The Bitter Truth
It’s weird to think of Evanescence as a ‘controversial’ band, because they don’t really do a lot to warrant it. Being the entry-level symphonic metal band will inevitably raise some hackles, as will the fact that few songs have been obliterated by overplay to the degree of Bring Me To Life, but there’s almost a pariah mentality to the way that Evanescence behave within pop culture. They don’t release new music that often, nor is it accompanied by an enormous spectacle when they do, and that can’t help but come across like a reaction to backlash that may be overstated for what it is. After all, Evanescence have made it so they’re easy enough to ignore, even as something of a modern rock institution, but when that has an effect on their music and holding back any potential advancement, it’s unnecessary overcompensation in a rather flagrant form. And thus comes The Bitter Truth, where Evanescence are certainly being true to themselves musically, but at the same time struggling to hit high marks that could make them feel exciting or urgent in modern hard rock and metal. You’d think they might’ve ensured that’s not the case for their first album in ten years, but The Bitter Truth is legitimately in the running for Evanescence’s least essential album to date, a factor that can be purely chalked up to sound alone. It’s mainly the band’s usual style at its core, in slightly gothic alt-metal with more elegant strings and pianos, and now with a bit of programming to bring it further up to date, but that isn’t a sound that’s too resilient to the test of time. The issues with the mixing deepen these flaws considerably – we’ll get back to that – but even on its own, there’s a lumbering weight to this music that’ll drag supremely when it’s not checked. Evanescence are certainly capable of sweeping, soaring moments, but trying to weave those within a very bloated, impregnable brand of radio-metal really seems to dampen the more sophisticated presentation that they want to have. On a song like The Game Is Over with its booming nu-metal guitar tone, there’s so much weight piled onto the song that does no favours, and that’s so prevalent across the majority of the album. This really feels like Evanescence’s deliberate attempt at falling in the radio-metal line, right down to nebulous lyrical content that’ll prioritise a broad emotional standing above detail. Use My Voice and Far From Heaven definitely have more emotion baked in by comparison, where the screed against the music industry on Yeah Right and the reclamation of defiance on Take Cover end up being much more rote and safe than they rightfully could be.
If that was all that The Bitter Truth had, it’d be frustratingly middling, but what actively pushes it over into something worse is how amateurish it can feel at times, which holds weight for two reasons. For a start, Evanescence have been going long enough to know what production styles accentuate their best features, but more than that, for a band who want to sound epic and cinematic, they seem to be actively cutting their own legs off. Amy Lee still has a wonderful voice, and on the piano ballad Far From Heaven, the extent of that is fully shown, but there are points on this album where she’s practically at the back of mix and feels swamped by how clattering and overbearing everything around her is. The production budget has bearing overall, but the lack of balance across The Bitter Truth is galling, where vocals and basslines shrivel up under guitars and synthesised percussion, and where the album loses so much of the power it tries to superficially bear. Evanescence have always been good at pulling off that side of themselves, but they’ve never felt this weak despite it, and factored alongside the lumpen pace and general lack of intrigue across the board, it turns The Bitter Truth into a real slog to get through. The highlights are there, but they’re very sparse on the whole, and the album takes an already divisive, often derided band, and just adds more fuel for why that’s the case. Realistically, it’s the first moment in Evanescence’s career where that can be definitively said, but in a career as lightly populated with material as theirs, it stands out all the more. It’s a resounding failure above all, the sort that Evanescence should be well above by now.
For fans of: Within Temptation, Halestorm, We Are The Fallen
‘The Bitter Truth’ by Evanescence is out now on Columbia Records.
The majority of 24kGoldn’s success feels as though it can be attributed to be in the right place at the right time. Right around the beginning of the pop-rock / trap boom, he released Mood, the sort of earworm anthem that artists in both camps would be lucky to stumble upon at any point in their careers, and as the wave continued to crest, the song just got bigger and bigger. Right now, it’s one of the defining hits of that movement, but does it really deserve to be? It’s a good song, no doubt, but compared to what’s now become the de facto litmus test of Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets To My Downfall and how its version of pop-punk was a calculated but purposeful move, 24kGoldn’s achievements bring more to mind an artist reaching a height off a residual updraft through targeting above all else. To put it more simply, it’s not really a surprise that Mood has caught on in a way that his previous, very similar single City Of Angels didn’t. Moreover, when putting that in the perspective of El Dorado as a whole, the brighter, guitar-driven lead single choice drips even more with the calculation of tapping into a noteworthy zeitgeist, on what’s otherwise a standardly put together pop-trap album. As could’ve reasonably been predicted, the presence of those bigger, prominent guitars isn’t a constant, mainly serving as a method of giving some propulsion to songs like Breath Away or 3, 2, 1, rather than defining anything themselves. It’s nice to hear those tones to break away from trap monotony, but it’s not like they don’t feel just as flimsy or cheap in a mix that’s almost universally so. There’s no sense of scale to this album that could make use of 24kGoldn’s pop instincts and prevent it from feeling so undercooked; even Mood could do with a bigger crescendo to make its monster of a chorus hit all the harder. It’s the moment where 24kGoldn’s particular musical synthesis feels the most at home, where a lot of more standard, moody trap fare doesn’t give his more animated personality the space it could really use. The lighter, pluckier tones of Love Or Lust and Coco get a bit closer, but again, it’s the barrier of thin, shoddy production holding it back from clicker more deeply. The moments of enjoyability on El Dorado really feel like literal moments, plugged into the bare necessities of pop-trap to squeak by with a complete package.
What’s more, you get the impression that 24kGoldn is more interesting as a performer than he’s allowed to be here. His voice is obviously untrained but there’s a loose, stringy intrigue to it that’s almost akin to a more rounded version of Trippie Redd, and there’s clearly a command of melody here that he’s good at utilising. And yet, for all of that, El Dorado is notably forgettable, mainly for how compromised it feels for the mainstream success that 24kGoldn has been set up to hit. The lyrics are absolutely nothing special, for one, and often come across as just as flimsy and empty in the rote trap regurgitation as the production, but even down to the crop of guest stars, there’s a micromanaged vibe to it all, from the bankable Future and Swae Lee appearances on Company and Empty respectively, to the DaBaby verse on Coco that’s mandatory for all 2020s pop music. Mood has iann dior for something a bit different, but he might actually be talentless in how little of that song’s appeal is because of him. Really, if there are points on El Dorado that work, they’re a product of either a brighter sound or 24kGolden himself as a singer, neither of which are allowed to do more than garnish another dull, unengaging go-around of a trap album. Without question, this is an album crumbling under the concessions made for it, as a pop angle in the rearview mirror has been fixated on to the point where so little of it actually sticks, or feels meaningfully produced. He mightn’t show it regularly, but 24kGoldn is better than this material would indicate, and the fact that he’s been locked to a drab, rather insubstantial album does him a real disservice. The momentum of Mood will only last so long, and the fact that El Dorado really has no obvious fallbacks at this stage might be a worrying sign when it does.
For fans of: Post Malone, Swae Lee, Arizona Zervas
‘El Dorado’ by 24kGoldn is out now on Columbia Records.
Death From Above 1979
Is 4 Lovers
In the realms of the power duos that field so much eye-rolling nowadays, Death From Above 1979 have never been among that crowd. They pretty much predate them all besides The White Stripes for a start, and their tighter dance-punk style cuts away so much of the flab by default that can make the umpteenth iteration of blues-rock such a chore. Naturally they’re less of a big draw, but even with a sparse discography they’ve set a bar of quality for themselves that’s undeniably strong, indicative of a band who can actually do something creative with their limited resources in a way that others in their lane may boast but can’t actually muster. That all being said, DFA aren’t as comfortable a fit among the preconceived notion of a ‘power duo’; they feel more kinetic and able to move at an independent pace, and the benefit of that notably comes to fruition on Is 4 Lovers. Songs will still be caked in fuzz and distortion, but there’s a tautness within them that holds a firmer structure that keeps an already brisk album moving pleasantly often. Even in the heavy manipulation on Sebastien Grainger’s vocals, it’s less of a bugbear than in other cases because of how sharp DFA’s execution is overall, where Jesse F. Keeler’s drumming is super tight and forceful behind the blown-out shreds of guitars, lending a quicker sensibility to the quaking garage-rock of One + One and Free Animal, and the slightly looser but more groove-driven electronic rock of Glass Homes.
That’s not to say that Is 4 Lovers is immune to the hang-ups that often plague this subsection of music, just that it’s less beholden to them. It still isn’t great that the duo will fall back on blasted-out walls of noise to fill in their mixes, or that their writing isn’t all that incisive for some of the commentary it’s trying to make on a song like N.Y.C. Power Elite Part I (even though it’s still a cut above most others), but DFA aren’t held back by those factors to the same extent. They’re more auxiliary features that clean-cut flaws, and that can be a surprising rarity among the power-duo set, though it’s more a case of DFA having more to go on besides just those elements. Volume always stands as a benchmark for what acts like this will achieve, but Is 4 Lovers has constructive variety on top of that, and that ultimately makes up the difference between being just another one of ‘these albums’, and one that can actually hold its own within the greater rock scene. That’s always been a distinction that DFA have had, and Is 4 Lovers advances on that notion with creativity and tact that’s unquestionably good to see. Even with its identifiable shortcomings, they aren’t deal-breaking, and it’s impressive that the duo can lean into them without becoming overwhelmed by how overplayed they might otherwise be. That’s the sign of a band who know what they’re doing when it comes to stepping outside of such a predetermined lane, something that will likely always work in DFA’s favour if they keep it up like this.
For fans of: Blood Red Shoes, Royal Blood, ‘68
‘Is 4 Lovers’ by Death From Above 1979 is out now on Everything Eleven.
Slash And Burn
GHLOW’s application of punk might sound like the sort of wide-reaching genre fusion that many a contemporary band would hold in esteem, but really, there’s a specific source that the throughlines can be easily draw to. With the clattering electronic edge that’s clearly meant to mirror and enhance a biting alt-rock heart beating within, this duo clearly have their gaze fixated on The Prodigy. The problem with that comes in how their debut Slash And Burn owes most to The Prodigy’s later work overall, where their game-changing framework is still a factor, but it’s become far less effective over time. That manifests in the slow, clattering percussion that bricks out Sleep and Hold On, where the combinations of terse guitars and electronics seem to drizzle themselves over rather than capture any sort of electrifying energy. It doesn’t help that the production on Slash And Burn as a whole isn’t too appealing; there’s a curdled, furious edge to just how ragged and loud it sounds, but there’s not much in the way of modulation or layering that would build up some kind of momentum. This isn’t a very memorable album on a deeper level than the barrage of sound it produces on the very surface, with only a couple of moments that – seemingly by chance – will thin themselves out and ramp up the pace to offer a clearer rush. Tracks like Not Fit For This and Hollow show it’s possible, but it’s something that GHLOW put a disappointingly small amount of their resources towards overall.
But then again, that also could be part of the point, where GHLOW embody the more classic, primal spirit of punk in the bashed-out execution that strives to prioritise rawness over everything else. That seems to be the case in the thornier lyrics, but there’s definitely a line where the appreciation of the effort doesn’t necessarily cross over into an approach that works. The fact that Emille de Blanche isn’t a terrific technical singer isn’t an issue, but when she’s frequently drowned out and distorted by just how heavy the production is feels a bit more objectionable, and it starts to come across like GHLOW’s image of serrated edges and exposed machinery can overtake an actual musical vision. It’s an awkward jamming together of elements that has more promise on paper than in practice, where the seed of good ideas remains noteworthy without being built on too readily. It’s reminiscent of the short-lived electroclash scene, in both a grasp on abrasive sounds to sharpen any existing edges, and also an execution that ends up more glaringly flawed than its creators can suitably work through at this point. Again, maybe that’s the point, but it’s not doing GHLOW any favours.
For fans of: The Prodigy, Ho99o9, The Garden
‘Slash And Burn’ by GHLOW is released on 2nd April on PNKSLM Records.
The vibe that Hey, King! give off is one of an act more concerned with creating their art than what genre it’s pigeonholed into. It feeds into the smaller, tightly-knit nature of the duo – comprised of couple Natalie London and Taylor Plecity – where this self-titled album will float through polished indie-folk and indie-pop, with the central musical theme being how insular it is. It almost feels in the vein of Billie Eilish creatively, with a fragmented intensity that rests below the surface and a lot a negative space deliberately left in the bigger mix. It can take a little while to get to grips with, especially when the percussion can be the loudest element, but there’s an interesting magnetism to it regardless. Despite the polish, there’s a good few ragged edges as far as performance goes, in how the vocals mightn’t feel as tightly worked on Don’t Let Me Get Away or the musical arrangements have clear moments of openness on Beautiful and Sing Me To Sleep. It’s an interesting compositional choice overall, but one that puts a lot of focus on the extra layers that will trill away within the space left, like the strings or horns that’ll slip into these mixes for some more colour. Granted, it’s also at the mercy of immediacy, and the way this album can drift through its own songs can mean that hooks don’t tend to materialise as often as they could outside of a few instances. That’s where Hey, King!’s biggest issue probably condenses, in that they still need a bit more stability to pull off what they’re going for most effectively. On a song like Road Rage, there’s clearly a pulse running through that owes more to blues-rock or classic rock, and yet the floaty, pastoral nature of their sound doesn’t allow them to fully realise that goal.
It’s a strange case, mostly because the intention is clearly in frame and executed to the best of the duo’s abilities, but there’s also a ceiling placed on where they can reach because of that. That’s why a more lyrical angle is best to make some of that presence out, where London and Plecity will have their moments of celebrating each other and their relationship, but also tackle their grievances among that. Songs like Morning and Sorry act as a more compelling foil for what could otherwise be effectively an update on clandestine ‘60s singer-songwriter fare, not necessarily showing cracks in the veneer but adding human moments that are appreciated among it all. It’s also the benefit of Hey, King! having that small scale, and allowing those smaller thoughts and feelings airtime to resonate. Furthermore, it somewhat ties together an album that might otherwise feel a bit too diffuse to work; hell, it still might for some, but there’s a lot of intrigue going on within Hey, King! that makes it worth paying attention to regardless. It’s clearly more than just another bedroom-pop or microscopic-scale indie-pop project, and it’ll be interesting to see what that’ll lead into eventually, even if right now, it’s more defined by scattered ideas that could still use some more time in the oven. Seeing how they’ll lean into that and make it work will ultimately dictate how much they can do; right now though, the potential is definitely there to be met.
For fans of: early Tegan And Sara, Wild Pink, Aaron Lee Tasjan
‘Hey, King!’ by Hey, King! is released on 2nd April on Anti- Records.
Burn In Many Mirrors
The excitement factor of black-metal lives and dies with bands like Wode, who are willing to open the sound up with it and do more than the preconceived baseline. In their case, on their third album Burn In Many Mirrors, there’s a notable melody and even clarity through a hefty, galloping trad-metal streak, and the difference is makes is palpable throughout. This feels like a bigger album without losing sight of itself; a song like Serpent’s Coil will still burn under its own sepulchral weight – particularly with T. Horrocks’ drumming being as versatile as it is – but the ear-catching centrepiece is the brazen, broadsword-wielding guitar line that has such a triumphant brightness to it among the hellfire. It helps that these are longer songs by extension, where Wode can add more progressive elements into the mix to further diversify within single tracks and keep things fresh throughout. Admittedly a lot of the payoff is felt more in the technical side of things rather than any sort of hook-craft (though that’s to be expected in a genre like black-metal), but that payoff is substantial all the same. It’s rarely an album that bleeds together, and even when it does, there’s a mood cultivated that’s pretty distinct to what Wode are looking to do.
On the other hand though, Wode’s brand of black-metal is still largely defined by the trappings of its own genre, regardless of how well it can rearrange and cross-pollinate them. The production on M. Czerwoniuk’s voice has some of the usual ropiness that’s more noticeable against the relative opulence of everything else (though it’s nowhere near as bad as it could be), and the writing doesn’t tend to fare beyond the dark incantations and general spookiness that isn’t pushing the envelope in any considerable way. You’re not getting true genre redefinition on Burn In Many Mirrors, but at the same time, Wode do enough differently and distinctively to where they’re still bringing something fresh. Even at only six songs, the number of ideas woven into this release is considerable all the same, where the melody that’s frequently a positive when it’s brought to black-metal is retooled from a different source, and the final product has a defiance to it as a result. That’s a good thing for a band in an objectively mainstream-unfriendly lane to have; by no means will it yield crossover traction, but it’s the sort of blending and fusing of metal’s ideals that others seem to be oddly reticent towards. That alone is worth credit, and the fact that Burn In Many Mirrors is a pretty universally strong listen across the board only solidifies it.
For fans of: Spirit Adrift, Enslaved, Sacramentum
‘Burn In Many Mirrors’ by Wode is released on 2nd April on 20 Buck Spin.
At Her Majesty’s Pleasure
The expectations of Borstal seem to come together rather quickly when considering the composing parts. You’ve got members of Knuckledust and Dripback, as well as Brujeria and King Of Pigs alumni for good measure, and a sound that’s based on both New York and UK hardcore. Sure enough, the debut EP acts as pretty much the sum of all of those parts, where their particular hardcore sound is as sturdy and aggro as expected, though with not much else to it. Maybe there doesn’t need to be with hardcore as bluntly pummelling as this is trying to be, but across At Her Majesty’s Pleasure’s six tracks, Borstal don’t give off much of a spark that’s emblematic of themselves. The best track here is a cover of The Last Resort’s King Of The Jungle, which really says a lot about, how both musically and lyrically, the band are holding onto the street-level hardcore ideals without fleshing them out too much. Apart from Pierre Mendivil’s guttural, garbled vocal performance, Borstal give off the feeling of the side-project that it is, not looking to push forward musically and feeling a bit staid as a result.
Granted, that in itself is probably a selling point for some, given that there’s still a good amount to like about the sound, and Borstal clearly have the benefit of prior existing skill when it comes to their particular stripe. It’s perhaps not as earth-shakingly heavy or all-encompassing as it could be, especially in some flatter drum pickups in spots, but there’s still a weight to the guitars and bass to craft the seismic, propulsive sound that this scene thrives on. They also set up the darker, grittier atmosphere that makes UK hardcore especially work well in the collage of samples over quaking riffs on Refuse To Lose, a command of atmosphere that’s familiar but works well regardless. In fact that’s a good way to encapsulate Borstal as a whole, in that they’re really getting by on an acumen within hardcore that’s notably strong, as a way to swerve around a lack of uniqueness or novelty. It mightn’t seem like much – and if there’s more music to come, it’ll need to be addressed then – but At Her Majesty’s Pleasure is a solid opening shot, if only to lay down exactly where Borstal are coming from and the overall bar of quality they can provide. Maybe it’s one for hardcore completionists only, but they’re hardly the only band that applies to after all.
For fans of: Knuckledust, Sick Of It All, TRC
‘At Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ by Borstal is released on 1st April on 4 Family Records.
For ĠENN to title their new EP Liminal hints at a knowingness of their place that most bands wouldn’t acknowledge. As a building on the lithe post-punk of their debut Titty Monster and infusing it with new, more colourful elements, the result is definitely a transitional one, but perhaps not as debilitating as that may imply. For one, ĠENN‘s base sound was open enough already to allow these indie-pop strains to be woven through, and without undermining so much of the onus placed on groove and remarkably taut composition. That really excels on the tight wind and layered percussion of Mackerel’s Funky Mission, but there’s a pliability there for it to be transposed into something more punk-oriented on Catalyst, or a moodier, atmospheric number like Just Another Sad Song. Even with the production being a bit dry and minimal overall, it’s a wise decision to keep it out of the way and let the songs play out; more often than not, it leads to a quiet vibrancy that comes from instrumental lines and movements having the room to explore and expand as they want. It’s an excellent tactic when it comes to creating a mood, and that’s where Liminal hits its stride the most.
At the same time, it highlights the flexibility of ĠENN as a band creatively on pretty much every front. Lyrically there’s definitely a political bent on a song like 23rd March, but they’re still able to proceed it with something lighter and more absurd in Mackerel’s Funky Mission without it feeling clunky or tonally dissonant. At least, not in a way that’s actively distracting; Liminal overall feels like a vehicle for testing the waters of new sounds and ideas, and it can lack a completeness because of that. But again, it’s something that ĠENN can pull off, and with Leona Farrugia having a voice that’s just as malleable to follow suit, their relative placelessness essentially becomes one of their most noteworthy strengths. That’s cool to see, where the path ahead is much wider and diverse, and the promise of adaptability of ĠENN’s part makes the prospect of sticking around so much more appealing. Especially in the indie scene, this is a band really worth paying attention to.
For fans of: Dream Wife, Frauds, Sports Team
‘Liminal’ by ĠENN is released on 1st April on Everything Sucks Music.
Words by Luke Nuttall