Angels & Airwaves
Tom DeLonge’s ambition has always been commendable. That extends more outside of his music, to be fair—he is the guy who basically proved aliens exist, after all—but even with Angels & Airwaves, devoting energy to a wide-reaching space-rock project that was pretty much the antithesis to his work in blink-182 was a rather sizable leap outwards. Granted, Angels & Airwaves’ output has been spotty at best since the beginning, but there’s also been a drive to succeed with it that’s been just as noteworthy, especially when it seemed to greatly inform blink-182’s post-hiatus works Neighborhoods and Dogs Eating Dogs. And now that DeLonge is out of that band with Angels & Airwaves as his full-time musical project again, the potential to fold that creativity into a more singleminded vehicle is definitely there, even if, again, there’s never been a consistent foothold there in the past. Lifeforms does seem to be moving on the right track though, albeit incrementally in what might be Angels & Airwaves’ tightest body of work, but not as exciting as they might otherwise want it to be. They’ve often made their cosmic ambitions know, but having Lifeforms as grounded as it is comes with its own benefits and challenges that don’t really coalesce in any satisfying way here. On the likes of Timebomb or Rebel Girl, Angels & Airwaves do tap into that sense of liberation that’s always coloured their best work, in just how bright and prominent the synths are within a barreling pace. Conversely, they appear to retain those flavours of mid-period blink-182 or even Green Day on Euphoria and No More Guns respectively, which severely undercuts the vastness that this band has always been about. There’s definitely a lopsided feel to this album that never quite gets overshadowed by a killer hook or moment, even when, from a production and composition perspective, there’s a good amount that Angels & Airwaves get right. They’re good at facilitating that sweeping feel through the synths and guitars, while still keeping some semblance of a bassline to drive everything along. If Thirty Seconds To Mars do this sound through sheer, unbridled maximalism alone, there’s definitely more thought put into it by Angels & Airwaves, and when it does come together like on Restless Souls or Rebel Girl, the unique flavour comes rushing back in.
It’s a shame it’s only there in moments, but Lifeforms does show off some potency that it does struggle to catch up with at times. As an album that’s crying out for liberation and the potential for humanity to do good, the writing feels much more in line with that mood than the sound, which on a track like the clunky Euphoria, doesn’t capture the same heights as the hopefulness that’s so apparent on Timebomb or Automatic. As for No More Guns and Losing My Mind where the slant is more broadly political, there’s a more workable blend of crunchier, ever-so-slightly darker alt-rock impulses with a more synthetic palette; the brightness isn’t so much on the horizon as waiting to be unearthed, and being able to have that critical edge and not have it overshadow an adventurous spirit is generally good here. It’s still a strong look that Angels & Airwaves continue to drill into the human element of their music, where they’ll still want to shoot for the stars and make those leaps forward, and it’s something that’s captured rather well overall. What’s more, DeLonge’s voice is a lot less of a barrier to entry than it was about 20 years ago; he’s still very brash and enunciating perhaps more than he should, but it goes without saying that’s grown into his voice as a performer, and while he’s not a fantastic singer by any means, having a template like this that he’s clearly more comfortable in is, again, good to have. It’s in those slight tweaks and moments of retooling that makes Lifeforms stand a bit higher than it probably should, even if it is realistically is the sum of some rather flawed parts. Angels & Airwaves’ history of inconsistency remains undisturbed, but it’s not like the glimpses of something better don’t shine through, or that there isn’t some amount of artistic fulfillment that’s so clear to see. That in itself is probably the best thing that Lifeforms offers, where even if it’s not the sort of album that demands being returned to over and over again, the moments of light do add up. • LN
For fans of: Thirty Seconds To Mars, Muse, Linkin Park
‘Lifeforms’ by Angels & Airwaves is released on 24th September on Rise Records.
Horizons / East
There’s been something strangely muted about this album in the run-up to it. Given the little renaissance that Thrice have been going through lately, that shouldn’t really be the case, but it’s also worth acknowledging that Palms didn’t sit as strongly for some, and thus this could easily been viewed as ‘just another Thrice album’. But that’s also not really fair to a band who’ve well and truly defied the odds to get where they are now, where they could’ve easily been a relic of 2000s post-hardcore, but have grown into a burly, rugged alt-rock beast that, with 2016’s To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, aren’t even too far removed from some of their best ever work. But even after acknowledging that, Horizons / East just doesn’t hit in the same way, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why. Maybe it’s because a pair of excellent albums post-reinvention has set the bar so high that just a good one doesn’t quite cut it, but the lack of a real jaw-dropper is prevalent here regardless. Sonically, Thrice still carry their great modern-day sound, in the thick guitars and bass that bleed out this time rather than surge forward, and that allows Dustin Kensrue’s creaking, perfectly imperfect vocal burr to shine on The Color Of The Sky and Summer Set Fire To The Rain. It’s definitely a less immediate listen for it though, and while that’s good eking out the nuance that’s come to define Thrice’s work, the listen itself sometimes doesn’t hold firm enormously. It’s a natural problem with slower, more deliberate albums like this, and it’s not like Thrice are more hindered by it than anyone else. And besides, the inherent strength of this band can generally overcome that anyway, where the twinkle of Northern Lights or the creep of Still Life and The Dreamer have the compositional elegance of a band who more than know their way around alt-rock by now. It’s definitely a more grown, weathered album in every sense, with the room to exhale being prioritised above some of the power that made the last two albums so thrilling, but where that assessment feels almost equal parts feature and flaw.
It does make sense too, especially given how this album feels thematically—burned and stifled by modern life, and suffocated by the onslaught of everything all at once that’s just too much for anyone to take. If there’s one unifying image here, it’s Kensrue looking to break out of the hold of the ‘normal’ and just find somewhere to be at peace. And yet, there’s an underlying sense of pessimism that can never quite be shaken; The Color Of The Sky might find him escaping the walls and running into the wide, free world, but Dandelion Wine brings a corporeality to such a concept that isn’t conducive with ‘real’ freedom. Elsewhere, there’s the violence and division that defines this current life on Buried In The Sun, and the cry to recognise that there’s more out there on Summer Sets Fire To The Rain and Robot Soft Exorcisim, but there isn’t necessarily a satisfaction of warmth that comes from that. It just feels like another means of survival, and given how heavy and gravelled Kensrue’s voice has become to extol those sentiments, Horizons / East isn’t necessarily an approachable listen. There isn’t a Blood On The Sand or Black Honey to condense these feelings down; they’re left to pour and burn slowly, an artistic choice that’s definitely bold and easy to appreciate, if not entirely enough to convince for constant repeated listens. Again, it’s a contributing factor for why this album feels less striking than its predecessors, but it’s also indicative of a move that’s more lateral than backward. There’s definitely a bigger creative swing made here, paying off in ambition more than actual results, but that ultimately feels about right for where Thrice are. They’ve got the profile and legacy to be able to do things like this, and though it doesn’t always stick, it’s the sort of shot that straightforward rock music needs to remain interesting. And here, for Thrice, that’s been wholeheartedly accomplished. • LN
For fans of: Manchester Orchestra, Thursday, The Get Up Kids
‘Horizons / East’ by Thrice is out now on Epitaph Records.
Here it is—the second coming. There’s no question that Spiritbox have been the most hyped band of 2021, by leagues ahead of everyone else. They’ve had a consistent string of singles that’s always done well, and in terms of this debut album, it’s hard to remember a time when a newer band has had such a profound stranglehold on the industry as this, especially when its genesis was as iffy a source as Iwrestledabearonce. And yet, for as much talent and potential as Spiritbox have displayed, there’s definitely a morbid fascination with waiting for the slip-up. It’s not fair to say, but it tends to come after a cycle this heated, where expectations bubble over so much that the final product just can’t match them, no matter how much it tries. That’s not the case with Eternal Blue though; throughout, Spiritbox barely seem to put a foot wrong, in what might be the most immediately refined experience a new metal band has come out with in years. Yes, that’s not a revelatory statement when pretty much everyone else has said the same thing, but the general consensus is right and that’s worth appreciating. For one, Spiritbox have already proven themselves as the elusive tech-metal band that can actually write songs, practically a two-headed unicorn as far as rarity is concerned, but it pays off enormously when considering Courtney LaPlante as a vocalist and the sort of emotion and focus she brings. There’s a lot of abstract introspection in the writing itself, but it clearly comes from a place that’s raw and real, exemplified in a frankly gorgeous clean register that coats the likes of The Summit or the title track with a mood that’s equal parts forlorn and beautiful, but also a scream that has so much power and precision, able to go toe-to-toe with Architects’ Sam Carter on Yellowjacket, but again, never feeling any less than excellent. There’s almost a pop construction to these songs at times, and that’s to Spiritbox’s enormous benefit; they feel structured and accessible without watering themselves down, and still able to capture an adventurousness within themselves regardless. It’s borderline ideal for where modern metalcore should be, and it’s played expertly from front to back.
Because after all, it’d be hard to say that Eternal Blue in its entirety is unique, but the composite parts are shaped and refined in such a way that means Spiritbox really are their own beast, especially as far as tech-metal is concerned. Even that mightn’t be the most accurate description; they’ve got the mechanical finish and the tumbling, low-end guitars on the likes of Holy Roller, but this is so much more sophisticated and tight overall. Maybe Architects is a better comparison point through how enormous this all sounds, but again, the focus on clean singing for a good portion deviates from either that, almost like an uber-contemporary take on hard rock or alt-metal without even a glimpse of the baggage such a statement might imply. There’s power and groove at every turn, but the greatest focus comes in channelling an ethereal beauty to match LaPlante’s vocals, in how airy and sweeping Secret Garden or We Live In A Strange World are, towering and melodic without drowning their own impact out in any way. It helps that the production is tailor-made to this album entirely, where the tech-metal gloss and sheen hasn’t gone away, but the typical rigidity of it has been leached out for something more elegant and sophisticated, even in the electronic flourishes that sprinkle that bit more extra power onto things. It really is a masterclass in modern, accessible yet still hard-hitting composition, and Spiritbox’s acumen when it comes to hitting their mark only continues to impress and amaze with every listen. It really is no wonder the hype around them has been so furious, and managing to squeeze out every last drop of it and completely live up to it is evident of just how special this band already is. It’s one of those examples where going against the critical grain just isn’t possible, because in this instance, everything about it is right—Eternal Blue is one of the best albums of the year, a triumph in modern heavy music, and a definitive pin in modern metal’s map that Spiritbox will only ride out to more unfettered greatness. • LN
For fans of: Architects, Crystal Lake, Sleep Token
‘Eternal Blue’ by Spiritbox is out now on Pale Chord Music / Rise Records.
Honestly, covering these is just for completion’s sake right now, given that alternative music’s presence in 2021 has been engulfed a torrent of influencers appropriating the sound as a safe and easy way to come across as edgy. In the case of LILHUDDY, the objectively awful stage name of Chase Hudson, he’s coming from the belly of that particular beast, as a member of the Hype House and former partner of Charli D’Amelio, to where the expected pop-punk pivot could easily be for little more than leverage for his e-boy brand. He’s really just the other side of the coin to jxdn in that respect, another deeply untalented individual conflating his existing popularity an an easy wave to ride for another nothing of an album that can do nothing but co-opt pop-punk’s most throwaway features with barely an eyelid bat. To be fair, Teenage Heartbreak isn’t quite as worthless as Tell Me About Tomorrow, but it really isn’t that far off, given that Hudson has already ingratiated himself in the realms of marketable depression and ‘angst’ that makes this whole movement so unlikable. As always, there’s no real identifiable character to America’s Sweetheart or Don’t Freak Out, where the broken or ‘torturous’ relationships are automatically diminished by the TikTok lens they’re viewed through, and Partycrasher and The Eulogy Of You And Me go for hyper-amped melodrama in such a piddling, unconvincing way. Perhaps if Hudson could sing whatsoever, something might snap into place by accident, but that’s also assuming the surface-level writing could possibly stand up on its own in any way, which, in most instances, it doesn’t.
There’s also the sound which suffers from the same problem, in that there’s barely any difference from the rest of the hypebeast pop-punk set, to the album’s enormous detriment. Again, compared to jxdn who can barely string together a finished composition, Hudson’s work at least sounds complete, and the sole convincing dalliance with emo in the darker soundscapes of Headlock show a sliver of musical aptitude, if nothing else. That’s because Teenage Heartbreak really has nothing else to offer, when the title track or Partycrasher fall into the exact same stock, mid-paced pop-rock slog that’s already been done to death, or when Don’t Freak Out effectively pilfers the melody of The All-American Rejects’ Gives You Hell, which is probably why Tyson Ritter is on that track with such little purpose behind his contributions. There’s also Travis Barker on that song, naturally, though it’s not like you can tell when the percussion is so synthetic and bereft of character. It’s endemic of what a lot of these artists tend to do, where they’ll rope in bigger names (usually Barker) to claim ‘legitimacy’, but ultimately do nothing with them and just leave the whole endeavour feeling like a waste of time. And that is indeed the case with Teenage Heartbreak, another thoroughly unwanted album from a thoroughly unwanted artist, the latest to don the pop-punk costume and no doubt stroll into great success through doing so. It feels like this point can be brought up every single time (probably because it’s always relevant), but there’s not a chance that any of these people will stick to this when the pop-punk bubble bursts, and that’s just as true of LILHUDDY. Can we just not give any more of these losers music careers? Please? • LN
For fans of: Machine Gun Kelly, jxdn, iann dior
‘Teenage Heartbreak’ by LILHUDDY is out now on Geffen Records.
There’s something that feels increasingly pointless about coving a new Daughtry album. They aren’t a band really looking to court new fans, and in the realms of US radio-rock and post-grunge, their only noteworthy feature remains frontman Chris Daughtry’s start on American Idol. On the other hand though, it’s hard not to succumb to the curiosity of how they’ve survived so long with a catchment that seems far more limited than others in their lane. They aren’t a Nickelback with unavoidable ubiquity, regardless of what you think of them; they just seem to survive, without really a good reason for it. And so, on an album like Dearly Beloved that feels just as churned out as releases of this ilk often do, Daughtry have expectedly little to really offer besides more of the same dishwater fare that’s comprised their career. It’s not the directly cynical slides to radio pop-rock like their last two albums, but that ultimately says nothing when the alternative is instantly forgettable post-grunge that doesn’t even try to leave a mark. Musical wallpaper, this album is, and the willingness to sink into that mindset by Daughtry feels less infuriating and more pitiable in this case. They aren’t without potential, mostly in how Chris Daughtry is a strong singer and does go for broke on a song like Heavy Is The Crown, but the drab, lumbering post-grunge that he’s paired with, presumably as a means of sounding epic and triumphant, only contributes to the radio-rock morass. There’s no real shape or definition to the guitars, and when the production still retains its pop-ready gloss, it only makes Daughtry seem more like a blank product than they already do.
And yet, even with that, it’s hard to get annoyed or aggravated by that. After all, it’s Daughtry, a band many would be hard-pressed to formulate any opinion on, one way or another, and it’s albums like Dearly Beloved that only facilitate that even further. You aren’t getting anything outside the norm, be that in performance or writing; the closest they come is probably Lioness in Daughtry see his ex thriving post-relationship, but even then, it’ll take the shape of an own-brand post-grunge ballad regardless. It’s all so workmanlike and formulaic, never branching out and never really excelling in its own lane either. The space that Daughtry find themselves in has stymied any sort of growth for years (if that was ever on the table in the first place), and the effects of that are really starting to be felt on Dearly Beloved, where 50 minutes feels like an unreasonable slog when there’s nary a captivating hook or melody to be found. Especially with the mush of Somebody, Call You Mine and Break Into My Heart that clogs up the very end, Dearly Beloved’s biggest sin is how terminally boring it is, and how, despite the best efforts of their frontman, Daughtry are locked in place there. Fans will probably like it, for whatever that’s worth, but that same justifier can be applied to virtually all of their albums, all of which generally suffer the same issues. Call it consistency then, but something consistently good would probably be better. • LN
For fans of: Nickelback, Lifehouse, The Goo Goo Dolls
‘Dearly Beloved’ by Daughtry is out now on Dogtree Records.
Rivers Of Nihil
Where Owls Know My Name felt like a true watershed moment for Rivers Of Nihil, an album where the entire metal community could agree that they’d finally risen up and delivered a truly potent statement. The production quibbles were rather unanimous, but so were the opinions of a band rising above their death metal standing and morphing into something truly great. And aside from the emphasis placed on their inclusion of saxophone, it felt like an entirely organic rise too; Rivers Of Nihil have never really been a buzz band, so to see them hit those heights through creativity and force of will alone gave the whole thing so much more resonant weight. And for anyone who might’ve chalked that up to a lucky break on their part, The Work serves as the best sort of follow-up imaginable, not only embossing that greatness but building on it further, in what is probably one of the best metal albums of the year. That’s ‘metal’ rather than ‘death metal’ too, because The Work arguably does an even great amount to distance itself from the limitations that branding can convey. There are still moments of rafter-shaking heaviness—chiefly the end of Dreaming Back Clockwork for how overwhelmingly feral it is through the distortion—but The Work is more greatly defined by a loftiness and a sophistication that’s carried so well across the board. Not only does Jake Dieffenbach draw on his clean vocals more—and wonderfully so in the stark emotionality of Wait and Maybe One Day—but that vaunted saxophone is a more comfortable presence throughout, acting as a brighter melodic beam within these compositions, or breaking against the prog-metal thunder of The Void From Which No Sound Escapes.
The onus on a classic brand of progressive metal is noteworthy this time, though it never feels like Rivers Of Nihil are swallowed by it. They’re still heavy enough to differentiate, but there’s such an unshakable engagement factor throughout to ensure they’re not trailing off or losing themselves in their own compositions. That can be a problem with bands like Between The Buried And Me, but here, the precision never falters or feels as though it’s being sidelined just for some extensions. The esoteric writing style does help in that regard, where the theme of struggle and perseverance to emerge into the light is the most apparent, but also feels fluid enough to feed into the album’s own sense of pace. At the same time, Rivers Of Nihil’s death metal origin lends The Work a phenomenal sense of power, be that in the purer variety on a track like Clean, or residually to beef up those emotional moments and allow them to really soar. The production has also thankfully improved, also in a way reminiscent of older progressive metal in a clearer, vintage tone that’s enormously to the album’s credit. It just feels bigger for it, in how these huge moments will swell and expand, and the album exudes such a phenomenal sense of power all across the board. Without question, Rivers Of Nihil smash out of any death metal trappings, but in the wider metal conversation as a whole, The Work truly is top tier, in almost every regard. Even in following what many would claim to be their masterpiece, this feels like a band operating at the peak of their powers, where the sound and approach is more creative and fluid, and the impeccable pace just makes this such a satisfying experience from front to back. In a year like this where both metal and progressive music have been doing really well, Rivers Of Nihil almost effortlessly vault to the top of both piles with a consummate, unparalleled ease. • LN
For fans of: Between The Buried And Me, Black Crown Initiate, Fallujah
‘The Work’ by Rivers Of Nihil is released on 24th September on Metal Blade Records.
A Funeral For Youth
The first point of reference that tends to come up when talking about Miss Vincent is Creeper, and while that is accurate, it’s only to a point. While Miss Vincent’s sound does encapsulate some of that gothic flavour among a super-melodic brand of punk (where they probably would’ve been classed as ‘new grave’ in the couple of weeks where that was a thing), they’re a lot more straightforward and to-the-point, akin to Creeper’s earliest work or, to reverse-engineer it even further back, Alkaline Trio. And that’s far from a bad thing, especially when A Funeral For Youth is so comfortable in leaning into its melodrama and heightened emotional revelry, but to call it a one-for-one comparison isn’t too accurate when Miss Vincent do still have work to do. That’s mainly felt in the writing, where the moonlit tales of love and heartbreak don’t click quite a strongly, mainly through what feels like a reticence to really throw itself in. That seems like more of a criticism than it actually is, especially when the likes of Rosalind and The Lovers are ample proof for how stacked this album is in terms of hooks, but weaving in those extra details that make Creeper so special is really all that’s holding Miss Vincent back. Everything else, from melodic, hook-heavy richness to Alex Marshall’s bounding vocal delivery, is there; it’s just that bit more spice is needed to fully push them over the top.
For what it is already though, A Funeral For Youth is more impressive than a lot in its field, simply because of how refined Miss Vincent’s creative process is. For an album that’s 14 tracks long, there isn’t much flab to cut back, nor is there a real low moment that doesn’t work. Granted, that can also be evident of a band that isn’t pushing themselves as much as they could, but it’s ultimately hard to deny the parade of anthems on display where every one could lodge itself as the definitive hit. There’s also the organic feel that crucially boosts that even further, in the driving, darker guitar surges that always seem to pick up the right momentum wherever you look, and in a prominent throb from the rhythm section where the bass and drums remain pleasingly prominent and forceful throughout. It’s very no-frills through, even with some of the waltz cadences and classic pop backing vocals that crop up every so often, again parallel to Creeper but done in a tactile-enough way to completely avoid being a rip-off or an initiation. Even if Miss Vincent aren’t entirely their own thing yet, there’s enough on A Funeral For Youth to show they could well be with a bit of time; they’ve already got the instrumental richness and proficiency, and with a bit more lyrical depth and tightness brought into the mix, they could be in the same realms of greatness as their clearest comparison points. Maybe not surpassing them, but that’s a borderline unfeasible task as it is. • LN
For fans of: Creeper, Alkaline Trio, Salem
‘A Funeral For Youth’ by Miss Vincent is out now on Silent Cult Records.
Tales From Six Feet Under
It’s thrilling to see the vast array of genre and style influences in Delain’s Charlotte Wessels’ debut solo album, Tales From Six Feet Under. Showing her versatility and creative understanding of music, the new album offers an insight into a realm of new delights. From the dark mood of Afkicken to the soft, soaring synths of Masterpiece, and angst of FSU (2020), the album journeys through so many ideas and soundscapes. The Source of the Flame delivers an immersive atmosphere with synths and ethereal vocals. The track later takes a dramatic turn with distorted guitars and orchestral strings bringing in dark and heavier tones.
Cry Little Sister dissonant tones create an eerie, gothic soundscape. The chorus brings a poppy feel, with soaring lead vocals and choral style backing. Charlotte’s use of vocal harmonies across all of the tracks, notably Cry Little Sister, is absolutely stunning. The duet with Alissa White-Gluz about Elizabeth Siddal, who modelled for a number of Pre-Raphaelite artists, is a beautiful piece. Their voices complement each other so well, and it’s great to see them giving a voice to one of history’s unheard women. Any artist who chooses to transcend genre boundaries unleashes a wealth of creativity. Charlotte has crafted a fine balance between the light and the dark throughout Tales From Six Feet Under. Whether using heavier instrumentation, synths or her voice, serene and macabre elements collide and fuse seamlessly. • HR
For fans of: Within Temptation, PVRIS, Lana Del Rey
‘Tales From Six Feet Under’ by Charlotte Wessels is out now on Napalm Records.
Signs Of The Swarm
2021’s deathcore train just keeps a-rollin’, now with another band propped up by Unique Leader in what’s been an unquestionably impressive year for them. Granted, they’ve not exercised much diversity in their output this year, but Signs Of The Swarm act as yet another example of how execution can circumvent that as too much of an issue overall. Absolvere is yet more punishing, guttural deathcore whose brutality is its greatest strength, though follows suit with its contemporaries in Signs Of The Swarm’s command of atmosphere and some slicker production without too much compromise. It’s a common factor among a lot of the bands in Unique Leader’s camp, but it’s not getting too old just yet and keeps impressing generally. The sound has weight and meat to it without collapsing under its own tremendous presence, and overall will continue to follow the cues that have made its branch of deathcore so successful. That primarily circles back to doubling down on the breakdowns, the blast beats and Dave Simonich’s bowels-of-hell roars, all of which yield a complete, satisfying deathcore experience that doesn’t do anything outside the norm, but thrives on bludgeoning strength without much else being needed.
Of course, that does also run into the issue of Signs Of The Swarm being practically indistinguishable from those with whom they share the current spotlight, something which those others band have too, and it makes the issue run a bit deeper. They aren’t saying anything all that new lyrically, and at the end of it all, Absolvere doesn’t necessarily feel like a different flavour of this sound as much as just another dose. Musically, Signs Of The Swarm aren’t going to be picked out of a lineup with much ease, especially when their being on the same wavelength as so many other bands extends to quality too. There’s nothing better or worse about Absolvere than many others, which ironically serves as a detriment when Signs Of The Swarm can feel so anonymous within their scene. At the same time though, for what this music represents—an unwavering, towering beatdown and very little else—it’s not like there’s much to complain about either. Signs Of The Swarm are emphatically hitting their quota, regardless of how little is ultimately asked of them, and that makes for an album that’s not big on replay value, but fits a mood whenever it’s necessary. Perhaps not the most glowing endorsement then, but for the right people, it’ll be enough. • LN
For fans of: Distant, Brand Of Sacrifice, Shadow Of Intent
‘Absolvere’ by Signs Of The Swarm is released on 24th September on Unique Leader Records.
One Step Closer
This Place You Know
Even just a brief listen to One Step Closer confirms where they’re going, and that they’re fighting an uphill battle to get there. There’s clearly the ambition for occupying the same melodic hardcore space as Touché Amoré, right down to the throat-scraping screams that characterise Ryan Savitski’s vocals, but that’s a high bar to cross and it’s one that This Place You Know is eyeing more than actively reaching. For one, it’s not quite plumbing the same depths that made an album like Stage Four so caustic and incendiary; that’s not to delegitimise the harsh emotions at play here, but there isn’t the same gut-punch there, not when feelings of pandemic isolation have been so common that there’s no real way to put a unique spin on it. And to One Step Closer’s enormous credit, they do sell what they have well, mainly in how powerful Savitski is a vocalist, and how clearly affected he’s been the whole experience. In terms of force, that’s something that This Place You Know can deliver in spades, but the emotional weight just doesn’t quite match up, and it doesn’t hit the heights of the best within its scene. It does need to be stressed that it’s rarely bad among that, but when the expectations for the foundational source behind music like this has been lifted so high, it’s hard to become as gripped in the same way.
It’s a shame that’s the case too, because as far as melodic hardcore of that stripe goes, One Step Closer come out with a pretty good representation it. Hereafter is the clearest standout as a deviation from that sound, drawing more from emo and winding down with crystalline pianos for an ear-catching coda, the culmination of the rawer, sepia-toned influences that paint a lot of this album, and indeed this scene. There’s a more frenetic, traditional hardcore energy behind I Feel So and Leave Me Behind, and Autumn really dials into a melodic punk influence that might be the closest that One Step Closer come to discovering something of their own. Again, it’s very entrenched in the current scene—particularly for how nervy the guitars and bass can feel, both in tone and execution—and finding something that’s more consistent noteworthy about their approach feels like the best way for this band to move forward. There’s nothing wrong with the production, in how organic and earthy this brand of hardcore and emo often does sound, but the killer moments within it are fewer and further between than they maybe otherwise should be. That’s not to say this is a bad album by any means, and for anyone craving more hardcore like this, the recommendation is far higher, but it’s not like Touché Amoré or the plethora of accompanying scene heavyweights have gone anywhere. Right now, One Step Closer are on the outside looking into that circle, even if there’s just enough evidence to suggest they could be there themselves one day. • LN
For fans of: Touché Amoré, Defeater, Make Do And Mend
‘This Place You Know’ by One Step Closer is released on 24th September on Run For Cover Records.
It’s a shame that Table Scraps got so quickly swept away by the oncoming deluge of post-punk when they’ve routinely proven the merits of doing your own thing. They could easily fit among the pack, but there’s a slant reminiscent of kitschy ‘60s garage-rock that’s far more identifiable. It’s definitely preferable to the umpteenth iteration of Fontaines D.C., and it’s something that Table Scraps lean into even further on Coffin Face to similarly good results. If anything, that side takes up a greater proportion of their sound now; there’s still a lot of driving bass presence, but the blackened surf-rock riffs that fuel You Only Wanna Get High and Heat Beat dive most deeply into that notably retro quality. Like with those older albums too, it’s a very lean album, driven by a pop sensibility to ensure that no time is wasted, yet still feels full. Along with a creaking, dank production style that brings to mind early psychedelic rock and even someone like Arthur Brown at times, Table Scraps are unflinchingly their own beast within their scene, almost entirely for the best. They don’t sound unworkably old either though, which is the key balance to keep when it comes to making this work, where Table Scraps can split the difference between retro aesthetic and reproduction with great ease.
That’s not to say some of the weaknesses of that older approach won’t come through, in a less-than-standout lyrical set, and some vocal production that can muddy both Scott and Poppy’s contributions. In reality though, they’re more observations of the sound that Table Scraps are trying to emulate than criticisms; even if they don’t sit the most comfortably in a modern setting, it’s right that they’re here and embraced to this degree. It’s more authentic to the sound overall, even in the realms of the contemporary scene, and Table Scraps really do slot themselves well among that without succumbing to its staler limitations. It’s where the post-punk leaning does the most work, and how Coffin Face’s place in the liminality between both is its greatest strength. Calling it unique might be a stretch, but Table Scraps are at least distinct enough to really make some potential waves for the right crowds. This is the second time they’ve impressed like this, and the fact that the ball hasn’t been rolling more off the back of that really is unfair to a band with more to offer than they’ll get credit for. • LN
For fans of: Turbowolf, Idles, The Fuzztones
‘Coffin Face’ by Table Scraps is released on 24th September.
Clearly Those Without are trying to evoke the sound of the 2010s, not just through being a pop-punk band, but the sort of pop-punk band that’d crop up at virtually every turn that led to such immense genre saturation. Obviously it’s preferable to have them around now, simply on the principle of having an actual band organically making pop-punk, but there’s also no need for Bittersweet to stick so immovably to the codified sound of its forebears. No doubt it’s catchy, but outside of an erring towards post-hardcore on Under The Weather that show their Trash Boat stripes coming through early, Those Without operate on a very rote, routine approach to pop-punk that isn’t too interesting on a long-term basis. It doesn’t help when there are melodies and turns that feel as though they can be attributed directly to ROAM or early Boston Manor, and in the double-time drums on Voodoo Doll that are just as unnecessary as they were half a decade ago, the lack of inventiveness is fairly galling here. But even so, Those Without aren’t bad at what they’re doing, and when they do lean on their brightest tones for Weightless and Oblivious, the results do have an air of early State Champs which is probably the best look for them. They might hail from Sweden but a lot of their style does have the feel of British bands in its crunch, and so when they lean away from that and barrel into something more bouncy and exuberant, it’s easier to swallow on the whole.
That’s not to say that Those Without do anything new there either; in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find an idea that couldn’t be traced back to at least a half-dozen other bands, with Those Without appropriating strongly but explicitly. It’s why the lyrics never stand out that much beyond the choruses (for as much as that’s worth in pop-punk anyway), but there’s enough sheer might behind the band that they’re able to get pretty far regardless. It’s a noteworthy feature of pop-punk and why it can become as crowded as it does, and Those Without are taking advantage of that mostly to their benefit. It’s still hard to escape how obvious their similarities to other bands are, and Oskar Westlin’s vocal tone is uncannily similar to any number of British and European upstarts, but the band work with it and play into the opportunities it allows. This is still generally as enjoyable as a lot of pop-punk’s mid-tier offers, purely on the basis that Those Without know what they’re doing even if it’s not exceeding beyond those means. That might be something to address in future, especially if they do get a bit bigger off the back of this album, but it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt for now when the music is still pretty good. Particularly for pop-punk completionists or those pining for the halcyon days of 2015, this is worth a look. • LN
For fans of: Neck Deep, ROAM, State Champs
‘Bittersweet’ by Those Without is released on 24th September.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)