While She Sleeps
If there’s one thing that’s always impressed about While She Sleeps, it’s how humble they’ve always come across, even as they’ve gotten bigger. Even if it’s been at the expense of the fame of a Bring Me The Horizon or an Architects, the dogged, grassroots commitment to forming a community has always been such an intrinsic factor to While She Sleeps’ existence; ‘you are we’ became their mantra on that titular album cycle and has stuck ever since. There’s a similar impression given off by Sleeps Society, preceded by a fan platform to foster an even more tight-knit benefit within that community, the sort of decision that might feel overly opportunistic from most (it is pretty much just a Patreon campaign, after all), but from a band who built their own studio from scratch to become fully immersed in their creativity, it’s somewhat natural. That’s subsequently replicated on suitably fan-oriented Sleeps Society is, almost like an exacerbation of You Are We in a sense, where, within a turbulent, fraught world with constant, perpetual attrition at its disposal, banding together as a single, immobile unit and working to brave the storm becomes the source of the most power. Admittedly it’s not as good as You Are We’s similar presence, and has what might be one of the band’s most excessively tiresome moments to date (that would be DN3 3HT, a seven-minute piece comprised of spoken clips where the band show gratitude towards their fans that’s thematically appropriate but can never end soon enough) but there’s such an ironclad strength and populism to While She Sleeps’ approach that will grab without fail. It supremely makes up for the fact that they’re aren’t wordsmiths and a lot of their sentiments will fold into broad semantic fields, but there is rage and pain in a fractured world that drives Systematic and Nervous, and the triumph to beat back on Know Your Worth (Somebody) and No Defeat For The Brave has always been one of While She Sleeps’ best qualities. It effectively adheres to the standard of album that While She Sleeps have set for themselves, where they’ll revisit similar topical beats from release to release, but still sound hungry while doing so.
It is also worth noting that Sleeps Society isn’t While She Sleeps’ best album by a notable amount, but that’s also with the awareness the grading curve that it falls on will see them land more favourably regardless. It’s all down to expectation at this point, where the composite parts of a While She Sleeps album are effectively there already, and the quality comes form how well they’re arranged and replicated. On Sleeps Society, the needle falls somewhere in between You Are We and So What?, where the size of the former is sharpened by the slightly punkier slant of the latter, and will feel very visceral as a result. It’s definitely skewed towards the former, even as the grind of Systematic and the hollow percussion clatter of Know Your Worth (Somebody) are the flashes of excellence that did the most on that last album, but on their own, While She Sleeps have got their command of metal enormity down to an artform. The frequent implementation of more clean vocals from both Loz Taylor and Mat Welsh do a lot, as do the regular columns of gang vocals, particularly to form the hazy Division Street, but there’s a very distinct magic to a great While She Sleeps song that just hits differently. Nervous is the customary terrific slow-burn that sees yet another sure-footed step into metal from Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil, while Enlightenment (?), You Are What You Need, No Defeat For The Brave and plenty others have the snarl and roughened punk power that the band have monopolised truly well over the years. When While She Sleeps are operating at full capacity and checking off everything great about modern metal condensed within their arsenal, they can be unstoppable, and Sleeps Society is yet another example of just how easy they make that look. Even when landlocked to their established formula, it’s yet to get stale or unengaging, as it’ll simultaneously give off the feeling of titanic metal success story and young, vital upstarts with everything to prove without missing a beat. Tapping into their own populism while keeping grounded has never not worked for them, and Sleeps Society continues that trend with remarkable efficiency, as While She Sleeps’ leaps forward as a beloved metal band continue at full force.
For fans of: Bury Tomorrow, Parkway Drive, Counterparts
‘Sleeps Society’ by While She Sleeps is released on 16th April on Search And Destroy Records / Spinefarm Records.
