As emo-rap has continued to grow and hold a baffling amount of influence within modern alternative music, nothing,nowhere. has been one of the few beneficiaries of it, seemingly by chance. At his best, Joe Mulherin has a bit more texture and darkness in his output, and will stumble onto some interesting musical ideas at times like on his collaborative EP with Travis Barker, but that also feels elevated considerably by the low bar set around him. Especially in the case of his last full-length Ruiner, Mulherin really isn’t that special of an artist, but the boring, unceasing slurry of emo-rap hangers-on does a lot to highlight bright spots when they appear, and subsequently boost the appeal by simply having some of note. If nothing else, Mulherin isn’t subject to the same castigating factors as some of his peers and contemporaries; he’s at least got a small notch of his own in the scene with a bit more of a creative impulse in it. That’s one advantage that Trauma Factory has right out of the gate, with a wider variety of sounds that plays the usual copy-pasted murk of emo-rap a bit more sparingly. Even when it is there, there’ll often be something more to flesh it out, like the hollowed-out guitar on love or chemistry or the more robust bass simmer on buck and exile, but it’s a refreshing change to see Mulherin move even beyond that. He’ll go into more traditional 2000s emo on fake friend and nightmare and even touch on post-hardcore with death, but then there’s the clearer glimmer of lights (4444) or the more upbeat tick of upside down and death that feel like the product of artistic drive rather than just doggedly holding onto a trend. For as almost ubiquitous as the trap beats might be, they at least feel a bit fresher when placed in new contexts like this. What’s more, they no longer puncture through a more atmosphere production job with such severity, a benefit of being better layered in the mix but also having more to play off. It makes for a rare example of an emo-rap project that feels as though it has a budget behind it, and that Mulherin can make use of the resources that he’s been given for a more balanced and fully-formed listen.
It’s a step in the right direction that his writing – regularly the most frustrating part of nothing,nowhere. albums and arguably the most important to boot – doesn’t seem as clued in to. Again, rarely will Trauma Factory feel as utterly moribund of inspiration as some others in its lane, but it’s absolutely not to level that it rarely should be when it comes to standing out. A song like real will make that jump, with Mulherin addressing how criticism of himself and his music will exacerbate his anxiety and depression despite telling himself that he’ll keep at arm’s length, but that’s one song right at the end of the album that’ll stand out for emphatically the right reasons. Otherwise, Mulherin feels like he’s playing it safe, toning back the descriptors and severity of the subject matter for something that has a rawness to it, but ultimately feels reshaped for increased palatability. It doesn’t help that his technical rapping skill is rather basic like on pretend or nightmare, and though the flexibility in his voice can take him across different vocal mediums pretty easily, there’s definitely a sense of something being held back. It’s evident in how little the guest stars have to do here – especially on blood where KennyHoopla and JUDGE get an already short verse between them – but Mulherin isn’t immune to similar observations, in how his greater creativity in production and instrumentation feels left out in writing where it would be appreciated most, and how he’s ultimately the primary factor holding Trauma Factory back from being an unequivocal winner. It’s frustrating given how close he comes in a scene where most would rarely even aspire to such a level, but the threshold between a good album and a great one isn’t crossed, at least not yet. The fact that this is a clear improvement does need to be noted, but it’s not quite enough to reach the level that Mulherin could be at, given both the clout and ability that’s underpinned his work thus far.
For fans of: guccihighwaters, Smrtdeath, Lil Xtra
‘Trauma Factory’ by nothing,nowhere. is out now on Fueled By Ramen.
Of Mice & Men
It’s not hard to dismiss this immediately as an unsubtly transitional release for Of Mice & Men. After all, they’re on a new label, and making their first release there a quick three-song EP feels more like a way of getting the lay of the land above anything else, before a new full-length will inevitably come in the near future. There’s precedent for that within this very band too, in how their evolution from Warped Tour scene-stealers to a more vigorous, grown-up metal band has ultimately done a world of good for them in the long run. With Timeless, the next step of evolution is a bit less clean-cut; they’ve not gotten rid of the serrated nu-metal edges that align their pleasantly heavy brand of metalcore, but there’s a decidedly more melodic slant brought back after the out-and-out aggro EARTHANDSKY. Anchor feels like the best representation of what they’re striving for as a whole, where the swirling electronic canvas sees their vaunted Linkin Park influence advance to something akin to their mid-period, but using it as an addition rather than a replacement. It’s not a noticeably deeper sound, but the impact can still be felt, with the sharper edges and slate-grey production tone indicative of a very incremental advance above all else, on top of the emotionally charged lyrics the band have always trafficked in. There’s still a coursing muscle and legitimate heft in these compositions, as guitars and drums will rage and bass lines have a nu-metal thrum that keeps the groove in these songs prominent. Of Mice & Men still embrace that side of themselves more than a lot of bands in their lane, and not only does it make for a heavier sound, but when a song like Obsolete will go for such a sweeping chorus among it all, that’s punched up so much more.
That’s more an extension of Of Mice & Men’s current sound above anything else though, and that’s kind of where Timeless falls down. It’s not an issue exclusive to it, but these brief preview EPs never really open themselves up enough to provide a definitive picture of what the next steps are, and Timeless feels like a very apt summation of that. Of the three tracks here, none of them are bad, but beyond the final moments in Anchor, it can be difficult to glean an overall purpose beyond laying down a foundation on their new label. The band aren’t really pushing themselves despite strong work all around, leading to what can feel more like an abortive coda for their existing work than any substantial buildup for something new. Granted, the stride that Of Mice & Men have now hit makes it easy to be excited for whatever they’ve got coming up, but Timeless feels more like a facilitation of that than something actually spurring it on. Again though, it’s hard to come down too heavily on Of Mice & Men specifically for that; they’ve only grown into a better band and the degree to which this new material is honed is testament to what really fielding their own interests and inspirations can do for them. But beyond the initial high of new music, like a lot of short releases, Timeless will most likely get lost when that next full-length does come. It’s unfortunate but true, though at least it’s setting up a good foundation to build on.
For fans of: Linkin Park, Parkway Drive, Bury Tomorrow
‘Timeless’ by Of Mice & Men is released on 26th February on Sharptone Records.
It’s actually astonishing how much hype has surrounded this album leading up to its release. The constant hum of excitement around Jetty Bones has always been present, but 2019’s – EP really felt like a step up that took Kelc Galluzzo’s work to new heights, where the writing was sharper and more defiantly personal, and the emo and pop-punk she was pulling from had the maturity and gravity to balance it. It was a great little package, and absolutely no surprise comes from how it struck it chord with more listeners than ever. When looking at its follow-up Push Back by comparison though, it reveals a number of both similarities and contrasts, both of which might be in higher supply than it first appears. This is absolutely a more sonically accessible album, in how the driving musical force comes from poppier sources that fully gels with producer John Fields’ works with the likes of Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus in the late 2000s. At the same time though, that doesn’t feel like a concession in any way, and the magic of Push Back comes in how pliable Galluzzo is when it comes to embracing these sounds. Tonally the closest comparison is probably Paramore’s self-titled album in its defined genre left-turns that all generally still fall under a pop-rock umbrella, but Push Back seeks to cast its net out even further while still retaining cohesion. It’s mainly in Galluzzo’s ability to channel energy that’s reminiscent of a distinct stripe of modern female artist, where their pop streak is utterly unshakable but there’s still a lot of emotionality and layered vulnerability within it. Paramore and Halsey stand as the most obvious reference points (the latter especially in how Galluzzo seems to mirror her sharper vocal warble), but there are shades of Carly Rae Jepsen in synthpop sleekness of Nothing and Kacey Musgraves on the pop-country rollick on Dolly. That one might be where Push Back is the most diffuse in its presentation, but those moments overall are in surprisingly short supply, as this is a pretty tight-knit package across the board that almost always feels well-developed in its intentions. As short as songs like That’s All and Bad Time are, they never feel abortive or as though their individual ideas are threadbare within them; it gives a lot of precision to them overall, in the R&B-inflected vocal gymnastics of the former and Heart Attack Man’s Eric Egan serving as Galluzzo’s foil on the latter that never feel as though they’re being glossed over or at the mercy of a truncated length.
It’s a densely packed album as a result, but it’s never too imposing or cumbersome, because Galluzzo has such a frank and open style in her writing and delivery. It’s almost conversationally loose in the spikes of emotional highs that’ll pierce through, as she dips and dives inside subjects of her own mental health and imposter syndrome, where she’ll be the one to try and keep those around her pressing forward while being unable to do so herself. On songs like Waking Up Crying in which she battles with her own inner monologue just to find some form of willpower to keep going, or Taking Up Space where her imposter syndrome really starts to bite, there’s an honesty and realistic detail that’s so pronounced and exclusive to Galluzzo as a writer. Even on a song like Bad Time, with Egan as the friend trying to lend some words of positivity, the most prominent image offered is still that of Galluzzo on tour, crying underneath her merch table. There’s no easy answer either; as a closer Bug Life doesn’t provide any solution, rather just more compression of her own perceived insignificance that doesn’t seem to diminish. It’s made all the more poignant by the fact that it’s a song initially written as a suicide note five years ago, and broken up by snippets of phone calls that feel like such a human response within this sort of tightly-packed, polished album. That dichotomy has always been a strength of Jetty Bones releases, but Push Back feels like a real step up in terms of Galluzzo taking her momentum and rocketing forward with it. It’s easily the catchiest body of work she’s produced, with a sharper, sourer edge in the writing and themes that creates such a perfect balance within it. This could be the album that sees Jetty Bones become one of modern alt-pop’s premier draws, and for what it’s culminated in here, it couldn’t be more highly deserved.
For fans of: Paramore, The Sonder Bombs, Carly Rae Jepsen
‘Push Back’ by Jetty Bones is released on 26th February on Rise Records.
Within symphonic metal’s ethos of ‘bigger is better’, few have proven their mettle to be as big as Epica. Not only have they got the sweeping, operatic scope and the albums where an hour-long runtime would be the lower limit, more so than any of their contemporaries, Epica have conceptual might on their side. They’ve got a lot dense, explorative releases tying into philosophy, spirituality and science, meaning they’ll handily break the stigma of symphonic metal being the genre’s equivalent to pop as one of the more difficult acts to get the grips with under that particular sub-genre’s banner. On Omega then, there’s at least a moderate bit of slimming down when it comes to the high-concept fare, with focus placed on the unnecessary division of humanity and how that’s related to the Omega Point, where the universe will eventually spiral into one unified point regardless. To be fair, there’s still a good amount of depth and intrigue that Epica will evoke, mostly in their ability to take their lyrical throughlines to such a climactic and dramatic high point almost universally. A certain meme about two wolves will unfortunately drain some of the mystic grandiosity from Freedom – The Wolves Within, but there’s such a tremendous scale to songs like Gaia and Rivers that sees Epica remaining in fine form when it comes to crafting their sweeping tableaux. Even if this isn’t quite the most layered their writing has ever been, they continue to punch well above their weight class in symphonic metal; there’s still few bands in their field that feel as adventurous or wide-thinking in the subject matter as Epica, and that’s rarely a factor that wavers across Omega.
And of course, with this being a symphonic metal album from the band who’ve effectively perfected its execution, it goes without saying that it sounds tremendous. Perhaps the luster has worn off a touch, through the simple fact that Epica have been doing this across eight albums for almost twenty years, but more than most, there’s an organic feel to this album that makes its rippling power that much more apparent. Mark Jansen’s growls are less prominent, but Simone Simons’ incandescent operatic voice is still beautiful, and backed by the full suite of choirs and orchestral arrangements as she so often is really elevates a sound like this. Above all else, keeping that as strong as possible feels like the thesis statement of Epica; they’ll touch on Middle Eastern percussion and whistles on Code Of Life or more restrained, glossy piano-ballad work on Rivers, but there just isn’t the same primal thrill as when the collage of strings and voices will cut through and send the entire sound to the stars. It’s the most economical way for Epica to bring in their gothic or power-metal sides, particularly on the album centerpiece Kingdom Of Heaven, Part 3 – The Antidiluvian Universe, the sort of thirteen-minute opus that might be one of the longer songs this band have composed, but still feels like something they could knock out in their sleep. With all that being said though, it’d be remiss to say that the guitars and bass could do with a bit more crunch sometimes (though it’s not as chronic as some symphonic metal bands are wont to fall prey to), and for those outside of the diehard set, this isn’t going to be the one that converts by any stretch. To be fair, that would also beg the question of why someone is going to Epica as their jumping-on point, considering just how much harder they are by comparison, with this album being no exception. It is pretty much par for the course when it comes to this band, but that also encapsulates a vision that’s much great and a penchant for doing much more with the template in ultimately more satisfying ways. If that sounds appealing – and for many who are deep into symphonic metal, it undoubtedly will – then Omega is another entry in a discography that couldn’t be more worth a look.
For fans of: Nightwish, Leaves’ Eyes, After Forever
‘Omega’ by Epica is released on 26th February on Nuclear Blast Records.
Icon For Hire
There’s a lot about Icon For Hire that makes the reticence towards them feel incredibly justified. Even now that they’re further away from their Christian rock roots than ever before, they tend to dabble in a brand of alt-metal that hasn’t held up well across any of their albums, but also makes it notably easy to trace their decline. They might have started as a more theatrical prospect, but flat production and a reliance on overmixing to sound grand has only crippled their sound more and more as they’ve leaned more heavily on it. It’s not like Amorphous is veering away from that either, as probably Icon For Hire’s most bricked-out and unwieldy listen to date in how slabs of guitars will clatter against jagged synths with texture or colour effectively being foreign concepts. It wears its groovelessness proudly on its sleeve, in how blocky and lumbering these shredded tones are, before dropping into quasi-dubstep gurgles like on Last One Standing that have unspeakably little appeal. It honestly feels like a fluke when some aggressive bass work shows up on Curse Or Cure, given how little any sort of layering accommodates for that, and though the makes the hooks feel bigger and more imposing (and, admittedly, can do so successfully), the staying power behind them seems drastically limited. This is an album that feels considerably longer than it actually is, mostly driven by how Icon For Hire’s approach doesn’t allow for much consistent or appealing pacing. As such, it’s kind of a slog most of the way through, without nearly enough memorable moments to at least tidy that up.
It really doesn’t help that the standout feature is Ariel Bloomer as a vocalist, who clearly has a lot of personality but very limited ways in which to show it that aren’t incredibly obnoxious. She’s very broad and vamping, but in a way that exudes a gaudiness that’s hard to overlook, especially when she leans towards rapping like on Panic Attacks in a way that’s not convincing with this more cartoonish brand of alt-metal. A song like Background Sad finds her getting a bit more vulnerable and it’s easy the album’s standout moment, because a shows a command of restraint and modulation that seems sidelined everywhere else. There’s a Harley Quinn-esque energy to it, where the presence is unhinged in a very stylised, cackling way, and that can only thicken the veneer of artifice that’s so prevalent across the board. Icon For Hire have never been tremendous lyricists and Amorphous is no exception, in songs about inner demons and feeling like an outsider that feel very garden variety, and twisting it into triumphant self-empowerment on Sticks & Stones and Warrior that’s just as limited. There’s nothing wrong with the core ideas, but at lot of Icon For Hire’s problems in the execution run deep enough to make this feel like a wash basically all the way through. It’s more cold and mechanical than evident of any creativity that the band want to impose, and as usual, that doesn’t make for a listen that’s particularly exciting or gripping. Even compared to Icon For Hire’s previous works, the ideas feel in shorter supply on Amorphous, and the stiffer tone and pace only compound how much that actively takes away. Even for a band like Icon For Hire who never have vast amounts of longevity, it’s not difficult to see this one sinking hard and fast.
For fans of: Flyleaf, The Dirty Youth, Sumo Cyco
‘Amorphous’ by Icon For Hire is out now.
If Timelost had come around just a few years earlier, they’d probably be heralded as cult heroes by now. If not, they’d at least fill the niche that Superheaven left, paving clear roads towards ‘90s grunge and shoegaze with a sensibility that at least casts an eye at more contemporary punk and hardcore. It made for an interesting concoction on their 2019 debut Don’t Remember Me For This, and being tightened up a bit for Gushing Interest definitely helps. There’s a more emphasis on the grunge side this time, as Shane Handal’s voice is less obscured by walls of fuzz and the wonderfully formidable guitar and bass tones are given more space to rumble and snarl. That’s paired with an ear for melody that can be refreshingly upbeat at times, in the rolling drums of Alone, Clean And Slow and a cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way with a heavy retention of pop and new wave groove. It coalesces in a grasp of momentum that makes Gushing Interest a captivating listen essentially from front to back, as songs might drift and extend by an extra couple of minutes while never having it feel indulgent or as if it serves no purpose; this isn’t exactly a lengthy release but the overall resolve makes it go down even smoother. Along with the hazed-out vocal performances and fat crunch in the production that’s always great when it hits, Timelost have the huge, impactful ‘90s sound down to a T, right down to how unassumingly accessible it is without the need for compromise.
That’s important to note as well, especially when a lot of Gushing Interest is underscored by uncertain, dour landscapes of modern life, something which Timelost aren’t immune to being enveloped by but also seek to break out of. It feels more a case of crafting an experience around that particular narrative, meaning that while the moments of sheer catharsis are in relatively short supply (as well as being a stylistic choice of their particular genres, after all), Gushing Interest can be a very immersive listen with what it’s trying to do. It makes it easier to witness how the likes of Better Than Bedbugs and T.K.O. grow from both a musical and narrative perspective, while the hints of light will pierce though the grungy murk and formulate those moments of alt-rock bliss that’ll undoubtedly see Timelost go far. There’s a surprising amount of content and ideas packed into just six songs here, a testament to the band’s compositional skills and musical acumen that shows hints of extending even deeper beyond just great, melodically rich songs. With enough chance to really zero in on what they’ve got, Timelost could be a truly excellent band within modern alt-rock, hitting the sweet spot between a clear throwback and a sound that doesn’t use that as a crutch or an easy out for a lack of ideas. There’s something potentially great coming down the pipeline here, so keep an eye out.
For fans of: Superheaven, Narrow Head, Cloakroom
‘Gushing Interest’ by Timelost is released on 26th February on Church Road Records.
Carpool Tunnel foster the notion that they’re defined by their looseness rather early on. With a name that’s a bad pun (let’s face it, is is) and a formation involving meetups on the Tinder-for-musicians app Vampr, it seems a far cry from stories of dogged rock ‘n’ roll teeth-cutting that tend to accompany bands this young. At least it fits with the vibe their music creates, as the sunny indie-pop of The Drums will align with sensibilities of both classic power-pop and a less po-faced version of The Strokes for a charming, relatively lightweight listen. It’s got the warm, faded, Polaroid quality that’s an easy mark for generating nostalgia vibes, and while the extent they go to can be seen as a bit shameless, Carpool Tunnel carry themselves well through it. There’s still creativity within this album to read as not just flagrantly cribbing from the past, in the dancing guitar lines and robust bass against a sandier production style, and Ben Koppenjan’s charisma and knack for a vocal harmony. It’s an incredibly welcoming sound overall, not having much in the way of standout hits but coming together for an incredibly solid package without an obvious weak link. Perhaps that could be on slower moments like Empty Faces, where the lithe, sunny presentation is less present, but even then, touches of a doo-wop sound or bossa nova on Tarot Cards are on-brand when this sort of Californicated AM soft-rock is in the peripheral vision.
It’s definitely an album more about the mood it cultivates, though the attention that Carpool Tunnel give to that is what makes Bloom so resolutely solid. The lyrical throughline of allowing growth in life and relationships to be a positive thing is apropos of just how laidback and willing to flow at its own pace this album is, and the fact that Carpool Tunnel never lose themselves in how potentially languid this can get feels like a hurdle they’ve cleared at the right time. There’s still a tangible energy here, with a pop focus that’s embraced as more than just a framework, rather in the same way as the older power-pop bands a lot of this sound stems from. It makes the balance kept with the indie-rock fuzz of I’ll Be Your Friend and Forget My Name such an important feature to have, where there’s evidence of an edge here but the brighter tones and rhythms aren’t overshadowed by it. It’s remarkably simple, but carried out in a way that Carpool Tunnel make easy to appreciate, particularly when the results are this likable across the board. For an album that’ll obviously go down better in summer, there’s plenty here that still works regardless, as Carpool Tunnel set themselves up as a cool new addition for their scene. Good stuff.
For fans of: The Drums, Best Coast, Bad Suns
‘Bloom’ by Carpool Tunnel is released on 26th February on Pure Noise Records.
Escape Of The Phoenix
Evergrey are, without question, one of those prog-metal bands, who’ve been inexplicably long-lived with mountains of material to their name despite being largely buried among their genre’s bigger acts. These bands blip on the radar by chance every now and then, with Escape Of The Phoenix seemingly being Evergrey’s turn, and this certainly feels like the twelfth album from a Swedish prog-metal band, alright! Even if James LaBrie wasn’t a guest vocalist here, the Dream Theater influence on Evergey couldn’t be more explicit, in a very self-serious tone against instrumentation that’s unequivocally proficient but a bit soulless, flirting with melodrama but winding up a lot more straight-faced than it probably should be. Even when factoring in the emotional centrepoint of frontman Tom S. Englund and the distinct tone of AOR cheese in his vocal delivery, especially against LaBrie on The Beholder, it feels like a peek behind the curtain at the inherent melodrama that Evergrey are trying to hide. That might fit with some darker lyrical threads at a push, but in the piano ballad of Stories or the opulent sweep that comprises You From You, Evergrey feel reticent to lean into the pomposity that could give them a bit more personality. Right now, they’re playing it safe, and it shows in the severe lack of memorable moments.
On the other hand though, there’s an increased heaviness to Evergrey that’s a bit more fully-formed overall; the bass is pretty much marginalised as usual, and the chintzy synths that’ll occasionally be drizzled onto the mix are a stark weak link, but there’s a lot of power behind the guitars that lean into the metal side that bands like this are frequently hesitant to do. If nothing else, it keeps the pace up a bit, which is a good move for an hour-long album to make, though that doesn’t necessarily account for hooks and soaring moments that aren’t really here. Eternal Nocturnal comes closest, but on the whole, Escape Of The Phoenix can feel like the same crop of ideas rearranged and restructured, but seldom making a difference from doing so. It’s a problem endemic with a lot of prog albums, where technicality and instrumental acumen is prioritised above actual songcraft, and Evergrey really take the brunt of it here. It’s an album with presence but minimal staying power, really just falling in line with their swathes of prog-metal peers and offering precious little with which to stand out from the pack. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given this is Evergrey’s twelfth album with very few ripples made prior, but even so, it’s not one that feels worth returning to. There’s better stuff than this within this scene, and the sheer amount of bands with this exact sound only sets Evergrey further into the background.
For fans of: Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Seventh Wonder
‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ by Evergrey is released on 26th February on AFM Records.
Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth
By design, Sunnata are a band that envelops above anything else. Theirs is a brand of doom with a heavy emphasis on the spiritual and shamanic, where lyrics will morph into chants to drape across sprawling six-plus-minute dirges that, in themselves, will twist and flow outwards almost in perpetuity. In other words, Sunnata are appealing directly to their audience demographic with very few concessions made for outsiders. That isn’t a new phenomenon by any means – it’s pretty much what most slower forms of heavy music bank on most of the time – but the effect hits a bit more thanks to just how obtuse Sunnata are, in spiralling, very percussive songs and Szymon Ewertowski’s vocals that are even a bit reminiscent of Mike Patton at times. It can be an easier album to appreciate a lot of the time rather than enjoy, but again, that feels constructed by Sunnata to be the case. After all, this is an album built on feral, cosmic hymns about religious fanaticism, bathed in the band’s own sense of mysticism that ultimately wouldn’t seem right without some sort of barrier to entry.
That’s why, for the very occasional glimpses towards Alice In Chains on Crows or the more traditionally metal-oriented parts of A Million Lives, Sunnata will find more to do in raw, cold doom-metal that’s comfortable letting its crushing heft do the heavy lifting. As is to be expected, there’s not a whole lot of variety in that, but the visceral thrill of seismic guitars and bass doesn’t really get old, nor does the primal approach to vocals to place them effectively as another instrument within the mix. It definitely feels its length at a point like a lot of doom, but it’s also something that Sunnata can get quite a lot out of all the same. There’s a lot here conceptually, where sheer mass and presence can do quite a lot to boon it, for an album that isn’t exactly a playlist mainstay for most, but captures a very certain mood and vibe almost unfailingly. Emphatically not for everyone then, and even then, you really need to be in the right mood, but when it connects, Sunnata definitely get the job done.
For fans of: Yob, OM, Alice In Chains
‘Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth’ by Sunnata is released on 26th February.
Words by Luke Nuttall