REVIEW ROUND-UP: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Sam Fender, We Are Scientists

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

Sticky

Frank Carter is at his best when he’s angry. That’s no grand revelation, mind; enough has been made of the implosion of Pure Love’s positivity coming directly after the punk nailbomb of Gallows, and the major second wind of his career with The Rattlesnakes has landed on a happy medium between the two, without skimping on bite or melody. At the same time though, it’s not been hard to track the more accessible leanings of Carter’s current output, where they’ve never been bad, but especially on 2019’s End Of Suffering that tried to delve more into an older, more content persona, it’s not made for the most stimulating aspect of his work. Crashing into the mainstream has been wonderful to see, but the concessions made for it are noteworthy and on that last album, haven’t felt as substantive as Carter is capable of. By comparison then, Sticky feels like sort of a middle ground between the two; in terms of songcraft, it might be Carter’s most accessible work to date under The Rattlesnakes’ name, but the welcome return of some snider, more acerbic intentions is the key elevating factor. There are shades of Slaves or the current wave of crossover post-punk, in how there’s a simplistic grottiness to the riffing balanced by taut, motorik drums and bass, though without feeling too simplistic to matter. There’s no reliance on slogans or overegged repetition, but rather genuine hooks that, on the likes of Cupid’s Arrow or Go Get A Tattoo, live up to the album’s title remarkably effectively. It’s similar with Carter himself, who’s a lot more equipped now for this sort of lean, fierce punk in a singing voice that conveys an almost indie-rock spirit while still bearing its more jagged tips. Alongside contributions from the likes of Lynks or Idles’ Joe Talbot, acting simultaneously as clattering breakages and naturally inserted displays of community synergy, there’s a freedom and homegrown sensibility that Sticky wears proudly. For as big as Carter’s profile is, there’s something refreshingly close to the roots about how this album turns out and how aware of that fact it is.

Granted, it’s hard not to be aware of it given how the vitriolic spirit of a Frank Carter album retakes its place, but not to the extent it once might’ve. The profiles of modern working class life do feel barbed, in a gentrified, post-pandemic limbo on My Town which only makes the already unsavoury turns the landscape can take more so, but it’s not exactly the grey Britain that Carter was engulfed in back in 2009 though. There’s still a genuineness here, but it would be nice to really see the hinges come off at times like they might threaten to on Bang Bang or Take It To The Brink. On the other hand though, the proximity to a band like Slaves makes it rather obvious that Carter handily runs circles around them, on an album that has its own sense of power and scowling vim without resorting to the most basic, bashed-out execution. As stripped-down as Sticky may seem, it’s gotten that way by not wasting a second of time or an inch of space, perhaps sometimes to its detriment when more songs like this could flesh out the package beneficially (and when the closing ramblings of Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie on Original Sin round things off on a bit of a dud), but it’s undeniable that what’s here works. This feels like the perfect model of punk for this incarnation of Carter, cognisant of its mainstream pull but with a grimy, street-level heart that’s never really left its old home. Of course, between this and its vastly warped mirror image of Gallows’ original run, it’s no content as to what hits the hardest, but there’s nothing wrong with Sticky’s own spin on it, nor is it a dangling carrot of nostalgia that it wisely never should’ve been. More accurately, it’s a new side of an artist whose metamorphosis never really seems to settle, and the work is all the better for it.

7/10

For fans of: Idles, The Bronx, Marmozets

‘Sticky’ by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes is released on 15th October on AWAL.


Sam Fender

Seventeen Going Under

It’s not a surprise that Sam Fender got as big as he did, as quickly as he did. The elevator pitch of a Geordie Springsteen nets the older appeal while Fender’s overall personality and ease of fit within the indie-rock paradigm has a more youthful skew, ultimately coming together for an artist that hasn’t been able to make either fit completely work. His debut Hypersonic Missiles laid down its foundations but felt lacking in how it built on them, something which hasn’t hindered Fender’s commerciality, but has made his output significantly more difficult to like than it probably could be. After all, there’s no one at his level in British music who really sounds like him, and while he’s done a good job of managing that aspect, it’s hard to isolate what else can live up to it. That’s why it’s pleasant to see Seventeen Going Under being a general improvement, even if only incrementally. It’s perhaps most noteworthy in the writing, where the gulf between Fender’s own political and cultural philosophies and the often heavy-handed execution of them has been closed somewhat, even if a song like Aye shows its entire hand a bit early and feels cumbersome as a result, or how the occasional whiffs of ‘born in the wrong generation’ haven’t gone away. The overall vigour does seem to sag as the album progresses too, though it’s also not without its highlights on Spit Of You or Paradigms and the more distinct, literate writing style Fender has. As far as imagery and word choices go, he tends to hit a lot more frequently than his singer-songwriter peers, something which keeps the threads of Springsteen tightly-knitted on the album, but it impresses on its own on the title track or Last To Make It Home, simply for the greater gravity that’s instilled in some pretty regular subject matter.

He does rather well at conveying the working-class hero archetype, albeit in a way that still remains unfailingly tied to its influences. The types of guitar rollick and blasts of saxophone feels especially telling, the latter in particular remaining a rather galling callback to his foundational roots that can be hard to escape, and doesn’t aid in crafting Fender’s own identity. To be fair, Seventeen Going Under feels like a closer step to that, both in the strength of its slow-burns like Spit Of You and Last To Make It Home or the willingness to crank up some bombast with strings on The Leveller, but there still isn’t much that calls out at Fender being the transgressive artist he wants to be. It’s easy enough to follow the threads to Britpop or slightly older versions of indie-rock, and therefore notice how Fender’s great strength is probably in the vein of big, brazen rock music rather than anything more cerebral. He’s made his appreciation for punk known, but that doesn’t come through here outside of his politics, and apart from his prominent Geordie accent and use of slang, he can easily be seen as yet another ‘old soul’ indie type that can feel just as blasé as the rest. That’s not quite as often, mind, given that his sources are just stronger by design, but Seventeen Going Under still doesn’t paint as compelling a picture of who Sam Fender is as it wants to or probably believes it does. The cracks are less wide this time but they aren’t gone completely, and despite its general likability—more so than its predecessor—Seventeen Going Under still isn’t the sort of hit to convince that Sam Fender totally lives up to the hype. He’s getting there, but it’s still a way off yet.

6/10

For fans of: Bruce Springsteen, Oasis, Blossoms

‘Seventeen Going Under’ by Sam Fender is out now on Polydor Records.


We Are Scientists

Huffy

Chances are you’ve not thought about We Are Scientists in a good long time, and no one would blame you. They fell into indie-rock’s post-punk revival phase in the late 2000s, able to bring in a bit more levity and elasticity than a lot of their peers, but ultimately befalling the same fate of being washed away by the genre’s ever-changing tides. And just like those other bands, they’ve been ploughing away since with no avail, to where the ever-so-slightly louder blip on the radar this new album has made feels completely by chance in itself. It’s not as though it isn’t warranted though, given that Huffy defies all conventions of late-period indie for a rather spry, quick listen, buoyed by the generally good-natured persona of We Are Scientists and writing that’s coloured heavily in their own quirks like on I Cut My Own Hair and Bought Myself A Grave. There’s nothing revelatory that they do, but overall, there’s a brightness they bring that’s almost akin to the last album from The Vaccines, where the big, glossy swings are more important overall, and where songs like Contact High and Just Education are deeply indebted to barrelling Americana and power-pop glitz to great success. It’s surprisingly catchy too, shedding away any indications of a band treading water in their later years for a more exuberant focus on hookiness that tends to be rather well-executed. At their best, We Are Scientists’ springiness has kept songs like Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt sticking around they have, and that’s been condensed across the board here for an album with very view significant dips.

At the same time, it’s not a tremendous creative feat either; the eras and movements within their selected genres are easy enough to identify, and Huffy’s brisk length means there isn’t a ton to properly dig into. That feels deliberate though, as We Are Scientists pull forth from eras of power-pop that fully dive into their energy and electricity; the rubbery funk coda of Bought Myself A Grave might feel a bit disconnected, but it’s a reasonable modernisation of where that sort of indie-pop might’ve lay in the 2000s. Similarly, the locked-in grooves of Handshake Agreement and Fault Lines have an infectiousness and energy that comes from some added polish from the original source, though not so much that they’re unrecognisable. Rather, We Are Scientists’ keeness for indie-rock really drives home how strong these compositions are, almost to a surprising degree with how much mileage these songs give off. It’s the sort of de facto comeback that needs to happen more often in indie-rock, up there with The Vaccines or Neon Trees in terms of taking what made their initial run strong and running with it for miles. Even if Huffy will probably go ignored by many, that’s not an indication of its strength, but more the waning profile of We Are Scientists that makes an album this bold and vibrant that much more pleasing.

7/10

For fans of: Neon Trees, Bloc Party, The Futureheads

‘Huffy’ by We Are Scientists is out now on 100% Records.


Ian Miles

Degradation, Death, Decay

Even with the bias towards themselves and their side-projects that Creeper tend to instill, a solo album from their guitarist Ian Miles is a bit of an oddity. At least, it’s more so than a simple extrapolation of his band’s classic sound à la Will Gould’s Salem, mostly because it feels like an opportunity to identify where Miles’ creative compass within the band points to. It’s not as immediately as obvious as it might be from those up front, but also, as someone who isn’t as ingratiated as a ‘face’ of the band, it’s an opportunity for a freedom that’s fascinating to watch unfold, if only to see what this is actually going to be. The title gives a pretty good indication, and indeed, it doesn’t take long to see which of Creeper’s features has been extrapolated out, namely the brand of heartbreak and introverted self-doubt that skirts past their usual melodrama and lets them embrace a further gravitas. It’s not their most prolific side, but that gives Miles some further agency to carve his own approximation from it, sometimes not straying too far from an austere, vampiric brood like on I Hope You Choke, but more often finding footing in spare, lonely laments where the humanity is desperate and the closeness and application of the subject matter is real. The fact that Miles isn’t the most proficient vocalist works hugely in his favour as the cracks and slips in his voice project such an overwhelming vulnerability, paired with the sort of detailled recollections of past experiences and relationships that strike a huge chord. It benefits a less character-centric album like this, putting Miles and his own perspectives up front and letting an unflinching honesty and rawness flow freely.

It’s also the sort of album most reliant on its frontman to achieve its goals, such is the extent that Miles keeps the sonics deliberately minimal and tactile for the most part. It’s a wise choice too given that the Frank Turner-esque rollick of Blood In My Mouth exposes some of his clearer vocal shortcomings, something which can be avoided by the gothic slither of Overwhelmed and Borderlines, or the small-scale, bare-room acoustics of 08.08.13 and Sunburn. There aren’t too many overt thrills, but as far as slower, more despondent fare goes, Miles really nails the atmosphere that he’s going for, especially in the production which knows when to ease back and highlight the disparity between Miles’ quivering presence and the calm emptiness around him. Even more so than Creeper’s stripped-back moments, there’s an ache that comes through in this material, shorn of any artifice or theatrics, and simply allowed to be as starkly open and confessional as it wants to be. The shifts into different sounds and tones add the sort of sonic diversity albums like this rarely step into, but never feel like departures from the central theme; they’re more accurately expansions that have that ability without overstepping the boundaries of what exactly this album wants to be. And in that regard, Miles nails it, with it the sort of thoughtful, deeply resonant listen that’s not exactly begging for a spot on regular rotation, but always seems to have new moments to discover whenever you do give it another spin. It’s also yet more proof that the Creeper camp can do no wrong, no matter where their attentions are focused, though that was hardly up for debate to begin with.

8/10

For fans of: Damien Rice, Leonard Cohen, Bright Eyes

‘Degradation, Death, Decay’ by Ian Miles is released on 15th October on Big Scary Monsters.


Twelve Foot Ninja

Vengeance

Between the sound of this album and the suite of further creative projects they’re planning to spin off from it, Twelve Foot Ninja indelibly seem like the sort of band who’d spread themselves way too thinly. ‘Less is more’ is not an adage that appears in their lexicon, simply from the evidence presented on Vengeance itself, where descriptors like ‘zany’ and ‘kooky’ would probably be welcomed, instead of taken as indicators of gimmickry that feel disappointingly obvious. Yep, this is one of those albums, trying to replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle of early System Of A Down through a modern lens, and winding up without much of identity to build upon outside of that. The basis of the album comes from alt-metal, but to say the strains of burbling funk, R&B and, on Culture War, mariachi breakdowns are crossbred is probably insinuating a connective tissue that simply isn’t there. Rather, Twelve Foot Ninja seem to be content with allowing different sounds to pile on haphazardly, to where they end up less like inspirations across the wider body of work, and more like clearly demarcated talking points to look attractive on potted summations. In that sense then, it’s a very modern perspective on ‘90s-esque alt-nation experimentation, as genre distinction is still played fast and loose but for what feels like more superficial reasons than anything else.

Beyond that though, Vengeance is probably fine enough. Twelve Foot Ninja are most fully-formed when embracing their alt-metal roots, where those more ‘standard’ influences have the low-slung guitars and bass that Nik Barker’s clean, bell-clear vocals serve as a particularly potent anchor for. He’s probably the only part of this album that displays some reasonable agility, being able to withstand even the clunkiest and most disparate of genres being mashed together, and having some quite decent chemistry with Jinjer’s Tatiana Shmayluk on Over And Out. There’s also the factor that Twelve Foot Ninja at least try and strike some colour that works in their favour; the lyrics are nothing special overall, but they aren’t drowning in the muddy mire that a lot of this genre can default to. For as much consistency as the band blatantly ignore, they at least find themselves in a position where something like this could work, should a bit more fine-tuning occur. This isn’t quite the disaster it could’ve been in that respect, which definitely counts for something, but even so, that’s hardly the most glowing assessment. The degree to which Vengeance’s appeal can be seen is rather succinctly masked by its clumsiness and flippancy in ‘genre-blending’, ultimately falling into the same triteness that often cripples alt-metal that tries to be ‘experimental’ like this. The clear vibes of a comedy band that Twelve Foot Ninja give off run deeper than just the name; it’s in the feeling of a band constantly fighting for undivided attention by any means necessary, and no matter how far at their own expense it might fall.

5/10

For fans of: System Of A Down, VIZA, Psychostick

‘Vengeance’ by Twelve Foot Ninja is released on 15th October on Volkanik Records.


Defences

In The Balance

While we aren’t necessarily back in the dark days of metalcore, where droves of shallow, near-identical bands served as ample fuel to almost write the genre off completely, the influx of similarly interchangeable new acts has been noteworthy to say the least. They’ve not had the impact but the pattern does seem to be forming again, something which Defences appear to conform to and find themselves being rather forgettable as a result. At least with this current wave, the onus on sanded-down, glossed-over finishes is less prevalent, meaning that Defences do have some crunch in the sound that’s at least appreciated. It’s probably most analogous to the UNFD camp overall, in the brawny, tumbling riffs that make way for more clearly defined choruses, and do the exact opposite for any sort of experimentation. Yes, for as fit for purpose as In The Balance is, it’s yet another example of a metalcore band with few defining characteristics to establish them as their own thing, and it makes for another album that seldom impresses all that much. Defences are certainly solid at what they want to do, but that’s at the same time as their brand of metalcore feels very cut-and-dry and safe, effectively cancelling each other out with a fairly pronounced shrug.

Admittedly, it needs to be said that Defences have a solid vocal unit, probably the one area where they’re definitively strong. William Alex Young has a looser technique to his scream to yield a more vicious end result, and Cherry Duesbury is a good foil too, not breaking too heavily from the tradition of sky-scraping, high-registered clean singers, but acting as the album’s emotional engine and doing so with a lot of power. That’s another thing that’s worth some praise—Defences never feel like they’re just going through the motions or chasing a trend, despite how little of themselves really feels baked in here. Particularly in the writing which opts for the a lot of the same images of mental anguish that most metalcore has beaten to the bloodiest of pulps, Defences can come across like they’re playing it safe with their approach, even if the delivery and execution might say otherwise. It holds them back from feeling so boilerplate they’re aren’t worth caring about, but it still isn’t enough in a genre where bands are fighting for the slightest taste of oxygen and only the absolute best stick around. Defences are undeniably middle of the pack, as another name in metalcore’s most crowded percentile that’ll likely do nothing to shift that.

5/10

For fans of: Bury Tomorrow, In Hearts Wake, Like Moths To Flames

‘In The Balance’ by Defences is released on 15th October.


Bound In Fear

Penance

Even among the exploding crop of black- and slam-infused deathcore that’s carved its own meaty wedge out of this year, Bound In Fear were hardly the most memorable. They released their Eternal EP a few months ago, which wasn’t particularly bad but became lost in the shuffle rather quickly, even more so as more bands came along and simply added to the pile. At least with Penance then, they’re more in line with their contemporaries even if they aren’t surpassing them, where their sound does have a bit more notable expanse and enormity to bump them up slightly. That still doesn’t give them much of an edge and finds them still competing for air with so, so many others, but that’s more a repercussion of the broken sluice of a scene rather than a fault with Bound In Fear themselves. They’d definitely fare better if the crowding was thinned out; like the others, they’re more guttural and primal than would many would see as the ‘default’ for deathcore, in writing that’s bloodier and more twisted in its internal explorations, and a vocalist in Ben Mason that effectively quadruples down on the volatile, tar-thick growls to excel in presence alone.

Granted, that description alone is applicable to literally any other member of the current wave, but Penance does find Bound In Fear embody it well, if not entirely uniquely. The guitars and bass have the might to plough through the earth as if it wasn’t there, and the general overbearing darkness and evil that forms the basis of it all hasn’t quite run its course yet and still has a thrill to it. Individual tracks don’t tend to stand out, but simply build upon each other to facilitate the hugeness that Penance offers, expanded even further by the production and left overall to feel like a worthy addition to the pantheon of other towering deathcore monstrosities. That’s probably the best praise that Bound In Fear can be given too; they aren’t an innovative band whatsoever, but their one trick is pulled off well and has undergone some improvement since last time, and that can be appreciated in some way. It’s hard to see where they’ll really go from here, as it is with basically every other band on this same wavelength, but it’s strong enough while it’s here and that’s probably the best anyone can hope for.

6/10

For fans of: Distant, Signs Of The Swarm, Bonecarver

‘Penance’ by Bound In Fear is released on 15th October on Unique Leader Records.


Sleep Outside

This Won’t Ever Last

Just like Lakes and I Feel Fine before them, Sleep Outside have positioned themselves well within the newest wave of crossover emo, where the stronger Britrock tendencies are there without diluting the homespun quality of it all. Leaning into the balance seems to be the main goal of this debut EP too; there’s all the usual warmth and humbleness that this current branch of the emo revival has brought to the fore, straightened out by the bracing melodies of mid-period Deaf Havana on Spent or Skeleton. It’s a hard sound to really dislike as well, especially when Sleep Outside are so no-frills in their embrace of it. They keep the production warm, the guitars rounded yet crunch and the bass and percussion supple and noticeable, an expected cocktail but a likable one through and through, to where there isn’t really a bad track among the five here. Perhaps Adam Holborn could stand out a bit more as a vocalist, rather than in the flatter, more regionalised brogue that’s borderline identical to so many in his position, but even that’s more a contributing factor to the appeal than anything to chastise them for too much.

Because of that though, it’s not the sort of release that offers much to say, besides the fact that Sleep Outside are so evidently appealing and solid all the way through. Already they’ve got a strong hold on how this sort of emo works, in both the sound and the writing, where they’ll channel their bigger, more widescreen focus to give some of the usual emotional touchstones a little more oomph to send them along. It’s about right for where emo like this usually lands, not necessarily moving the needle but working in all the right ways. As such, Sleep Outside feel like a welcome addition to fold, not topping Lakes’ effort from this year but probably striking about I Feel Fine’s, in what serves as a universally solid audition for some clearly strong moves in the future. Granted, that’s a conclusion drawn more from the sound itself than what the band in particular are doing with it, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for a brand new band, and impression Sleep Outside make is good enough on its own to still matter anyway.

7/10

For fans of: Jimmy Eat World, Deaf Havana, Lakes

‘This Won’t Ever Last’ by Sleep Outside is out now.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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