Devil Sold His Soul
You can kind of tell that Loss is something of a comeback album for Devil Sold His Soul. That’s not because they sound rusty or out of shape as a band, but because hardcore and post-hardcore have changed a lot since their last release in 2014. Even on the side that Devil Sold His Soul inhabit, which favours loftier tones and a more extended presentation, there a bands like Svalbard that have taken that approach to new heights in a way that, to be honest, Loss does somewhat lag behind. That also comes, however, with taking into account that this is still a really strong album, where a lot of the boundaries pushed by Devil Sold His Soul in their original incarnation haven’t gone anywhere, but just aren’t as groundbreaking nowadays. Production this polished with have that effect over time, and in the quieter, swooping moments like the title track, it highlights some of the cleanliness in the mix layers that might be more than necessary. It’s also present in the clean vocals which are very landlocked to early 2010s Britrock, but for all the ways in which Devil Sold His Soul will ultimately show their age, Loss will make up for it with aplomb elsewhere. They’re still a sonic force to be reckoned with on pure size alone, where these songs will frequently eclipse six of seven minutes while remaining creatively fresh. They aren’t a band that’s about hooks very often, but there’s power and proficiency that makes up for that in spades, through dalliances with tones adjacent to atmospheric black-metal on Burdened, heavy, rich expansions of sound on Tateishi and The Narcissist, and even relatively upbeat post-hardcore on Beyond Reach. This feels like the work of a band with a lot of experience kicking down genre doors, where the balance remains strong enough to highlight the exhaling melody while still acknowledging that they’re a metal band. The vocal trade-offs between Paul Green and Ed Gibbs feel excellently equipped for that, as do some gigantic guitar passages from Rick Chapple and Jonny Renshaw that have great modulation when it’s needed. Jozef Norocky’s bass work is something of an expected casualty that metal this heady and widescreen tends to yield, but there isn’t irreparable damage done from it, and Alex Wood can definitely pick up any slack with his drumming for a necessarily booming rhythm section.
In terms of skill, Devil Sold His Soul really haven’t missed a beat, and their ability to go for about an hour and barely waver is a testament to how strong the formula they created still is. They aren’t mixing it up in any great sense, but as practically the original faces of it, that isn’t something they really need to do. It’s where comparatively Devil Sold His Soul mightn’t have the same footing as the newer breed exploring this sound, but in reinforcing what made it great to begin with, Loss is a fitting monument to everything that this band do excellently. Furthermore, for an album that serves as a vehicle to repel and banish so much of the negativity the past year has brought, that cinematic grounding and the extent to which emotion is so intrinsic to this sound gives it a real boost right from the off. In screamed vocals especially, there’s a reality to how intense this can be, even on the more saccharine title track to act as the album’s coda, where the reconciliation of that loss comes with understanding out of necessity rather than desire. It goes without saying that there’s a lot of nuance to pick up in this album from basically every angle, but each subsequent listen sees Loss and, by extension, Devil Sold His Soul themselves grow and evolve into something far more powerful and multifaceted. If that lag is still there, it’s a margins game for how negatively that’ll affect them, because this is still great work across the board. Even in the seven years since their last release, and nine since their last full-length, Devil Sold His Soul haven’t lost a single iota of drive; it’s no wonder they’ve proven to be so influential in the current scene, and long may that continue with albums like this.
For fans of: Svalbard, Heights, Landscapes
‘Loss’ by Devil Sold His Soul is released on 9th April on Nuclear Blast Records.
Well here we are, folks, at the semi-annual indie tipsters looking to ride high of mainstream expectation for 2021. Except with The Snuts, it doesn’t feel as definitive as countless others have in the past. Sure, they’ve got the single traction and ad airtime already, but an environment like the apocalypse of the last twelve months isn’t suitable in the slightest to foster the next big festival stage-packer, and The Snuts’ place on that pedestal seems to be more out of obligation than anything else. There’ll likely be a similar discussion to be had when Inhaler release their debut (though we’ll get to that in a couple of months), but there’s been notably decreased organic hype around The Snuts compared to others, and on face value, that already makes W.L. a difficult album to say much about when that tends to be where most of the conversation circles around. The best way to describe it is probably ‘sufficient at what it does’, as the sort of off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all indie that won’t alienate or offend, but still feels like a pretty pale facsimile of the actual heavy-hitters. For one, it’s not like The Snuts are really striving to obtain an identity beyond the one that their genre bestows upon them by default, where big sentiments and love songs will form the bulk of their material without having a lot of distinct flavour to them. The actual lyrical style is a cut above, in terms of word choice, but there’s a definite roteness to songs like Somebody Loves You and Maybe California where they’ll struggle to leave much of an impression as a result. It’s the case with W.L. as a whole, save for some unearned ego and brazenness on Don’t Forget It (Punk) and Elephants which can be borderline laughable at times, especially when Jack Cochrane’s meek little bleat can’t even come close to selling it convincingly.
But even then, W.L. has just as much of a dearth to complain about as it does to praise. Yes, it’s not a particularly gripping album in any sense (not less because of how profoundly inessential it sounds), but the generally middle-of-the-road presentation doesn’t spark up much in the way of emotion at all. At least on the more intimate opener Top Deck and the groovier following pair of Always and Juan Belmonte, The Snuts appear to be giving their needle some wiggle room, but the backpedal happens in earnest, in W.L. ends up being so nondescript for it. The usual high-end indie guitar tone is in abundance on Glasgow and Coffee & Cigarettes, held into place by the normal production job to mute the colours and place sufficient echo in all the right places. It’s as regular and aligned as it comes, to where it can even feel like The Snuts taking advantage of a lack of immediate competition by doing the bare minimum to fill in the gap. There’s a certain melodic richness at times that’s fine, and the briefest glimpses of the band eyeing a direction off the beaten path can add up to nudge it up slightly, but trying to qualify how W.L. is a better album that the other gazillion in its field that have come before and will indeed come after is a thankless task. It occupies the indie-rock spot now and will be gone in a few months time, as is the norm, and the rise of The Snuts will be just as abortive as all the others.
For fans of: Sea Girls, Blossoms, The Hunna
‘W.L.’ by The Snuts is out now on Parlophone Records.
Help Me, Help You
Stepson’s place in modern metalcore feels more by technicality than anything else. They’ve got the melodic leanings that the genre has well and truly picked up on, but that also manifest within post-hardcore or even just pop-rock, making for an amalgam of scene pivots that’s hard to really categorise beyond that. But it can’t be denied that there’s an intrigue factor to that, especially when there’s definitely been an effort made when it comes to blending those individual paths taken for a marginally more cohesive end result. On Help Me, Help You though, it says a lot that the strength of execution will ultimately supersede any gripes to be had about consistency in sound. Yes, the smoother, R&B-adjacent elements of I Wish and Dilemma do stray pretty far from what could be considered a ‘base’ sound here, but you get the impression that Stepson have put the same amount of thought and precision into making them work as everything else. The result is an album that packs a lot in without feeling overstuffed or lopsided in any particular direction, even to the end of eschewing some of the hyper-polished production that’ll run rampant through metalcore to lock in a more defiant sound. There’s a heft to songs like Learning To Let Go and The Shift, The Blur that’s clearly indebted to the mid-2000s in its blend of pristine focus and a gnashing post-hardcore sensibility, subsequently transposed into melodic hardcore on Run and Come With Me, and nervy, surging take on pop-punk on Deeper Sleep. It’s carried by the raggedness in Brock Alan Conry’s voice that’s laced with traces of his native Australian accent, a handy way to strip out the artifice that often holds firm in bands of this stripe to feel a bit more raw and real. There isn’t a great deal to really speak negatively of, honestly; Help Me, Help You is familiar in tone but goes a step further to give itself more punch, and it’s a testament to Stepson’s compositional tightness and intent that they’ll stay around the same benchmark regardless of how varied individual tracks might be.
It’s ultimately refreshing in a way, where the immediate scope of metalcore that’s regularly its best feature is given a more propulsive component to drive it along, and keep it steady in more organic territory that can benefit it more. Again, it’s hard to look past how indebted to older, fan-favourite post-hardcore and metalcore acts Stepson are on here, and that’s an era that can be blended with open melodic hardcore emotion borderline seamlessly. That’s definitely what they’re going for here too, where Conry looks to parse out the feelings of escaping an abusive relationship without censoring the reality and sometimes toxicity of his own feelings when looking back. It’s the sort of setup that’s perfect for this sort of throaty post-hardcore reliant on purging pain and negativity, where the recollections of his own escape on Learning To Let Go and Hush will morph into feelings of burning resentment on Come With Me and the shaken realisation of how he too has been changed and affected ultimately for the worse on The Entire History Of You. And with the centerpiece of I Wish, a moment of quiet realisation of the gaslighting that Conry had undergone and that he’d bought into as justification, there’s an approach into deeper nuance that’s really appreciated, if only to widen the scope beyond full-bodied, full-blast expulsion. It’s brought closer in line to hardcore through that rather than a typically shallow modern metalcore crop, and naturally that only elevates Stepson even further. They’ve managed to tap into numerous markets with true ease and determination, hitting on not only prescient emotional beats but a gripping instrumental canvas across the board that, even beyond this album, can still be expanded so much further. This is undoubtedly a band to watch in the coming years; for anyone left cold by A Day To Remember’s last album, Help Me, Help You is the surefire antidote to that in basically every way, and projecting that to continue couldn’t be a more exciting thought.
For fans of: Stick To Your Guns, Underøath, A Day To Remember
‘Help Me, Help You’ by Stepson is out now on Sharptone Records.
Lawless To Grave
In hardcore, it doesn’t feel enough to just dish out beatdown-induced bruises anymore. For a band to really stand out, especially in heavier, more metallic variants, they need to do something fresh with what they have rather than just sticking vehemently to the Hatebreed model, otherwise they run the risk of being left behind. And in the case of Purgatory on their new album Lawless To Grave, it’s very telling that that’s the first thought had, and it barely shifts across its duration. To be fair, they do have momentum of their own, where they’ll go into darker, uglier territory in tackling the very real issues of racism, addiction, corruption and a myriad other factors that plague the collective psyche of middle America. It’s most potent on the rally cry against police violence on the opener Stack ‘Em Up, but throughout, Matt Anderson displays such a clear, visceral rage that’ll always be a fitting backbone of metallic hardcore.
But among that, Purgatory’s presence doesn’t offer a uniqueness that would make that vision stand out like it could. They’re slavishly indebted to the set-in-stone heavy hardcore formula, where crunch and pummelling heft takes priority and leaves barely any room to experiment or even attempt to stand out from the pack. They aren’t bad at what they do, but they leave nothing to the imagination either; the slow, deliberate chugs that have been done countless times interspersed with more biting gallops like No One Gets Out Alive simply don’t stick out outside of their own quaking volume. Even then, it’s perhaps not as heavy as it could be, and Anderson’s vocals can feel distractingly flat in the mix, where the vein-popping intensity of his own performance doesn’t translate into how the album is mixed. But even then, those instances only congeal into the overall feeling that Lawless To Grave is just outmatched when it comes to what hardcore is in 2021. It’s not precisely bad for what it’s trying to be, but it’s also unnecessarily limited in the scope of its genre, where the inevitability of being swamped by scores of more distinctive releases is a severe cap of how well this goes down. At the end of the day, its biggest sin is that it’s just nothing special, but that might be more damning than it initially appears.
For fans of: Hatebreed, Terror, Harm’s Way
‘Lawless To Grave’ by Purgatory is released on 8th April on Unbeaten Records.
With the Australian garage-punk renaissance finding a groove that’s more agreeable than a bunch of identikit bands singing about being drunk and high, it feels like the perfect time for Skegss to come around. They’re a bit more thoughtful in the songwriting than this scene tends to be, presumably as a result of the alt-country influence that’s become more prominent on Rehearsal. The torn edges characteristic of their peers are less frayed and ragged here, and the pace is turned down in favour of something earthier and less combustible. It can be surprisingly mature sonically, as songs like Bush TV and Savour The Flavour will further borrow from grunge and jangly ‘90s alt-rock, and sound far more focused and sturdy through doing so. Really, the only trace of played-out garage-rock formula comes in the scruffier production and Ben Reed’s nasal, reedy voice; otherwise, Skegss commit to their more Americana-styled bent rather well, and it gives the likes of Picturesque Moment and Lucky the opportunity to ease back in a way that’s not always available. There’s more instrumental equity than normal too, as the guitars no longer overwhelm the mix and basslines and more intricate drum patterns can have their airtime. Most crucially though, Rehearsal displays a variety that albums in this vein just don’t tend to have, in which it’s not redefining anything (and can honestly run a bit longer than it really should), but has fewer of the ephemeral, one-note garage-rock staples that will so often weigh it down.
