of oneself to. That sort of thing is pretty much Hatebreed’s bread and butter, but they are really good at it all the same, and Weight Of The False Self isn’t a vast deviation from that. There’s something about the weight in Jamey Jasta’s barks that hits that visceral, pumped-up headspace, about fighting back when backed in a corner on Instinctive (Slaughterlust), and breaking free from negativity and predatory forces on Wings Of The Vulture. It’s even more direct on songs like Set It Right (Start With Yourself) and the title track, where the motivational playbook is fed through Jasta’s own intensity and brusqueness, in a way that has the intimidation factor of metallic hardcore, but circles back to an uplifting vigour that Hatebreed songs capture pretty regularly. There isn’t much adventurousness to go with it, but it’s not really necessary when Hatebreed have become so laser-focused on hitting their desired headspace, and have become so adept at doing it.
Of course, that can cross over into a set-in-stone template time after time, and though that is true with Weight Of The False Self, it’s also fair to say that Hatebreed can pack in enough visceral, clobbering thrills for it to not matter too much. Yes, this is the same heavy hardcore template they’ve been riding on pretty much since inception, but it still feels sharp and powerful, making up for a lack of variation with an insurmountable level of physical strength throughout. The guitar and bass tones are universally rippling with muscle (even more so when breaking into a well-timed solo on Cling To Life), and the energy that runs through everything keeps it all chugging along at a good pace, to where the one trick on offer doesn’t really ever get boring. Nothing here is all that definitive in terms of Hatebreed’s catalogue, and the chances of this dethroning their top-tier material is slim to none, but for where they are in their career and what they’ve built that career on doing, Weight Of The False Self is exactly what’s expected from Hatebreed in a good way. The right beats are hit in a way that still feels driven rather than perfunctory, and there’s clearly still a passion that’s gone into this music that can be reliably felt all the way through. Even if it won’t blow anyone away, it’s still Hatebreed doing what they do to a high stadard, and that’s perfectly fine when it comes together like this.
For fans of: Terror, Throwdown, Madball
‘Weight Of The False Self’ by Hatebreed is released on 27th November on Nuclear Blast Records.
Within The Ruins
There’s never been any doubt that Within The Ruins are a talented band. They managed get to where they are now almost purely on the basis of how talented they are, in a blend of deathcore and tech-metal that’s seen them find favour in numerous metal scenes with relative ease. But it’s also telling that, now five albums in, Within The Ruins haven’t really displayed any signs of momentum, or indications that they’re moving forward to become a band worth paying attention to for their songs instead of just how technically dazzling they are. If nothing else then, the attempt has been made to rectify that on Black Heart, but it’s still not quite as rock-solid as it could be to get Within The Ruins significantly more forward. Paolo Galang’s clean vocals are given a few more moments of their own in what are clearly positioned as soaring metalcore choruses, but they’re mixed so lowly on Domination and Devil In Me that it feels like an afterthought above anything else. This also isn’t the sort of album that adheres to a structure that makes those moments too feasible; it’s possible to see how Within The Ruins are trying to bend their sound around corners to get there, but more often than not, they’re too locked into their own technicality to get there. They aren’t good at splitting the difference, and the lack of impact Black Heart has when they do exemplifies that.
Honestly, sticking to what they know seems like the best option, because when this album fully leans into its wild, unhinged progressive side, that’s when it at least feels the most memorable. There’s a much greater command of melodic flourishes in how flexible the guitar work is, and when that’s used as the main tool on the instrumental tracks Eighty Sixed and Ataxia V, it’s where Within The Ruins shine the most, and where they feel the most comfortable. It’s by far where the album is at its most interesting, given that none of the writing really tries to elevate itself beyond the deathcore norm, but with Joe Cocchi’s shredding that’s just as adept sparking into spasmodic licks as it is hitting a low roar, it’s at least ear-catching within a genre like this. And make no mistake, this is still a deathcore album, in how sharp yet aggressive the production is, and how Steve Tinnon has the guttural power in his vocals to keep it all ploughing along. It’s definitely a step above the deathcore norm, and does provide suitable evidence for how Within The Ruins have survived as long as they have, but on the same token, it’s hard to see how they can ultimately solve the problem that’s preventing them from doing more. They try here and the results are okay at best, and the impression that they’ve backed themselves into a corner with few surefire ways of getting out can be hard to dismiss. Still, this will inevitably please the fans who just want the insane proficiency and don’t see a lack of anything greater as a roadblock; Within The Ruins are still doing what they’ve always done, and it’s still working out well enough for them.
