It’s a strange case with Wolf Alice, that they’ve managed to withstand the boom-and-bust indie hype cycle without really bucking against it. They’re the sort of band who are big exclusively when they’re around; there’s no evergreen period in the vein of rock’s biggest who they’ve become accustomed to rubbing shoulders with, and that can make them seem less impressive than they might actually be. It doesn’t help that Visions Of A Life felt a bit ‘difficult second album’ even when it came out, but the truth is that Wolf Alice’s blend of indie-rock, grunge and shoegaze doesn’t have the benefit of a comfortable box which can ultimately buoy up safer, more compartmentable acts. In the current industry climate, their position on indie’s A-list has ran a lot longer than it probably should, and while that’s undoubtedly a good thing on the grounds of diversity in a genre that chronically lacks it, it doesn’t guarantee that Blue Weekend will do more for them than their previous two albums have. That’s not to say it isn’t good though, or that Wolf Alice don’t deserve a lot of the plaudits they’re already getting for it, but there’s definitely a degree to which Blue Weekend doesn’t have the legs a more instant gratification scene would demand from it. It’s a lot more gauzy and tranquil, where the production blushes and softens everything in a style that’s almost akin to Lana Del Rey at times. It’s a bit of an odd case too; there’s no doubt songs like Delicious Things and The Last Man On Earth are given an elegance through just how swaying and swooning they are through the strings and blurs of production, but it’ll also cause the edges of a more rock-focused track like Smile to grind, or turn the attempt at punk on Play The Greatest Hits into mush. The good thing is that, generally, Wolf Alice know what to do to get the best possible outcome, which is why so much of Blue Weekend is toned down, with Ellie Rowsell in a quieter, gentler register. It can make for some great moments too, like the beautiful harmonies that sing out against the acoustic folk of Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love), or How Can I Make It OK?, where Theo Ellis’ bass pops out among the dreamier haze that’s directly reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. It makes for a lovely sound at its best, where Wolf Alice’s forays into dream-pop have all the necessary texture and restraint without falling too deep into sluggishness or sleepiness.
It’s a good sign that the band are able to assimilate so neatly, especially on what’s a more reflective album that benefits from a more spacious, languid focus, especially in the parallels to a lot of the confusion that clouds Rowsell’s thoughts here. It’s never truly transgressive when it comes to the issues and thoughts written down – thematically, there’s an applicability to a very broad audience, to which that does feel like the point – but Wolf Alice are a more sophisticated band overall, shown when other figures step into the picture to dig in their unwanted assumptions on Smile or narcissism on The Last Man On Earth. Of course, Rowsell puts herself at the centre of her story, where she’ll be enticed by the hedonistic but ultimately empty LA lifestyle on Delicious Things and find herself contemplating relationships failed or cut short on Lipstick On The Glass and Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love), and it’s the more contemplative air of the album that honestly makes it work better. They come more in the vein of clouded memories that actual full-throated declarations of emotion, which makes sense given the last year, but also when considering how the closer The Beach II is a look forward to better times, where opportunities to relax and be with friends and loved ones are viable once again. It’s another reason why the more abject intensity of Play The Greatest Hits doesn’t necessarily work; contextually it’s a jerk away from where Wolf Alice lay down their best material on this album, and its inclusion only gets more awkward with each subsequent spin. It’s a shame that that’s the case too, when Blue Weekend’s charms really only reveal themselves on multiple listens, as the layers will spread out and glisten and the overall sentiments begin to sink in a lot deeper. It’s the best kind of slow burn in that regard, despite some uneven patches that might steer it away from the true greatness that so many have already attributed to it. But again, that praise isn’t wrong, and here, Wolf Alice’s longevity within indie-rock feels perhaps the most justified it’s ever been. • LN
For fans of: Hinds, Sunflower Bean, Alvvays
‘Blue Weekend’ by Wolf Alice is out now on Dirty Hit.
It’s safe to say that Atreyu have never been the most reputable of bands. With a melodramatic, emo-flavoured take on metalcore in the 2000s (which laid down the framework for ceaseless Jon Feldmann collaborations before it was cool), Atreyu became a band that wouldn’t be primed to surge into metal’s big leagues among polite company, but was still enjoyable on a base, emotional level all the same. Lead Sails Paper Anchor is still a good album, and should Atreyu have chosen to back out after that initial run, they might’ve been viewed more favourably in retrospect. They didn’t though, and since returning with Long Live in 2015, it’s been very up in the air about what this band are actually looking to achieve now, with metalcore in a far different place than in their heyday. Though on Baptize, it can be said with the greatest of certainty that this might be the most convincing evidence to date of Atreyu’s leap from guilty pleasure to just plain guilty. It’s their first album following the departure of Alex Varkatzas, leaving Brandon Saller as full-time frontman, and putting the burden of tying together a borderline unworkable mess squarely on his shoulders. Because a strong vocal performance can only do so much when the fundamental pieces aren’t even that good, as Baptize opts for the already-dated cross-section of super-slick metalcore with thunderous butt-rock in such an unappealing way. This album feels every single one of its 41 minutes, where generic, plastic-covered riffs will bulldoze through a mix that’s already lacking decent bass and drum presence, before the usual dollops of filmy production are smeared over everything. There’s not a hint of creativity to be found, where Underrated and Catastrophe follow such a stock pattern in building up to dime-a-dozen anthemic choruses, or Untouchable employs a marching riff and drumline that must’ve been used in this exact way an excruciating number of times. Even with Jacoby Shaddix and Matt Heafy trying to gee up some star power (as well as Travis Barker, whose marching band drum fill on Warrior is the most distinct the album gets), the personality vacuum that Atreyu have become renders them effectively useless when it comes to hitting what could reasonably be called a high point.
But even then, there’s clearly at least a modicum of dedication that’s gone into this. It’s not Atreyu sound like they’re slacking when it comes to the bombastic sound, regardless of how empty it might be, and even if the screams are effectively garnish, Saller as a main vocalist can bring a degree of passion and force that’s ultimately worthwhile. It’s just a shame that Baptize on the whole isn’t worthwhile, as yet another run through the list of metalcore tropes reads as an increasingly desperate grasp at scene relevance, only not realising this particular arm of the scene has been dead and gone for years. Thus, there are songs like Underrated and Untouchable in which Atreyu extol how great they are in predictably hollow fashion, or Broken Again and Fucked Up that boil inner turmoil down into glib catchphrases (the latter being especially embarrassing in that regard), or Weed which attempts profundity that’s so far out of this band’s depth that it’s almost funny. To be fair, there isn’t a single lyric on this album that’s as loathsome as scene-metalcore at its most embarrassing could get (though they aren’t far off at times), but that just highlights how much of a nonentity Atreyu are on their own album. This could’ve come from a generator with very minimal edits to the end product, such is the lack of anything of note that Atreyu bring. They’ve bounced back from what could’ve been a major hit, sure, but what’s come from that begs the question of whether it was even worth carrying on, if this was all that they would make from it. Because even at their most maligned, Atreyu weren’t boring, not to the extent where they see a collection of blank, underfed templates to be worth releasing. • LN
For fans of: Memphis May Fire, Papa Roach, I Prevail
‘Baptize’ by Atreyu is out now on Search And Destroy Records / Spinefarm Records.
Hacktivist have always had the mentality of working at their own pace, and it’s surprising that it’s only just now catching up with them. Their debut Outside The Box took a long while to arrive, but when it did, its fusion of tech-metal and grime still felt fresh, and arguably the most cutting-edge form of rap-metal at the time. That was in 2016 though, and between grime falling away in favour of drill within hip-hop, and trap-metal effectively subsuming whatever scant presence most ‘traditional’ rap-metal had left, Hyperdialect’s footing seems a lot less stable than the band might want to acknowledge. Hacktivist aren’t infallibly future-proof, and what might’ve felt state-of-the-art once isn’t guaranteed to stay like that, especially when there hasn’t been much of an update in the half-decade interim. Well, that’s not strictly true – there is new co-vocalist Jot Maxi, who might be singlehandedly the biggest boon that Hacktivist have in this current incarnation. He’s a lot more vicious and gnashing in his vocal tone, which does rub off on J Hurley in terms of his own rawness, and feeds into the senses of foreboding on Lifeform and wide-firing rage on Planet Zero. The performances are a lot more energised than one might expect after so long away, where the blend of grime and metal works to smoothen down any notable seams that might’ve been present previously. It makes a difference as well; lyrically Hacktivist aren’t always flexing their political muscles here, but the tonal consistency in their sense of domineering presence is borderline flawless throughout. There’s the same energy given to beating back lesser rappers on Anti-Emcees and asserting their dominance within the scene on Armoured Core as addressing harmful political divides on the title track and anti-immigrant sentiments on Dogs Of War. There’s power to how Hacktivist assert themselves as such a universally steamrolling presence, all while avoiding a lot of the corniness that this sort of rap-metal can invite. Wisely leaning more towards metal and even hardcore proves to be the best possible decision, taking the approach of their debut and edging it forward into a harsher final product with really only nominal change. That continues to make it feel vital, something which a lot of acts in this restrictive bracket have a much harder time with.
That’s further remedied by the fact that Hacktivist’s musical canvas lends itself far more naturally to channelling a grimy, street-level heaviness that fits perfectly with their overall approach. That might seem like the antithesis of tech-metal’s purpose, but in the constant streams of tumbling riffs and a bass tone that could leave holes in concrete all on its own, it’s a lot more guttural and in-keeping with the aggression of the grime that it’s paired with. There isn’t room for much expansion outside of the glassier easing-back of Lifeform or the metalcore influences brought from Betraying The Martyrs’ Aaron Matts on the title track, but Hacktivist ride what they have with some impressive momentum that does everything it needs to before it becomes stale. Sure, How Dare You Exist and Reprogram aren’t as memorable as closers as what comes before, but more often than not, Hyperdialect strikes that mark of urgency with flying colours, where on levels of both presence and technical acumen, it’s a great listen. The production proves imperative in this too, in the abundance of tech-metal sleekness that pushes the metallic crunch right to the fore, in a way that might unfortunately muddy some of the vocals at times, but never to an unreasonable degree. Hacktivist still sound like they’re channeling the most contemporary of settings with Hyperdialect if not sounds, and that could be where their preferable niche lies moving forward. As far as rap-metal goes, this isn’t going to move the needle just like their debut didn’t, but it’s a take that still feels unique to them that they continue to lean into, and flourish within it. It doesn’t stop Hyperdialect from being basically a lateral move, but it’s the best kind overall, in that there’s still a palpable hunger that the slight tweaks and improvements continue to facilitate. Hacktivist are well and truly owning their place as outliers within the current scene, and using it to find exactly where their greatness lies. • LN
For fans of: Body Count, Heart Of A Coward, TRC
‘Hyperdialect’ by Hacktivist is released on 18th June on UNFD.
Back here again then, eh? Though with cleopatrick, being a post-Royal Blood power-duo is only half of their musical insulation, the other being footing within the same alt-hard rock scene that’s spawned Badflower and Highly Suspect. Still, splitting your creative mojo between two fairly limited scenes is hardly conducive to musical quicksilver, something which BUMMER might feel the brunt of more than most. It’s not like cleopatrick have a lot to say outside of a very regular, burned-out aspect of modern life, where the lyricism itself has a bit more flavour in terms of word choice, but Luke Gruntz has the sort of disaffected, loose delivery that rings closer to someone like grandson. In these stakes, Badflower still hold a much better grasp on how to make this sort of openness and vulnerability gripping, mostly because there’s a palpable desperation to how they do it, rather than trying to sound manic and dousing what’s there in unhealthy amounts of fuzz. That in itself rarely leads to anything good (especially when it actively affects the fidelity of the vocals themselves), and BUMMER seldom seems to settle on a direction as a result. cleopatrick will try to sound wild and reckless and caught in the ups and downs of the rockstar lifestyle, but it’s really just a mess that doesn’t amount to much outside of that.
Bear in mind, all of that is placed on top of the usual problems a power-duo will face, namely a lack of real depth or diversity in their sound that comes to pass at almost every turn, even on an album like this that’s at least mercifully short in doing so. Again, the fuzz is cranked up to where songs like VICTORIA PARK and PEPPER GHOST sound like they’re coated in static, without even any particularly thrilling spikes or tempos that could make it worthwhile. It’s all entirely stylistic for no good reason, to where turning it down for a song like FAMILY VAN doesn’t sound any more innovative, but it’s more bearable. Beyond that, any bass tone is evaporated under how full-on the lack of real modulation makes this feel, and outside of an odd groove or riff that’ll be ear-catching enough, cleopatrick don’t leave much to say with this. Supposedly the rough-and-ready sound was what they wanted – it’s probably why 2008 with its awkward hanging guitar strums that are similarly caked in delay is here – but you have to wonder why, given that similarly limited bands are able to pull it off while sounding less invasive as this. As much as their star has fallen, Royal Blood at least have a good hold on marrying rhythm and heaviness together when it’s needed; cleopatrick, meanwhile, feel totally fixated on heaviness, which might make for an old-school punk or garage-rock vibe to their music, but that ends up clashing and grating in record time. This isn’t an album that demands much revisiting after an initial listen through, given that everything it offers can be gleaned on either the first go, or just from looking around at their peers. More likely than not, that’ll be a more enjoyable experience.
For fans of: Royal Blood, Highly Suspect, Dead Poet Society
‘BUMMER’ by cleopatrick is out now on Nowhere Special Recordings.
Glory, Glory, To The World
Glory, Glory, To The World is the new EP from Japanese metallers Lovebites. Their sound encapsulates strong elements of melodic and power metal, and takes influences from Western metal. The new EP follows their 2020 album Electric Pentagram. Releasing via JPU Records, the EP also features the award-winning band’s first theme song from anime as a bonus track. The title track opens the EP with a dramatic, cinematic orchestral build up before launching headfirst into their intense sound. Ludicrously intricate guitar riffs attack from all sides and the energy levels are racing high. Powerful lead vocals soar above the full sounding instrumentation. Everything marries together, and the track flows from one catchy rhythm to the next, really drawing on power metal motifs.
Paranoia returns to the cinematic style with a marching drum introduction. A haunting piano melody follows before the explosion into metal instrumentation. The mood of this track has a dark, almost Gothic aspect, with the music keeping more to the lower tones throughout. Soaring vocals and backing orchestration develop the sound delivering a fantastic atmosphere. Concluding with Winds Of Transylvania it’s clear to see why this song is award winning. Lovebites have combined elements of dramatic guitar leads, theatricality and progressive composition. It creates a dynamic EP that delves into their distinctive sound and shows how they are continuing to develop as an ensemble. Each track on Glory, Glory, To The World delivers a powerful impact while all retaining their own identity. • HR
For fans of: Unleash The Archers, HammerFall, Beast In Black
‘Glory, Glory, To The World’ by Lovebites is out now on JPU Records.
Replica Of A Strange Love
If you’re looking to get attention within a scene so inherently tied to certain images and eras in fan culture as 2000s screamo, naming your band Wristmeetrazor certainly gets the message across as brusquely as possible. The name might be tasteless but their debut Misery Never Forgets picked up a solid amount of buzz which, for an album released outside the wave in which it’s currently riding, is something to take note of. Of course, there’s now something of a disadvantage when it comes to having other acts to whom their output will receive greater scrutiny in comparison, and that does kind of reveal how Wristmeetrazor aren’t quite as interesting as others. They certainly aren’t bad, and within a burgeoning scene revival, Replica Of A Strange Love is a fine addition to have, but it doesn’t have the erratic mania of SeeYouSpaceCowboy or the greater scope of If I Die First. More so, Wristmeetrazor are more authentically linked to the scene in which they’re pulling from, and it must be stressed that’s a good thing to have. There’s a greater sense of drama and macabre atmosphere that Wristmeetrazor bring, where that’s exacerbated by heightened emotions of heartbreak threaded through philosophy that’ll vamp it up by obscene degrees. It’s not tongue-in-cheek per se, but it’s very outwardly visceral in a lane that, in the scene’s modern incarnation, few are really inhabiting. It give room for Love’s Labor’s Lost and This Summer Sorrow: Growing Old In The Waiting Place to move out of expected screamo territory and into something moodier and more overbearing, where it’s very ‘scene emo’ in its ambitions but not in a style-over-substance way.
It’s actually rather surprising that Wristmeetrazor have as much as they do in both style and substance, especially when their first impressions turn out so rocky. But no, there’s some genuine legitimacy when it comes to what they’re doing, primarily through getting Knocked Loose’s Isaac Hale on production to vastly increase the weight of this sound. A song like Sycophant trends far more towards modern metallic hardcore as a result, and even if some of the swooping melodrama is shaved off because of that, more often than not there’s a balance hit that gives both sides equal screentime, like on A Fractured Dovetail Romance. Perhaps the vocals could be improved a bit, in how Justin Fornof’s mix balance can be a bit inconsistent – as can the quality of his performance when it slides around so often – but on the whole, Replica Of A Strange Love has the muscle needed to make for a convincing update. It’s a similar matter of balance, where the hints of shattered edges of the bass and drums give that homegrown scrappiness that contrasts excellently with how mighty everything around it sounds. It has the vibe of MySpace screamo with everything that makes modern hardcore great, rolled together for an noticeably inconsistent but still really enjoyable album that does far more than what it might imply on the tin. If the edgier-than-thou facade is off-putting, just know it’s not too defining a factor, and there’s actual quality within Wristmeetrazor that can stand on its own despite it. • LN
For fans of: Portrayal Of Guilt, Year Of The Knife, SeeYouSpaceCowboy
‘Replica Of A Strange Love’ by Wristmeetrazor is released on 11th June on Prosthetic Records.
It bears thinking about just how much stock labels put into artists like plxntkid, when they’re given big deals and promotional runs that barely amount to much beyond the usual flickers of virality they’d probably get otherwise. Especially in the case of plxntkid who’s entrenched in an emo-rap lane that’s basically run aground at this stage, putting this sort of support behind 7650 VERDAL feels less like a canny business move, and more like a necessary attempt to prolong a scene in which Epitaph has a fair stake in at this point in time. It can’t be because plxntkid is some fresh, new voice within the scene, because that certainly isn’t the case, given how much of 7650 VERDAL opts for the usual surface-level exploration of depression that cycles through all the usual phraseology on here we go again and cut myself again, before the usual break to flex wealth on rose quartz that feels completely at odds with any vulnerability he’s trying to embody elsewhere. None of this is particularly new, which is probably what makes it all the more exasperating to rattle through yet again with just as little individual personality behind it, and another highly untrained voice delivering it. The depression angle actually needs to give off some rawness and reality to make it stick, and plxntkid having nothing of the sort is simply a fast-track method for lumping him in with the other generic, unnecessary emo-rappers that feel the bare minimum is enough.
It’s a major reason why artists like this never seem to get anywhere, when hitting the right stylistic beats takes such a major precedence over creating anything that might have a chance of sticking around. It’s always been an exhausting exercise when it comes to evaluating artists like this, and the fact that plxntkid is basically no different is reason enough for why this scene’s resuscitation is basically a crapshoot. For one, the guitars on cut myself again and hospital bed are among some of the most compressed and muddy in emo-rap in a long time, where especially on the former, they barely rise above the role of blocks of noise to fill in some empty space. Beyond that, there’s a bit more of a budget to make doomsday lullaby and ur a loser sound less like stitched-together GarageBand loops, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that, outside of a less swamped tone overall, these are songs that could belong to literally dozens of other artists. Again, it almost seems pointless bringing any of this up when it’s so expected, but it’s worth highlighting how plxntkid’s work here really does feel like the dregs of a scene scrambled together for whatever last gasp of relevance it might have. Outside of those for whom this wave of emo-rap somehow manages to stick with, this feels pretty irrelevant in almost every way, and probably wouldn’t have even done much in the heyday of the style from which it’s cribbing. If Epitaph weren’t kind enough to give it a leg up, 7650 VERDAL would likely never make it off SoundCloud; it has nothing to offer, and nothing of note even worth mentioning. • LN
For fans of: Smrtdeath, Lil Aaron, Bexey
‘7650 VERDAL’ by plxntkid is out now on Epitaph Records.
Subtle Fiction I
It doesn’t take long to discern where Merci’s ambitions lie. You could argue that it’s before the music has even started when their list of influences features Lorde, HAIM and Lana Del Rey, only solidified by how super-cool and playlist-ready their brand of alt-pop wants to be. It’s got all the featherweight, Californicated pretensions towards infectiousness that one would expect, similarly held back by a slight package and presentation that doesn’t make for the most thrilling listen in the world. To their immediate credit, there’s definitely the capability for hook-writing shown on Subtle Fiction I in the shuffle of Never Coming Back and richer swell against the big drums of Foolish Me, which is probably the most key advantage that Merci have at this point. Sonically they aren’t much to behold, with a lot of reverb washed over plucky guitars and more pronounced percussion that would’ve been astonishingly in vogue among crossover indie a couple of years ago, but at least they aren’t railroaded to lumpen progressions or simply artistic ineptitude, like Imagine Dragons in both cases. It’s not a high bar to clear, granted, and the distortion thrown onto the guitars on The Palm is a bit much, but the glimpses of the more organic, Americana-influenced style of indie on this EP is alright, even if it’s still a bit thin and weedy overall.
As can probably be deduced, Merci are the sort of band that thrive more when graded on a curve, which is probably a more generous reality than they deserve. There isn’t a great deal of substance to this material after all, and while not being as limited in some of its themes and word choices as the bigger acts in their sphere, the same endgame is clearly in view. The breezier, freeing sentiment of Never Coming Back is nice, but Haunt Me and Foolish Me are definitely more standard in their accessible content, albeit trending towards something more passable. It’s more a case of Seth Coggeshall being a bit of an underwhelming frontman that’ll hold this EP down more; he’s got a very quiet, willowy voice that’s presumably supposed to sink into the shrunken presentation, but can feel critically underpowered at times when it can’t afford. Opening City Haircut with the line “Don’t pretend like you don’t want me” in his breathy little voice doesn’t come close to the swagger something like that is supposed to convey, and it’s an apt condensation of how limited Merci feel at this stage. Maybe on the aforementioned curve they fare better, but compared to everything else around them, they’ve got nothing close to pulling power or vigour beyond the potential for a decent chorus. As a debut EP, they’ve got the benefit of chalking it up to just getting ideas down, but even so, this is far from essential or the finished product of what this band are likely capable of. • LN
For fans of: HAIM, Bad Suns, Switchfoot
‘Subtle Fiction I’ by Merci is released on 11th June on Rise Records.
Almost immediately after starting up Your Drug, you can tell why January Jane have got major label backing this early on. They’re the sort of alt-pop for which anything truly ‘alternative’ is generously tangential at best, and leaning heavily on glossy ‘80s pastiches only sends their marketability skyrocketing even further. It’s also a case of January Jane being very beholden to those influences, meaning that populism is a clear priority even above anything even marginally inventive. It’s what throwback pop like this is built on, but the tropes and clichés here come out as significantly more glaring, in the ‘love as drugs’ symbolism of the title track and the ‘we’ve only got tonight’ ethos of Addicted To The Night. It makes for some by-the-numbers pop lyricism that isn’t awful, especially for what January Jane are doing, but uses its energy on the easiest possible softballs to guarantee a hit. It can’t be denied it works more often than not, but for a first impression, January Jane aren’t portraying themselves in any light whatsover; in terms of what these songs are trying to convey, these exact words could be – and sometimes, have been – sung by literally anyone else with no difference made.
But at the end of the day, when that populism wins out above all else, this is very hard to outright dislike, mainly through the part of the brain that’ll circumvent any critical faculties and latch onto a monster hook out of pure habit. Pat Via has a phenomenal voice for this sort of thing, hitting those emotive beats with a neon-dappled swagger and charisma that’ll easily elevate something like their version of I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), and batting five for five when it comes to the sheer audacity of chorus size is impressive for such a young band. The big-budget support certainly helps, in how clean and throbbing the synths and basslines are with just a bit of guitar for some new wave flavour, where the specific grooves and melodies could be lifted wholesale from any number of ‘80s synthpop acts (or, indeed, a similar number of modern adherents), and it still sounds like the most comfortable thing in the world purely through design philosophy. That in itself is enough evidence that January Jane will most likely be huge, even though they’re pretty much abiding by the formula to the letter with no deviation whatsoever. They’re purpose built for mainstream success at this stage, and that’s just something to put up when the music mightn’t have as much unique flavour as it could. At least what they’re making has an eternally great sound – that definitely salves the sting a bit. • LN
For fans of: Neon Trees, Walk The Moon, MOBS
‘Your Drug’ by January Jane is released on 17th September on Whiskey Vinyl Productions / BMG.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)