Even in the lyrics – the perennial nonentity of the Aussie garage-rock scene – there’s definitely an element of Skegss punching above their miniscule but still present weight class. They don’t do away completely with the booze and the hedonism as shown on Valhalla or Picturesque Moment, but that’s woven into a more complete picture overall, where it’s factored into a state of contentment that’s a rare commodity in the modern world. Even in the negative thoughts and influences that’ll pierce through on Running From Nothing and Curse My Happiness, there’s enough positivity to prevail and make an impact either way. Especially in a scene that seems to revel in its constant, immovable state of adolescence, it’s a refreshingly level-headed perspective to take, and it’s well-written enough to bestow a significant amount of longevity to Rehearsal that’s way beyond the usual one-spin-and-done standard. It’s reminiscent of the steps taken by Violent Soho and Dune Rats on their last albums to shed some of the performative looseness that clouded their previous work, except Skegss might even be a slight cut above them too. Even as an album that wears its influences prominently on its sleeve, Rehearsal does enough with them to feel engaging, and getting a clear sight of the individual personality of Skegss makes the whole thing stronger as a result, the sort of thing that far more garage-rock bands should be aiming for.
For fans of: FIDLAR, The Black Lips, Violent Soho
‘Rehearsal’ by Skegss is out now on Loma Vista Recordings.
It’s hard to know which perspective to go into The Limit with. On one hand, this could very well be another boomer-rock side-project taking advantage of the listening public’s willingness to bandy around the supergroup label, but members of The Stooges, Pentagram and The Testors imply a bit more than just another classic rock clone. These are important musicians in the formative history of punk and metal, after all, though a title as inadvertently deprecating as Caveman Logic dredges up some more uncertainty on its own. Therefore it’s not necessarily unwarranted to hedge some bets when it comes to The Limit, especially when they do indeed leave a lot to be desired as a collective. By virtue of a proto-metal coating that’s thankfully more exciting than retro-rock tends to be, they aren’t quite as middle-of-the-road as similar acts, but they’re definitely in the same ballpark when it comes to how songs like Kitty Gone and Fleeting Thoughts are structured and executed. The closest parallel is probably Danzig in how classic rock ideals are paired with a mood with a tad darker and more malevolent, but there’s rarely the impression that The Limit do much with it. They’ve got a better bass tone than average and the odd dalliance with punk like on Life’s Last Night will try and feel more bracing, but overall, they just aren’t interesting enough to turn this into more than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s the ubiquity of this throwback mindset, but Caveman Logic feels like a negligibly different flavour than any great reinvention, and it’s hard to get excited by that in any great fashion.
Of course, The Limit clearly want to stand out, and to be fair to them, giving Bobby Liebling’s vocals the lion’s share of mix volume does achieve that, given that he’s really not a good singer here. Again, the comparisons to Danzig can be felt in a lower timbre that tires to inject a ‘50s-ish sensibility to things, but he just sounds out of his depth more often than not when the performance is this shoddy. There’ll regularly be cracks or slips in diction that jar considerably against how high his vocal fidelity is, even with the enjoyment that can be found in his craggier tone that fits the grubby sound overall. It’s more an issue of balance, where The Limit will lean into their rougher sound in some areas but not others, and that results in a cheapness overall that makes the project feel crafted on the fly with little foresight of how to properly embody it. Even when the writing doesn’t need to be anything special, there’s still something deflating about sticking to the usual classic rock tropes with a slightly darker spin occasionally, as well as, on Fleeting Thoughts, another anti-modernity song that’s one of the more confused in its throughline that’s been heard in a while. It becomes a worrying sign when The Limit are only noteworthy when they stumble, but that seems to be in-keeping with the throwback-rock rubric overall, as Caveman Logic is slightly less ignorable than some of its contemporaries, but simultaneously no more captivating. It can probably be filed under ‘adequate for what it is’, and never taken out of that file again.
For fans of: Danzig, The Stooges, The Damned
‘Caveman Logic’ by The Limit is released on 9th April on Svart Records.