For fans of: After The Burial, Born Of Osiris, Veil Of Maya
‘Black Heart’ by Within The Ruins is released on 27th November on eOne Heavy.
Will Joseph Cook
Something To Feel Good About
There’s something to be said for how Will Joseph Cook’s career trajectory has been so swiftly altered from a touted indie artist in 2017 to a TikTok-friendly outfielder now. It’s a good way at avoiding what’s become an infamous fickle revolving door policy within indie music that, following his debut, he has admittedly fallen victim to, but perhaps more pertinently, it’s an example of reshuffling a musical locus so intently that any changes come across as just a normal extrapolation of what was previously there. As such, Something To Feel Good About stands out most in what it captures in that regard, where the breezy indie-pop framework that Cook had previously outlined feeling very minorly tweaked to come closer to a slighter bedroom-pop aesthetic. That’s particularly true of Cook himself; he’s an affable, frequently relatable narrator who has the closed-in, ground-level standing of a lot of alt-pop artists, and he does a good job at going through a rise-and-fall relationship tale with a good amount of personality and detail. 21’s declaration of “I don’t know anyone who’s 21 and knows how to feel” can simultaneously balance a genuine emotional baroness with Gen Z applicability in a way that few can manage, but there’s also some nice imagery and word choice played around with on Driverless Cars and Last Year, while the title track and 10x More Fun show an aptitude for sticky, exuberant pop songs haven’t been lost. It does feel like an album of two halves, and the seam where Cook’s narration shifts to a darker and more insular focus stands pretty much exposed, but the strength of the sentiment and writing can rise above that, and for what it’s trying to do, Something To Feel Good About can rise above a lot of its competition.
That’s a bit less true in the sound, however, though even then, Cook’s attempts at least steer clear of the tedium that makes a lot of bedroom-pop so dull. It’s got the same sort of wiriness and deliberately downplayed scale, even in brighter moments like the title track and She Likes Me (though the sharp chimes of guitar in the former really do sound good), almost to the point of feeling pieced together when it is as fiddly and small-scale as this is. That can be especially true towards the end where the tone is much more desaturated, and a song like Boundary Street finds itself built on watery clicks and guitar notes, but there’s at least a crispness to the overall sound that makes this much more likable. There’s no stylised lo-fi affection placed on this album, instead replacing it with a convincing pop focus that, while fed through a minimalist production style, displays the bones of solid pop songs throughout. Cook’s more untrained vocal style feels like a good compliment to this, and when everything comes together at its peaks like on the glitter of the title track or the colder musical collage of DOWNDOWNDOWN!, they serve as entities that work for what they want to do in the scene they’re in. It’d be difficult to say that anything on here is outright tremendous – a bit more self-assurance and willingness to go bigger would go amiss – but it’s hard to isolate a single song that’s outright awful, and for the audience that Cook is clearly looking to court, this will go down phenomenally well. Even if it’s pretty much landlocked to that audience, there’s a charm to Something To Feel Good About that’s easy to pick up on regardless, with Cook having all the right qualities at the centre of it to continue the impact that was once prematurely cut short.
For fans of: Alfie Templeton, Bad Sounds, Cavetown
‘Something To Feel Good About’ by Will Joseph Cook is released on 27th November on Bad Hotel Records.
Black Sky Research
It’s been a while since Mikey Chapman left Mallory Knox, and hindsight has proven that it wasn’t a lucrative decision for either party. The band had lost their best asset, with the only album without him subsequently ending up as their last, while Chapman’s new band Black Sky Research seems to have been fairly underplayed within the scene, even with the potential built-in audience of the Mallory Knox fanbase. The truth is that time has just moved on from that sort of cleanly-cut alt-rock, and when Black Sky Research largely come across like a slightly more post-hardcore-oriented version of what Mallory Knox was doing when Chapman was with them, it just doesn’t leave much of an impression anymore. They’re clearly shooting for the same sort of sweeping, dramatic narrative, as a catastrophe separates the protagonist from his loved ones as he tries to survive amidst the aftermath, but it’s neither as cinematic as it could be (or, more pertinently, as Mallory Knox could be), nor does it hit hard enough to forge real investment. It’s a very awkward middle-ground that does accomplish the grandeur it’s clearly striving for, and it leaves One as sort of a drag despite only being five tracks. There’s no explicit tightness or verve to latch onto in the story it’s trying to tell, which is a bad sign when that can already feel perfunctory here.
At least the sound can stand a bit firmer, though it’s not like alt-rock this straightforward has a lot of room for error or experimentation. To be fair, the big sound that Black Sky Research has isn’t unlikable, and when that’s coupled with Chapman at his vocal peak like on Transmit, that’s where things begin to click more effectively. The problem comes in a lack of personality though, even with Chapman at the helm. He’s got power and recognisable tone, certainly, but that can’t pick up the slack for instrumentation that lacks character beyond another approximation of mid-2010s Britrock. When there’s a bit more aggression and screamed backing coming from Light Up The Sky, that hints towards something more, but it’s rarely capitalised on to any meaningful extent. And as has become an unfortunately predictable outcome, the production never lets anything really seethe or go as far as it deserves to; the dashings of electronics aren’t as intrusive as they could be, but there’s still a very rigid format to how this album operates, which is brought to boil on closer Dawn in how overweight its pretensions towards anthemia can sound. It’s just a very circumspect take on alt-rock that really doesn’t need to be, especially when there’s clear ability here that could be tapped for something more. Sadly though, One feels like a rather damp introduction for Black Sky Research, where they’re trying to recoup past glories in a way that feels more dated than it should.
For fans of: Mallory Knox, Lower Than Atlantis, Angels & Airwaves
‘One’ by Black Sky Research is released on 27th November.
Ego Kill Talent
The Dance Between
There’s clearly the idea in Ego Kill Talent’s head that a less conventional release strategy will ultimately buoy up any shortcomings they might have. The Dance Between is actually the second phase of the release of their new album The Dance Between Extremes, a ploy which has very little precedence for working, even for bands that actually have enough of note to actually pull it off. Yes, Ego Kill Talent have their gimmick of alternating their instrumental roles within the band, but it’s really not a factor on record, and it doesn’t contribute to much more than a pretty stock post-grunge sound. It’s certainly competent in its construction, but never rises beyond that; musically, Ego Kill Talent have four songs that are almost universally forgettable, simply because there’s so little in the way of standout features. The guitars are low-slung with the occasional spot of bright soloing like on Silence; the drumming and bass-work is exactly what it needs to be, no more, no less; and Jonathan Dörr has a vocal style that’s not unlike Incubus’ Brandon Boyd, but without a lot of the smoothness or versatility. There’s definitely an air of professionalism about how everything is put together, but that’s not conducive with real, actual results, and The Dance Between displays that in resolute fashion.
Perhaps what really brings Ego Kill Talent down though, is that they don’t even feel sharp enough within meat-and-potatoes radio-rock to have the same impact that someone like the Foo Fighters can in the same format. Having a cut-and-dry instrumental palate is one thing, but being in a position where you can’t even make the most of that is another, much more disappointing reality, and it’s one that Ego Kill Talent almost always find themselves in. Beyond the chorus melody of Sin And Saints which at least makes the effort to channel a bit of ‘90s grunge, there’s really not even a standout chorus on this EP that could give them a boost. Again, it’s falling in line with the mundanity of the sound, with lyrical choices that meet more or less the same restrictions, to the EP’s overall detriment. It barely even feels worth putting down, because there’s so little of note to really talk about or even criticise here. Sure, it’s uninteresting, but in the absolute most bog-standard way possible, and that buries The Dance Between deeper in its mediocrity than is really sustainable for it. Still, at least it’s only four songs, perhaps being the one area where this staggered release actually comes up good – at least now, there isn’t a full album of this sort of thing that would probably be a lot less tolerable.
For fans of: Foo Fighters, Nickelback, Seether
‘The Dance Between’ by Ego Kill Talent is released on 4th December on BMG.
I Am Pariah
Charm Before The Storm
Regardless of how the actual product turns out, there’s a work ethic to I Am Pariah that deserves to be praised. Their initial plans to record this EP were scuppered when the entire world went to pot, and for a release that was tracked by each member remotely, it really doesn’t sound like it. Charm Before The Storm certainly sounds the part of a big, professional metal release, in how a lot of I Am Pariah’s nu-metal crunch is filtered through 2000s American metal à la Killswitch Engage or Avenged Sevenfold, and is able to capture the size that those bands are known for. In terms of putting together a galloping metal hook, there’s some shockingly keen talent on display, and even if Benjamin Antony James’ vocals can be a bit of an acquired taste (and, honestly, a bit too thin at points for this sort of metal), there’s no denying there’s power to a song like Sicko with a chorus as ramming as its one is. It’s a good showcase for a release that’s only three tracks long; Kill The Modern World does close things on a slightly deflated note, given that it’s a bit flabbier and more deliberately produced, but in the cases of both Suck It Up and Sicko, they aren’t exactly intelligent, but there’s a hugeness emblematic of the eras of metal that I Am Pariah are invoking that neatly circumvents the need for that.
Though, there is a limit to how far that can go, and factoring in the writing on Charm Before The Storm is what nudges I Am Pariah dangerously closing to overstepping it. On paper, nothing about this is all that bad, in feelings of disillusionment and ennui that only seem more relevant in the wake of the EP’s release, not to mention drawing on James’ own experience as a mental health nurse to bolster it even further. But they’re already broad topics with a defined ceiling to how well they can work when left as wide-reaching as they are, and when there’s some impressively corny lyrical turns – just look at the title – there’s definitely a thread being pulled somewhere. It’s also like I Am Pariah are trying to meld the swaggering meatheadedness of nu-metal’s original wave with the more conscious focus of its current one, and naturally that can be a bit of a stretch to make connect. Fortunately it’s nothing too bad and Charm Before The Storm can generally survive as a solid taster of what’s to come, but it’s a key roadblock that’s preventing a clearly talented bands with means way beyond their meagre size from making the most of their abilities. That might seem a harsh point to fixate on, but it’s definitely notable, and doesn’t do an otherwise perfectly enjoyable release a whole lot of justice.
For fans of: Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed, Of Mice & Men
‘Charm Before The Storm’ by I Am Pariah is released on 27th November.
According to Tungsten themselves, the figure on the artwork of Tundra is Volfram, the guardian of time and balance who travels between dimensions, which should give a pretty solid idea of the sort of album this is. If it somehow doesn’t, the fact that drummer Anders Johansson has previously been involved with Manowar, Hammerfall and Yngwie Malmsteen should probably clue in even less discerning listeners on the fact that this is a big, cheesy power-metal album in every sense. And as is most often the case with albums like this – regardless of the clout behind them – Tundra captures the spirit of its genre while falling into almost every trapping of its modern incarnation. For one, it’s not like there’s much that defines what makes a Tungsten song different from any other power-metal chancer; they might be somewhat heavier like on the title track, or occasionally slot in some woodwind sections like on King Of Shadow and This Is War, but the building blocks are virtually identical, namely in enormous overindulgence of pomp and production to mash it altogether for an even more imposing cliffside of sound. And yes, pretty much every album like this is overmixed, but there are noticeable peaks and troughs on Tundra that don’t feel nearly as expensive as they outright should, like how bizarrely empty some sections of Lock And Load and Volfram’s Song can be, or conversely, how blasted and bricked-out the production leaves Divided Generations and Paranormal, almost to the point of lumbering nu-metal in the case of the former.
To be fair though, it’s not like Tungsten are that bad, really; they tend to hit the usual estimations of quality for this sort of power-metal, even if that can be hit-or-miss to begin with. When they get into a stride, they’ve got the soaring presence and regality to give the likes of the title track and Life And The Ocean their wings, and Mike Andersson has the very dexterous, often theatrical vocals to make the bracing gung-ho of these songs hit a bit harder. It’s all the usual stuff, but when you’ve got a soft spot for it, Tungsten do the job in places, even if they aren’t bringing anything new. It’s also worth mentioning how that’s the case with the writing as well, and how it matches the usual standard of big set pieces that paint the broad strokes of the intended idea – in this case, the impacts that humanity has had on the environment – without going into the details that would make it grip on a deeper level. Again, it’s what’s expected, and Tungsten aren’t deviating much, if at all, from that established template. As such, it’s tempting to be at least marginally charitable, given that Tundra can be a fun brain-off listen at times, but the problems it has even outside of being fairly derivative hold it back from anything more, and that’s a shame. It’s rare to find power-metal of this stripe that’s actually worth disliking, and while Tundra isn’t quite at that level, it’s not one that really demands a spin when there’s so much else out there.
For fans of: Battle Beast, Beyond The Cipher, Gloryhammer
‘Tundra’ by Tungsten is out now on Arising Empire.
Micko & The Mellotronics
1/2 dove – 1/2 pigeon
There’s something about the mere existence of Micko & The Mellotronics that feels in-keeping with Micko Westmoreland’s own career as a pop culture polymath, in how it comes as the latest in a line of roles spanning actor, composer and musician, with a mainstream focus barely ever coming into conversation. It’s still relatively easy to see where a lot of 1/2 dove – 1/2 pigeon comes from though, with bits of pieces of new wave, post-punk and the weirder side of Britpop pieced together for the sort of listen that can be a bit too quirky for its own good, or at least too much to hold itself together that often. It’s more to do with the writing than anything else, and how this certainly feels like an artier, more referential project for all the imagery it weaves together that sometimes just doesn’t really stick. It can make for some solid choruses, like on Noisy Neighbours or The Now, but there’s a very middle-aged Britishness that yields Psychedelic Shirt and You Killed My Father that just doesn’t hit the right mark. Westmoreland himself can be a bit of a limited singer too, regularly hitting a higher register that feels really strained and nasal, and it can nudge that overall obtuseness a bit too far in the wrong direction to do much.
At least when it comes to the instrumentation and the general meat of the album, there’s enough here to tip 1/2 dove – 1/2 pigeon into a generally positive result. There’s all the tightness in the bass and percussion that can be expected from post-punk in this vein, and touches of Britpop give a slightly splashier colour to the likes of Imelda and Good Friend for a bit more rollick to them. It’s post-punk in the sense that it falls between the boundary lines of so many other sounds, more than anything; in reality, the reference points that stand out the most come from the likes of The Jam or XTC, and the artier subsection of new wave that less glossy and more focused on tightness and propulsiveness. That’s where Micko & The Mellotronics get it right the most, in how there’s a notable thrum across the album that keeps it moving at a decent enough pace. It doesn’t always crystallise in hooks that are strong as they could be, but rarely does it result in an unlikable album either, and for what it’s trying to do, there’s enough good ideas and acumen in the execution to do a pretty good job on the whole. Even then though, the impression of this being a side-project isn’t exactly subtle, and especially among the waves of other, better post-punk and art-rock bands, it stands out more for novelty factor than anything else, but that’s to say it’s not worth listening to, if only for something where the character pops out a bit more readily.
For fans of: The Jam, XTC, The Buzzcocks
‘1/2 dove – 1/2 pigeon’ by Micko & The Mellotronics is released on 27th November on Landline Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall