There’s an inherent instability within NOFX, and it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is. It almost certainly circles back to Fat Mike as a frontman and mouthpiece, but between his irreverence, his nihilism and his hyper-awareness of humanity and mortality, it’s never that easy to settle definitively on one more than the others. Either way, it’s led to NOFX having more longevity within punk than probably either themselves would’ve predicted, mostly because, in a genre originally comprised of flawed protagonists that still have something to say, they’ve arguably fit the mould closer than the majority of others to see success coming from their wave. And again, that’s largely due to Fat Mike himself, who’s picked up a reputation as a frontman and lyricist that can be difficult to listen to, but remains exponentially more compelling than many others because of it. That seems to be the M.O. of Single Album to a notable degree, and fittingly so not only coming out of the turbulence of 2020, but also following Fat Mike’s Cokie The Clown project that took his dejection to its limit and often well past it. This is at least a more ‘standard’ outlet than that, but there’s been no real dulling of lyrical skill, especially when it comes to vocalising pertinent or controversial issues in a very – for lack of a better term – uniquely biting way. He’ll tackle gender politics and gun violence in a way that’s not shy about its rough edges on Fuck Euphemism and Fish In A Gun Barrel, but it’s similarly reflective of the jaded mindset that’s become depressingly commonplace, where he’s past the point of sanitising opinions to please anyone in particular, and just wants to air them regardless. It’s rather cavalier to say the least, but if there’s one man who could pull it off, it really is Fat Mike, and he’s got enough of a command of humour to temper what he’s saying by a relevant amount. The decision to retire Linoleum despite it inadvertently becoming their biggest song is well executed on Linewleum, and the reluctance to write a song about a fan with cancer on My Bro Cancervive Cancer does toe the line pretty deftly given how easy it can be to fall. Above all though, the overriding praise that can be offered to Single Album is in its character, and how Fat Mike’s portrayal of himself as an abject fuck-up just looking to get by is still raw and honest, even after all this time. It’s intelligently done above all else, and that does a lot to stabilise what’s being said on Single Album, despite how brash and tactless it can sometimes come across.
Pretty much on all fronts, NOFX don’t seem to be resting on their laurels here. They’ve still got more ideas than the average punk band of their stripe, not exactly to the point of wonderful diversity or a sprawling, colourful listen, but enough to notice all the same. Even from the opener The Big Drag, running almost six minutes in length and built on a tense guitar riff that almost feels lifted from Summer Of ‘69, it’s made clear that corners aren’t being cut when they don’t need to be. Of course, that almost means that Fat Mike gets centre stage, pushed right to front of the mix with a voice that age has turned simultaneously gruff and nasal with no balance on either side, but it’s definitely expressive if nothing else. There’s an almost mocking tone to Fish In A Gun Barrel that works in how its writing is twisted and framed, and a more emotional cut like Grieve Soto benefits from a performance that can lean into power and reverence in that way that he does. Beyond that though, this is still a NOFX album, and past a couple of obligatory instrumental additions or structuring changes, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. There’s still a nice command of power and speed when needed in the guitars and drums (both of which have been produced to sound nice and full on all fronts), and though Mike’s bass isn’t as prominent as it could be – or as punk of this stripe would regularly like – it’s not badly played by any stretch. NOFX have going long enough to know what works for them in what measure, and Single Album can at once pull off being refined in terms of sound without being preened or overly polished. There isn’t a ‘sellout’ moment here, and that’s generally pleasing to see when the band are so settled in their groove without being complacent. This is by no means an essential album within NOFX’s catalogue, but for a band who’ve been on a hot streak lately through doing what they do best, Single Album isn’t doing anything to change that, nor does it move the needle when it comes to how NOFX are viewed within punk. There’s still plenty of personality and distinctiveness there that most others just aren’t fortunate enough to have, and seeing them lean into it is just as compelling today as it’s always been.
For fans of: Bad Religion, Pennywise, Lagwagon
‘Single Album’ by NOFX is out now on Fat Wreck Chords.
A career spanning more than 50 years has ultimately deemed Alice Cooper to be more of a pop culture figurehead than a consistent artist. He’s definitely got some great songs under his belt – Poison will forever be a top-shelf banger, and No More Mr. Nice Guy and Feed My Frankenstein aren’t far behind – but that will greatly overshadow his albums which don’t nearly have as much staying power. That’s not hard to deduce though; he’s very much a legacy artist and as such, there’s only so much within his twenty albums that can stick the landing, plus his shock-jock persona that might’ve been boundary-pushing back in the day feels borderline quaint compared to what goes on now. But even so, there’s always been something so unfailingly likable about Alice Cooper, to where even his failures never act as a deterrent when it comes to keeping him around. He might be a bit past it musically, but there’s never the impression given of phoning it in like so many other rockstars of his vintage. So while Detroit Stories isn’t all that good, it at least comes from a place of intent that can be identified more often than not. As a tribute to the music of his home city, there’s clearly sincerity here, with a lot of old rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues sounds that, in terms of execution, feel suitably authentic to where Cooper is coming from. He at least sounds like he’s enjoying himself, and a voice that was never that well-maintained even in heyday stands up to age a lot better; there isn’t an explicit weakness or age in his delivery in the same way that so many others would fall victim to. Instead it feels like a lot of that age has gone right into the presentation, where any shock-rock showmanship feels completely dismissed for yet another album of warmed-over rock music that just isn’t exciting to listen to. In Cooper’s defence, playing to the angle of music with roots in Detroit does paper over some cracks when it eyes Motown on $1000 High Heel Shoes or heaving blues on Drunk And In Love, but that doesn’t tend to reach very far across this album, as most of the time it’ll default to straightforward, no-frills hard rock with all the life sucked out of it. That’s definitely the case in production that does nowhere near enough to bring out something daring or bombastic in this sound, but the songs themselves just have a crippling predictability in their compositions. A good amount of covers is interesting to see, but even they tend to assimilate into how middle-of-the-road this album is, really only defined by Cooper’s recognisable vocal timbre.
Similarly, that personality is nowhere to be found in the writing itself either, as the cursory mention of shock-rock on Detroit City 2021 is the closest this album gets to inhabiting the usual character of its creator. Again, it’s the milquetoast rock songwriting that no one wants anymore, given that it really doesn’t offer anything of value beyond a glimpse of how insipid this genre can actually be. It’s not like Alice Cooper songs are high-end poetry at the best of times, but there’s at least more fun in them than with a bog-standard jab at online culture on Social Debris, or a thinly-sketched ‘keep politics out of music’ angle on Shut Up And Rock. At least there’s a bit of heart to Hanging On By A Thread (Don’t Give Up) as something of a reassuring gesture (even if the spoken word sections and recital of the suicide hotline number feel incredibly heavy-handed), and as a flashy, suitably sleazy number, $1000 High Heel Shoes is probably the standout track here. But where Detroit Stories really seems to lose itself is in how it has no clear idea of what to do with its greatest asset – Alice Cooper himself. The man has genuine personality, and seeing it sanded down so ruthlessly on a song like Go Man Go or borderline satirised to such an unfunny degree on I Hate You isn’t entertaining to watch in the slightest. There’s none of the theatrics or melodrama that can make Alice Cooper’s music great, instead pared back for a set of songs that definitely runs too long and sees it fit to get by on nothing more than the bare essentials. And sure, it can’t be as though anyone was expecting Detroit Stories to be a showstopping rock album in 2021, over five decades into a career, but the fact it’s going through the same, expected motions is unilaterally disappointing. There’s no reason to ever return to this album, not when the best of Alice Cooper – and even some of the rest – will handily surpass this is almost every regard.
For fans of: The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, MC5
‘Detroit Stories’ by Alice Cooper is out now on earMUSIC.
Beauty In Death
Talking about Chase Atlantic is an exhausting thing to do, because while there are bands out there in the mainstream space who are worse, there are few who arguably deserve less respect. This is a band who completely overhauled their sound from pop-rock to dozy trap on the basis of trend-chasing, have kept their scene status on birthright alone, and with almost everything they’ve dropped, proceeded to squander what abilities they do have. While 2019’s Phases wasn’t awful, looking back makes it only seem more like the clearest condensation of what Chase Atlantic in their current form are about, where the production might be decent but the phoned-in performances and utterly throwaway lyrics make for a band trying way too hard to crib from the foetid alt-trap of blackbear and his ilk. Right now, Post Malone has more legitimate rock credentials than Chase Atlantic, and he’s not the one that the scene continues to embrace unconditionally. It’s not like Chase Atlantic are striving for more either; Beauty In Death is pretty much the same, as highs and lows are exactly where they’ve always been with few ambitions towards growth. If anything the lyrics might even be a bit worse here, if only because Chase Atlantic’s believability when it comes to the drugged-out lifestyle they extol is basically nonexistent. Mitchel Cave’s squeaky little voice is a high enough bar to clear, but it’s all so formulaic and boring with nothing in the way of unique detail. Hell, a song like Molly being a love letter to drugs feels like a parody of this sort of thing, while Pleasexanny and Wasted both attempt to cover the broadest possible emo-rap base with depression and self-medicating semantics that have no flavour to them. It feels like a pale imitation of The Weeknd at the best of times, in how soul-trap elegance tries to blend with debauched hedonism, but Chase Atlantic have nowhere near the range to pull it off, especially as they try and pretend to be hard on Please Stand By with the mush-mouthed vocal cadence that smothers the thing before the content can even sink in. It’s not like this needs to be deep either; Call Me Back is still shallow, but it at least has some sincerity to make it the best song here, which is more than can be said for co-opting basic lyrical fields and stitching them together as if that’s all that needs to be done.
Once again it’s up to the production to piece together an even vaguely workable product, where Chase Atlantic find themselves in spots that are far better than they deserve. Across the board, it has the expensive sound that a lot of trap lacks, and when there’s almost always a cushion of reverb in the background to bulk out the mix, it can make for solid vibe music overall. But it’s not as if formula doesn’t seep through here as well, as the slow pace of the album can definitely drag when not given the necessary sprinkles of flavour. The guitar chugs on Out The Roof and the saxophone at multiple junctures aren’t bad ways to prevent stagnation, but too often that’s all they feel like they’re there for, deployed to keep things moving rather than serve as integral parts of the sound. That’s where Call Me Back and the title track manage to avoid a lot of those slip-ups, in the neon-pink synthpop backdrops that have a bit more tick to them and wholesale development to back it up. It’s also evidence of how brighter tones really help Chase Atlantic capture something more memorable, as opposed to the bleaker, spacier hip-hop like on Please Stand By and Aleyuh that’s nowhere near as impactful. The depth of field helps a lot even in weaker moments – there isn’t a single song on here that doesn’t sound grand and expensive – but the execution within that can be so hit-or-miss when the ideas feel as limited as they do. It doesn’t feel as though Chase Atlantic are pushing themselves beyond that big sound, and while that might be a relative novelty within trap, it’s not enough on its own to leave a mark. Like with a lot of Chase Atlantic’s material, Beauty In Death has a baseline formula that’s locked down but not a lot else beyond that, only this time it feels exacerbated by just how rote and workmanlike their whole process comes across. This doesn’t feel like a band enjoying themselves as much as one doling out another helping of the usual, regardless of how flawed it might be, and that just doesn’t feel worth getting invested in. Nothing’s really changing or improving here, and Chase Atlantic just wind up right back where they started – as an ultimately ignorable band to whom the main response is wondering why they’re here in the first place.
For fans of: blackbear, Post Malone, Juice WRLD
‘Beauty In Death’ by Chase Atlantic is released on 5th March on Fearless Records.
Stevie Knipe’s Adult Mom has a definite familiarity to it – grounded, earthy indie-rock with lo-fi sensibilities and a queer perspective – but that’s a testament to how strongly it stands. Driver is their first album on Epitaph, and the fact there’s been so little clear micromanaging under a bigger label feels like a victory in itself, especially when it seems to sidestep a lot of the roteness this sound can be burdened with all on its own. For one, Knipe’s instrumentation feels a lot less dry and brittle, as Berlin will pair its ramshackle acoustic line with some heavier drumming and a peeling electric guitar in the back, while Passenger and Checking Up will dip into alt-country wistfulness that, in the case of the latter, gets some heaving tension to propel it along. Knipe’s voice also has less of a twee edge than some of their contemporaries, and that too solidifies some of the more grounded, explicitly rock-leaning features of this project. It can still easily slide in among that same indie-rock camp, but Adult Mom also has the command of space and room to swell that others don’t to the same extent. The production could do with a bit more character – if only to make this sound pop out a bit more than it does – but at the same time, what Knipe does within it can bring out that more unique character within this style of indie-rock. Other projects in this vein seldom come out with things like the lithe, bass-popped strut of Sober or the big heartland-rock swell of Frost, and even if it would be nice to fully make the leap into that more adventurous territory, the effect it has on Driver overall can still be felt.
It also goes without saying that Knipe’s writing does a lot here; it’s always a factor of indie-rock albums like this, and Driver really is no different. The argument could be made that it could do with some more lines overflowing with the same degree of character as Sober’s “The only thing I’ve done this month / Is drink beer and masturbate / And ignore phone calls from you”, and while it’s true that nothing stands out quite as starkly as that, there’s still a lot that’s done really well. The recurring image of cars and car accidents among the passage of a deteriorating relationship feels incredibly well-placed, and Knipe’s exasperation at the passage of time and the uncertainty that comes with it is palpable throughout. A song like Adam serves as the album’s best encapsulation of it all, where reminiscing about youthful memories feels like the only way to find solace anymore, despite having no reasonable way of reliving them of recapturing the same mindset. There’s also an element of inevitability to it all, where Knipe will close the album on Frost as a rumination on past love and their difficulty to really cope with the feeling of being alone for so long, but also realising the necessity in moving beyond it and carrying on. For an album rooted in themes of growing up, Driver takes a suitably mature and balanced view of its subject matter, making for a listen that cuts back on significant thrills but does a lot in terms of detail and humanity. That alone gives Adult Mom a boost above similar acts, and pulling it off to a consistent degree only makes an already solid album even better.
For fans of: Field Medic, Alex G, Florist
‘Driver’ by Adult Mom is released on 5th March on Epitaph Records.
get off the internet
When the very first lyrics of get off the Internet is “Mike D on fleek with the melody”, it feels like some cause for alarm. At the helm of Lower Than Atlantis, Mike Duce frequently showcased his gift for songwriting, but that came through heavier, self-critical emotions that a tiny electro-pop project like Headache isn’t best equipped to handle. In fact, it’s hard to work out exactly what get off the internet wants to be in the same way as its predecessor food for thwart, not least in the songwriting. mike’s back kicks off as an oddly braggadocious song that’s tonally jarring against basically all of Duce’s prior work, before the more standard and welcome introspection on lifehaspassedmeby, and snake in a hole and thaswassup that feel strangely confrontational at different angles. There’s varying amounts of flair in the writing across each, certainly, but it’s at the expense of a clarity and cohesion that, again, Duce’s work has never been without. The format of an incredibly brief EP probably doesn’t help, but the overall lack of focus is still easy to pick up on regardless, not at all helped by the smaller scale. It can leave a lot of these topics feeling rather passive when a bit more intensity to them wouldn’t go amiss, and as a result, get off the internet ends up feeling more insubstantial than it already is.
What’s more, it’s hard to ignore how much of an ‘individual’ streak that Duce is trying to bake into the sound of this project, with a take on the bedroom-pop formula that encompasses electro-pop, indie, hip-hop and singer-songwriter fare in a way that’s presumably designed to sound modern but just ends up really messy. The rap verses from Joshua Bryant and Zeale on mike’s back and thaswassup respectively are the sort of shoehorned bricks that clearly stand out as not belonging there, but the shrink-wrapped synths and tiny beats that serve as the skeleton for each track don’t do much to allow new elements to come through. It’s what makes the combination of snake in a hole’s lethargic plod and farty synth flourishes so awkward, as the lack of tightness in these compositions becomes so blatant and distracting. Coupled with Duce in his lower register and doused in filters, get off the internet lacks so much of the punch and panache that made his previous work so engaging, feeling more like a collection of loosies and castoffs than the next installment in a new project. There might be a solid idea peppered here and there, but nothing that grips tremendously often, and nothing that really crafts a whole that’s all that’s good from any angle. It’s just not much of anything at the end of the day, a problem that’s afflicted Duce on both of his Headache releases, and one that needs to be rectified as soon as possible before it gets actively worse.
For fans of: Dan Lancaster, No Rome, LANY
‘get off the internet’ by Headache is out now.
The Spill Canvas
For as long as The Spill Canvas have been around, they aren’t the sort of band who can reasonably inhabit the whole ‘comeback album’ cycle. It’s true that Conduit is their first album in nine years, but even with what feels like a sure-fire boon in signing to Pure Noise, it hasn’t generated nearly the same hype as a lot of 2000s emo-pop / pop-rock nostalgia wave. It’s indicative of the band that The Spill Canvas were at the time – largely agreeable but in a position in their scene that meant they were nothing to write home about in the grander scheme of things. Therefore, it’s almost too obvious that Conduit has adopted more synthetic, cleanly produced tones to gel with modern pop-rock, albeit in a way that’s significantly less lumpen and intrusive than the norm. In fact, all over Conduit, The Spill Canvas pull off that slicker sound in a far more measured and mature way, and that’ll wind up sticking the landing more often than others are liable to. It’s not as blown-out, nor does it use pop so explicitly as cladding; there might be more overtly polished moments like the glittery strut of Calendars or the softer, milder acoustic pop of Molecules, but typically The Spill Canvas can reach a notably equitable balance. There’s definitely a shinier finish to songs like Firestorm and Blueprints, but never so much that it overcrowds the space for more nimble guitars and fluid basslines. There isn’t too much of a pop-rock immediacy here, but the hooks do still stand on their own, especially when delivered by such a strong vocalist as Nick Thomas. He’s always prominently at the front of the mix, but that gives his more expressive voice the room it needs to flow; it’s reminiscent of Coheed And Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez in timbre, with the pop sensibility carried over and a lighter touch added to it.
It’s an interesting way of going about this particular pivot, given that it so readily distances The Spill Canvas from both the younger bands who’ve grabbed onto their pop slant with full force, and the older ones who want a piece of the pie but don’t have the knowledge of how to economically pull it off. From The Spill Canvas, Conduit feels like the work of a band who know what they’re doing, and are moving into this space as an authentic version of themselves. That’s certainly true in the lyrics where that maturity comes through again, in Thomas’ more contemplative recollections of the death of a loved one on Blueprints or how his own self-destructive tendencies have took hold of him in the past on Cost. Even on more traditional fare – particularly the love songs – there’s a clearly defined perspective that they’re coming from that feels more lived-in, through more poetic word choices that manage to avoid feeling overwrought, or how much more clearly sincerity is conveyed. The emo-pop unquestionably lives on, but The Spill Canvas do a good job at ageing it up to avoid most possible cringeworthiness. Even if the hooks don’t quite pop to the extent that they could – Firestorm does the best job at showing how that can be done within this instrumental context and not have it sound cheap or gaudy – there’s at least sense to how it’s done, and Conduit ends up being a consistently stable album because of it. There isn’t an obvious weak link here, and while some of that focus on stability above all else might put a dent in potential longevity, it still feels as though The Spill Canvas have enough momentum off the back of this album if that does come. This is more of a progression than an out-and-out comeback, with the results that make that particular direction seem very worthwhile indeed.
For fans of: Motion City Soundtrack, Acceptance, The Starting Line
‘Conduit’ by The Spill Canvas is released on 5th March on Pure Noise Records.
The Hyena Kill
By now, Deftones have spawned enough bands off the back of their presence that they’ve become one of the more prominent fonts of ‘90s influence, though they’re versatile enough already to where what follows won’t be the same row of carbon copies as other bands will have. Just look at The Hyena Kill – the sound is clearly there, but there’s also enough grunge and ‘90s / very early 2000s alt-metal and post-hardcore to make them ultimately their own thing. As for whether or not A Disconnect winds up as more than the sum of its parts, there’s rarely an instance where that can be brought into question. Any limitations brought up by their previous two-piece form has been fully pushed away as a foursome, as The Hyena Kill’s sound has become more formidable than ever in how colossal yet immaculately crafted and fluid it is. Apart from the oscillating filter placed on Steven Dobb’s voice at times, the creative decisions made across A Disconnect are pretty watertight throughout, from the mile-deep caverns of atmosphere carved out by Cauterised, to the baleful acoustics and cello that just get more and more tense on Thin, to the nervy, volatile punk surge of Bleached. There’s a lot of sonic ground covered, but almost surprisingly, it never feels disparate or as though The Hyena Kill are spreading themselves too thinly, simply because the blending and genre manipulation is just that good and consistent throughout. There’s always a titanic riff or bassline that’ll make these songs sound enormous without fail, and Lorna Blundell’s drumming keeps it all together tightly, but never immaculately so. This still feels like music made by humans, even in its poppiest moments like the pulsing beat of Witness, and seeing that bleed through moments of real power and passion is always so much more thrilling to experience.
That’s even more crucial when considering the weight that this album bears even below the surface, written by Dobb during a period of immense mental and physical toil that’s really brough through brilliantly. He’s an expressive vocalist as it is, and when that subsequently gives way for cracks in the exterior as themes of past traumas and mental anguish come rushing in, that weight can really be felt. A Disconnect makes the fullest use of its dense sound in this regard, as the certain open-endedness of the writing is allowed to contort within the full-force production job to allow its darkness to seep through all the more. Particularly in the last couple of tracks Incision and Mire, there’s a sense of catharsis baked into each, as the swooping enormity of the former ebbs away for cold, harsh electronics and sighing tone of the latter; both appear and feel incredibly different, but treat their emotional expulsion with the same gravity. Again, it’s the sort of moment where every part of The Hyena Kill’s execution comes together, regardless of how varied it might be, and it makes for what might be one of the most satisfyingly rich and simultaneously wide-reaching rock albums of the year so far. It can be a lot to take in at points, even just from a physical standpoint, but it’s really worth diving into for just how much works within it. This could be a sleeper hit of 2021, and to see The Hyena Kill rise through the ranks of current, exciting rock bands is something that really needs to happen.
For fans of: Deftones, Quicksand, Nirvana
‘A Disconnect’ by The Hyena Kill is released on 5th March on APF Records.
As time has passed and Baest have continued to release music, it’s warranted a retrospective evaluation on their work thus far. Their appeal hasn’t soured by any great amount, but dropping albums in such quick succession has only shone a brighter light on their limitations. Danse Macabre was solid, meat-and-potatoes death metal, and Venenum was more of it, the sort of trend that, even this early on, doesn’t foreshadow much in the way of expansion or diversification. And as such, as Necro Sapiens arrives as their third go-around, Baest’s one trick continues to suffice without doing much else for them. If nothing else, it at least showcases how appreciable this sort of death metal is, where the stomp and readier focus on punishing grooves make it seem a lot heavier, both in sound and physical mass. Undoubtedly Baest’s greatest strength is their ability to have an imposing presence within their music in the vein of classic death metal; Simon Olsen’s vocals are necessarily savage and guttural, but the MVP performance comes from drummer Sebastian Abildsten in the enormous power and momentum he brings, particularly when he’ll segue into blast beats on Genesis and Meathook Massacre. On top of that, Baest’s production is raw but never untidy, and for an album like this that’s rooted in giving the genre fundamentals the most to do, that’s an important balance to get right. It needs to be said that Necro Sapiens is rarely an unenjoyable album, and so much of that can be attributed to how tight a grip Baest have on their genre.
But that inevitably shifts focus onto the other side of the coin, where they’ve not really advanced or sought to put their own stamp on what they’re doing. That’s true of a lot of death metal, but Baest’s distinction of being as prolific as they are can really dampen the experience, especially when the instrumentation they’ll build their foundations on seldom has distinct flavour from album to album. Sure, there’s a semblance of a catchier vocal melody here on Abbatoir, but on the whole, Necro Sapiens suffers from the same problem as Venenum did, where Baest will stick so rigidly to the death metal template they and countless others prior to them have already laid down. The writing may arguably be the least important feature of an album like this, but pulling from semantic fields of violence and gore only nails down that point further, where Baest establish themselves as a classically styled, untainted death metal band and nothing else. That’s fine in itself, but it gets a bit tiring when the material keeps coming at this rate with precious little to differentiate each release from the others. It gives the impression that Baest are playing their hand too quickly, and that burnout will ultimately settle in before they reach a point of success that they want to. For a band as cut-and-dry as Baest are, and whose albums have tended to settle around ‘decent but nothing special’, that might be closer on the horizon than expected.
For fans of: Tomb Mold, Skeletal Remains, Asphyx
‘Necro Sapiens’ by Baest is released on 5th March on Century Media Records.
A Pale Blue Dot
After what’s felt like the widespread admission that metalcore bands doling out empty platitudes above their station should probably stop, it feels like now is a strange time for Dreamshade to be releasing this album. Admittedly that’s a preconception based on the title alone; they’ve already gotten flak in the past from jettisoning their melodeath roots in favour of polished metalcore, and affixing themselves to the already tropey ‘pale blue dot’ concept to presumably make some sort of state-of-the-world point would appear that they’re advancing towards a brand of self-aggrandising Warped Tour metalcore that really doesn’t exist anymore. To be fair, it’s not as bad as that, but the similar problem of a unique identity still remains. There are hints that Dreamshade might’ve wanted to go in certain directions to facilitate that, whether it’s in a more coursing J-rock direction on Question Everything and Step Back or – a lot less encouragingly – a rap-rock pivot with Stone Cold Digital and A Place We Called Home, but they aren’t given much of an opportunity to grow into more. Instead they feel like extra ideas piled onto an already finished product, where their presence is so conspicuous in the mix and they’ll easily pull attention away. Granted, that isn’t hard to do when A Pale Blue Dot is such a blocky listen, where the usual metalcore problem of piling everything at the front of the mix can make it really overbearing at times. Particularly in the back half, where the hooks are simply less memorable, this sort of colossal, synth-laced metalcore just doesn’t have what limited appeal it once did anymore, and even with some more colourful playing, it falls supremely flat.
Of course, ‘falling flat’ doesn’t really do justice to some of the writing here, where a lot of Dreamshade’s intentions can be summarised by how undeserved the ‘philosophical’ interlude toD-eulB-elaP-(A) feels, where the scope of any directions taken completely subsumes the magnitude needed to make them work. Again, rarely is it quite as bland as bands banking on this trend when it was still a thing, but there’s definitely a pin put in that soaring, inspirational headspace on tracks like Lightbringers and Shanghai Nights that just feels a bit dated nowadays. It’s certainly preferable to the regrettable rap about Syrian refugees on A Place We Called Home, but it’s hard to get much weight from what Dreamshade are doing when, for the most part, it’s boilerplate fare that doesn’t stick. To their absolute credit, Kevin Calì is the sort of powerhouse vocalist who can absolutely bolster even the most limp of tracks here, and that does stand as a selling point somewhat. As far as reaching the titanic heights they’re clearly trying to court, there’s enough in the way of pure size on A Pale Blue Dot for Dreamshade to ultimately get there. It’s more though brute force than anything all that cerebral or incisive, but at least they do get there to an extent, and that can still be appreciated. But at the same time, that’s also a workaround for some clear limitations on this album, and ignoring that because the goal is ultimately met doesn’t feel like the right thing to do when Dreamshade are actively trying to do more. It’s all well and good being lost in the size, but when the construction and content appear as flat as they do, there’s a fundamental problem there that does detract from the overall experience. It’s a similar issue to what a lot of metalcore in the 2010s had, and while Dreamshade aren’t explicitly trying to replicate that era, getting there in a roundabout way isn’t much better.
For fans of: Crossfaith, The Word Alive, Architects
‘A Pale Blue Dot’ by Dreamshade is released on 5th March.
Sadness & Complete Disappointment
Making a comment about the aptness of the band’s name and how it’s even more fitting for them to break out now almost feels obligatory, but reducing Sadness & Complete Disappointment down that far isn’t doing them anywhere near the justice they deserve. This is actually their debut EP, and even just across four tracks, there’s already such a striking amount of confidence and self-assuredness at what they’re doing. They lean into a darker, more ominous form of grunge, where the grooves can get heavier but they’re overlaid on what feels like an almost gothic sense of opulence and flair. It’s almost a halfway house between Sonic Youth and Placebo in tone and the shades of black that the band use to scrawl out their sound, with even vocalist Esme having an almost operatic delivery on parts of a song like Status. It’s a shame that she’s mixed a bit too deeply and flatly early on Monotony to flatter her abilities, but when everything clicks together, Sadness & Complete Disappointment really pull off some interesting twists on an otherwise standard sound. There’s a thicker knell to Kit’s guitars on Monotony and Oh, Rapture! that sounds enormous, and the gauzy, almost dreamlike flow to Survivor’s Guilt is even more unique again, as the guitars flutter around Bek’s thrumming basslines in just one of a surprising number of standout moments. There’s an unpredictability to Fun across the board, and it’s exciting to witness how Sadness & Complete Disappointment go about unlocking it at any particular juncture.
It does genuinely feel more gothic than in line with a lot of grunge; the bleak implications of the band’s name are a dead giveaway for one, but drilling down into topics like isolation on Monotony and the desperation of being alone on Survivor’s Guilt similarly pull a lot of weight. It doesn’t take long to realise that this EP’s title is drenched in sarcasm, perhaps the one moment of defined levity as the band trudge through the barrenness and loneliness of the modern world that’s applicable to almost anyone. ‘Haunting’ might be too strong a word, but Sadness & Complete Disappointment have such an incisive creative style that already feels like no one other band. It would certainly benefit from a greater breadth of material to expand itself – probably the one concrete area an EP this short will fall down at – but there’s a real richness and freshness here that’ll unquestionably be exciting to witness mature. Even away from being effectively their own fully-formed prospect right out the gate, Sadness & Complete Disappointment are heading down a road that could prove remarkably fruitful for them, especially for as creative as they’ve already proven to be.
For fans of: Hole, The Smashing Pumpkins, Placebo
‘Fun’ by Sadness & Complete Disappointment is released on 5th March.
Do It With A Smile
It says a fair amount that the warping, hypnagogic interlude on Thirdface’s debut is the longest song here, both in relation to the album and the genre they find themselves in. Among their incendiary hardcore with a powerviolence slant, it’s a necessary reprieve, but it also highlights a lot of the conventions of the sound otherwise, where songs will be deliberately short and bashed-out, but also very fragmented in a less-than-appealing way. They’re clearly going for a sound that’s DIY and free of any greater production amenities, and it can feel a bit ropey and inconsistent across the album from doing so, especially early on when Kathryn Edwards’ vocals are so deep in the mix. The one genuinely excellent thing that Do It With A Smile has in its mix is Maddy Madeira’s bass, with a meaty, frenetic sound that really drives this album, and picks up in the rhythm section where Shibby Poole’s drumming might not always have the same presence. As for David Reichley on guitar, it’s about as loud and caustic as you’d want in this style of hardcore, but again, Thirdface’s particular assault aims where that sort of balance comes second to the full-blast crush of it all.
In that respect then, Do It With A Smile fits all the necessary criteria that it rightfully should. It never overstays its welcome at only about 20 minutes long, which is definitely a good quality for an album this full-throttle to have. On top of that, it’s laser-focused on hitting that jugular-gripping brutality with ease, in Edwards’ gnashing takedowns of the toxicity and the parasites that a scene as nominally inclusive in hardcore continues to propagate. As a series of quick, sharp volleys of vitriol, it goes down well enough; it’s really only the 36-second Buck that’s so short it’s insubstantial, and in the live sweatbox environments that this sort of thing is ultimately designed for, it’ll all click far more strongly. It’s the inherent flaw with covering music like this in its recorded form, where that isn’t really the point, but even among the shortcomings that offers, Thirdface clearly have enough to them to go on with. It’s just that, when the chaos can be fully experienced again, that’s when they’ll shine the brightest.
For fans of: Trap Them, Magrudergrind, For Your Health
‘Do It With A Smile’ by Thirdface is released on 5th March on Exploding In Sound Records.
Don’t Turn Out The Lights
It almost feels unfair to come down too hard on Skinny Knowledge at this stage. When they’re still as small and new as they are making openly down-the-middle, no-frills rock music, criticising Don’t Turn Out The Lights for just not being all that interesting can seem like punching down unnecessarily. For the record though, there’s at least more of a professional touch around this album that a lot of bands just finding their footing, thanks to Lewis Johns on production who doesn’t bring out the same heaviness as his work with Loathe and Employed To Serve, but at least feeds in some appreciated instrumental presence. Guitar tones and bass lines can so often be neglected on albums like this, so it’s good to see giving them room is a concern that Skinny Knowledge address across the board, and on a song like Keep Me Out Of It that’s actively livelier, it does make a difference to start on that better foot. Furthermore, they can wring enough anthemic power out of a hard rock hook to get by; Andy Smooth has more belting energy in his vocals than technicality (even though he’s really not a bad singer at all), and the necessary chorus beats hit with a decent amount of force thanks to it.
But if that sounds like seeking for any amount of praise within the basics of this album, that’s a fair assumption to make, as Skinny Knowledge aren’t exactly pushing themselves beyond that. To be fair, they’re not required to, and musical touchstones like The Wildhearts or better eras of the Foo Fighters are an inherently stronger variation of this sort of thing, but Skinny Knowledge also aren’t at the same level of song-crafting ability. This isn’t an exorbitantly long album, but at fourteen tracks it really feels bloated, with the tightness and vigour of those aforementioned influences feeling considerably more diluted. They also back themselves into something of a corner lyrically too, point towards a lot of big, positive sentiments about being a good person in the modern world that are fine enough on paper, but aren’t the sort of thing that a consistently engaging album is built on. There’s definitely a couple of far too broad sentiments here that will come close to sinking an album like this on their own, but the truth is that Don’t Turn Out The Lights feels as though it’s playing it safe all the way through. That’ll most likely be contributed to by the baggage of the no-frills rock sound, but Skinny Knowledge really aren’t defining themselves or giving a reason why people should sit up and take notice, which, for an album this physically long and stuffed with material, shouldn’t be the case. The one unequivocal positive is that, as a band, they sound more refined with what they’re doing than others of a similar size, but that doesn’t account for much when the material can’t match up. Hopefully they’ll grow into that as they keep going; on this evidence, they definitely need to.
For fans of: Foo Fighters, The Wildhearts, Bush
‘Don’t Turn Out The Lights’ by Skinny Knowledge is released on 5th March.
Words by Luke Nuttall