Don’t Think About It
Bands like Muttering don’t crop up nearly as much as they used to, a fact which remains a solid indictment for how Britrock continues to be on the wane. The peculiar thing is, though, even for those fleeting few bands trying to keep the cleaner early 2010s wave alive, Muttering feel very confused about what it is they’re actually doing. Don’t Think About It keeps towards the more downbeat style of Britrock you’d occasionally get from bands like The Xcerts of Fatherson, but there’s a dourness to Muttering’s approximation of it that those others don’t have. The instrumentation feels very dragged a lot of the time, where what’s presumably supposed to be languid and understated is sludgy and overwrought, and in the case of Good Luck with its jerking spikes of guitar, actively awkward. Opener Swim gets the idea a bit more right where it’ll pick up the usual blustery rollick, but it’s also the only instance where Chaz Bush’s vocals feel drowned out and underpowered. The production isn’t terrible on the whole – mostly the stock Britrock set that has a bit of rustle and texture but mainly relies on its polish – but it’s moments like that which betray a lack of experience that isn’t all that flattering to hear.
Beyond that, Muttering give off the impression of just another face in the crowd, more often than not. They don’t really have the benefit of big hooks to keep them nailed down when none of these five tracks are that pervasively memorable, and outside of a slightly more detailled guitar flourish on Rattle Your Cage, not a lot stands out for the best. Muttering’s defining feature at this stage seems to be a proclivity for making those Britrock tropes more sullen and waterlogged than necessary, and when the central lyrical theme is finding a way to rise above turbulence and power through the mire (serendipitous when these songs were actually written in 2019), there’s rarely the necessary feeling of triumph or strength to these songs. It can feel drained more than anything, where the energy won’t manifest and Muttering just end up sighing along until they eventually run out the clock. For a debut EP it’s not a good look, and it really puts a dampener on the expectations for them going forward, to where they actually feel a rung below the usual parade of new Britrock latecomers. At least there’s occasionally a spark to them that Muttering just can’t seem to find.
For fans of: Fatherson, Black Foxxes, Redwood
‘Don’t Think About It’ by Muttering is released on 9th April on Failure By Design Records.
Ugly As Hell
Another lockdown side-project here, though one with the snarling, roaring attitude that’s only amplified by its smaller confines. Wasted Death certainly have the pedigree for noise in featuring members of Big Lad, USA Nails and Beggar among their ranks, but this is very distinct kind they’re indulging in now, the sort of punk-metal pioneered by Motörhead and retooled by bands like Black Breath into something far more intense. As for Ugly As Hell, it’s a brief little EP that’s lodged deeply in its side-project status within that particular scene, but that’s no denigration on what Wasted Death are actually doing here. As far as sticking to the script goes, this is far more competent and exhilarating than many would expect, setting the tone early in the destructive violence of Thickened Skulls, with the lead-heavy guitar and bass and thrashed-out drums, and the guttural vocals of Charlie Davis that only add a further layer of destructiveness. Both musically and lyrically, it’s about as standard as this sort of thing comes, but this is a sharp estimation on all fronts that pretty much nails the tone and mood across the board. Perhaps on the longer Spat Out the punk fury can be tested at that length, but apart from that, this is a swift club to the temple that gets more or less everything right.
And honestly, it doesn’t feel like there’s much more to say. Wasted Death so solidly establish themselves through technique alone, barely letting up and loading these songs with the groove and rock ‘n’ roll swagger that sees these songs excel. The knocked-out quality of it presents an interesting new twist on a formula that’s often defined by how raw and raucous it sounds as well; as much as Converge or Black Breath are in view, they aren’t trying to be bested, and that makes for an almost inadvertent vibrancy and voracity on Wasted Death’s part. It feels fractured and thrown together, but that’s the point, and leaning into it heightens the punk vibe this music will regularly have to the trio’s great benefit. More than anything, it’s just a really solid example of a band who know what they’re doing and how to do it within their lane, where they most likely aren’t going to get much bigger but very much have the skill set to do so. There’s definitely plenty to be impressed by here, even if there mightn’t be much more on the way any time soon.
For fans of: Converge, Black Breath, Nails
‘Ugly As Hell’ by Wasted Death is released on 9th April on APF Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall