Black Veil Brides
The Phantom Tomorrow
It’s almost inconceivable that there was a time when Black Veil Brides would release a new album on almost a yearly basis. That’s mostly a factor of their nosediving relevance nowadays, but their singles have always been better than the albums they came from, leading to a career that’s become padded with a hell of a lot of filler over the years. And for this band especially, that’s not a good sign when their entire shtick of glam-goth arena-rock has nowhere near the pull it once did, and they still come across like that’s the element they’re most reliant on to succeed. They clearly haven’t learned a great deal after so many years of treading water, and compounding that experience (or lack thereof) into The Phantom Tomorrow yields the exact middling experience that one would expect. It’s mainly a case of nothing within Black Veil Brides’ oeuvre growing or evolving; they’re still trying to sound grand and bombastic but in a notably hit-or-miss way, exemplified by songs that really do feel so stock in what they’re trying to achieve. That’s nothing new for Black Veil Brides, but The Phantom Tomorrow feels obviously staid, to where the actual hits like Scarlet Cross or Blackbird get there through what can be down to pure happenstance. There’s at least some robustness to the compositions and how the hair-metal flair still comes through, but it’s not as heavy as Black Veil Brides clearly believe it to be when trapped behind such stiff and regimented production. The guitars and Andy Biersack’s vocals are given the necessary room to soar, but any semblance of a bassline is hard to find, in what typically resembles the assembly-line scene production that this band have clearly always wanted to distance themselves from, but have seldom been able to. But what’s probably the album’s biggest crime is just how unmemorable this all is, on almost every level. Black Veil Brides clearly continue adhering to their singles band ethos, which ultimately gets them nowhere besides highlighting the vast interchangeability in play here. For what’s supposed to be as sweeping concept album about an anti-hero looking to expose corruption and the ills of celebrity (which, if you think about it, couldn’t be more of a Black Veil Brides concept if it tried), there’s little to really ground it or give it the weight the band want to bestow upon it. More often than not, it shifts to the usual played-out outcast anthems; at least Born Again has a bit of gait to it, but the likes of Torch and Crimson Skies feel like a band on constant autopilot, digging into their usual bag of tricks regardless of how spent they already are. That’s an indictment of Black Veil Brides as a whole more than anything, a band whose best days are long behind them, and who keep afloat through a combination of giving their fans what they want, and consistency that barely tops out at mediocrity. As far removed as we are from the time when Black Veil Brides were rock’s most talked-about band, adored and vilified in equal measure, The Phantom Tomorrow only underlines how fruitless of an endeavour that all was. This is about the level Black Veil Brides have always been at, where any debates or grand statements from either side just aren’t worth the effort.
For fans of: Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine, Escape The Fate
‘The Phantom Tomorrow’ by Black Veil Brides is out now on Sumerian Records.
Even with the departure of frontman Tommy Vext—and the subsequent sordid details and damning blows thrown by his former bandmates—there was no way Bad Wolves were going to fold. Rather, there was no way the industry around them would let them, when they’ve become genuine money-printers within the US radio-metal circuit, to an extent that honestly hasn’t been seen in years. That comes despite not releasing an album that’s truly great and their biggest song still being the cover of The Cranberries’ Zombie, and so the arrival of new vocalist Daniel Laskiewicz and a new album already does feel like the work of a machine working overtime to remedy an unforeseen kink as quickly and quietly as possible. But when Laskiewicz is about as vocally close to Vext as possible and the general tone of a Bad Wolves album has gone precisely nowhere, a lot about Dear Monsters falls into place relatively easily. To be fair though, it is probably Bad Wolves’ strongest album to date, purely on the basis of falling in line with an already decent formula, and giving the lyrics a slight do-over to sound more engaging amid the usual sentiments. This is still the same band as it ever was (evidenced by Comatose’s use of “IDK LOL” in its chorus to meet radio-rock’s quota of cringeworthiness), and while that’s not surprising, it’s slightly disappointing when the opportunity to real change hasn’t been embraced. It’s something that makes the album really drag in places, as if Bad Wolves are just going through the motions and see nothing wrong with that if it works. The difference is, here, there’s more inclination to err on the side that it does work, at least when that formula is at its most rigid. The synthetic beats wedged into Sacred Kiss or the jaunty acoustic opening of Springfield Summer are not what’s needed; they feel like carryovers from the modernity and pop-readiness that so much radio-metal still wants to have a foot in, even though Bad Wolves are unequivocally best when they’re at their heaviest. Get past the bungled production of Sacred Kiss that just sounds like an absolute mess, and Dear Monsters will settle into pockets of strength rather regularly, where the guitars and drums fully lean into their kaiju-sized stomp, and Laskiewicz proves his worth as a singer on an almost permanent basis. He’s arguably one of the carrying forces of this album, in terms of big vocal personality and emotion that so many bands in this lane could do with so much more of. It’s at least enough to give Bad Wolves their footing back, even if they’re still not entirely great, but in the slightly skewed expectations of the radio-metal pantheon that they’re well and truly ingratiated in, Dear Monsters isn’t too bad. Bad Wolves still haven’t properly wowed yet but they’re at least back on track to, and while it would be better if they’d already done so after three albums now, they’re still doing generally fine.
For fans of: Five Finger Death Punch, Pop Evil, From Ashes To New
‘Dear Monsters’ by Bad Wolves is out now on Better Noise Music.
Clearly MØL are wasting no time in staking claim to Deafheaven’s now-abdicated blackgaze throne, and nor should they. Just the hype around Jord in 2018 would nail them down as the most rightful heirs within the scene, something which has least been quadrupled down on now, with a new signing to Nuclear Blast and an established repertoire to solidify that, yeah, they are the real deal. And to continue with that thought, Diorama sees them deftly avoiding the ‘difficult second album’ trope as well, instead delivering another elegant, forward-thinking metal album that’s still able to go toe-to-toe with the best in a year filled with them. Unlike Deafheaven, MØL are more explicitly rooted in black-metal here, mostly in Kim Song Sternkopf’s shredded, blasted screams, though it’s interesting to see how everything still manages to fall in place around them despite how much cleaner the rest of the album can be. If anything, that sort of delivery can makes this sound feel even bigger and more calamitous, as the crystalline guitars will ring out on Photophobic and Vestige without forgoing the surge that runs underneath. Similarly, the rhythm section feels almost disarmingly traditional, with any sort of blast beats or elements of underground heaviness feel in short supply, but in a way that’s undoubtedly deliberate. MØL’s own cinematic quality is hard to miss on Diorama, and leaning into that by cranking up the bombast and melody unlocks so much more potential than what could otherwise be a cobbled-together hybrid like so many would be comfortable with. It’s an example of blackgaze not being limited to its composite parts, more direct than when Deafheaven do similar exercises, and probably better on the basis of pure engagement. This isn’t a short album by any means, but MØL capture a brisk tone that makes it absolutely fly by in how the tones are generally more approachable and powerful, but still have an edge that’s so crucial within the concoction. The vocals and, by extension, the lyrics provide that, with such a great balance that proves so imperative throughout, and really is the catalyst for MØL being as excellent as they are. And yes, that can sound like simply buying into the hype cycle from a more cynical mind, but the results ultimately speak for themselves, and the fact that MØL have tapped so deeply into heavy music simultaneously so unbound yet accessible is a testament to how strong they are. You could barely ignore them to begin with, but now there’s really no reason why you would even want to.
For fans of: Deafheaven, Svalbard, Unreqvited
‘Diorama’ by MØL is released on 5th November on Nuclear Blast Records.
Desperate Times, Desperate Pleasures
Boston Manor have locked into such a creative groove lately that it’s hard to predict where they’ll go next. Of course, since Welcome To The Neighbourhood presented such a stark change in sound from anything previously, all bets are off seemingly by default, but there’s a lot more freedom for them in this caustic post-hardcore lane, especially given the upswing the scene as a whole is currently on. As such, Desperate Times, Desperate Pleasures is an odd beast of a release, borne out of lockdown-induced depression and ennui, but feeling just as much like a stepping stone as an outlet. Even for what could be deemed a stopgap EP, Boston Manor’s hot streak thoroughly sandblasts any negative connotations that might have for yet another great release from a band who can seemingly do no wrong at the minute. It helps that the mindset is one that’s been cultivated across their work for a while now, of a draining modern world and an urban landscape draped in heavy, dark tones, now further ingrained by the pandemic that sees the bleakness boil up even quicker. By now, Boston Manor can tap into this with little hassle, though it’s still impressive how swiftly their hits and gnashes will land, as Henry Cox will capture true anger and desperation across Carbon Mono and I Don’t Like People (& They Don’t Like Me). Even on the pocket of hope on Let The Right One In, it’s still engulfed in the destitution of the world around it, as its own hulking melody will plough through and try to negate as much fruitlessness as it can. For a band who’ve seemingly re-engineered their career around being a monolith in the tide of destruction, Boston Manor continue to thrill in just how full-force their intentions are, with the frayed electronics to embellish the edges of Carbon Mono and Algorithm, or a simple, momentous riff to send Desperate Pleasures bolting forward. The hunger that this band embody never seems to fail or drop, and these five tracks—to some degree—feel like the most concise version of that to date. The dense production is never off-puttingly so, and though the leaps forward made aren’t as significant as past occasions, that’s hardly something to hold against them. This is rock music played without filter or concession, left to be as raw and combustible as it likes, while still maintaining a crucial sense of melody and accessibility. In other words, it’s exactly what modern rock music should be, and Boston Manor continue to be one of the shining lights plying it right now.
For fans of: Trash Boat, Static Dress, Modern Error
‘Desperate Times, Desperate Pleasures’ by Boston Manor is out now on Sharptone Records.
The Romance Of Affliction
The never-ending momentum of SeeYouSpaceCowboy is one of the more pleasant surprises to come out of heavy music in recent years, hand in hand with the return of old-school screamo that they’re spearheading and doing a consistently excellent job of representing. Their last batch of new music only came earlier this year on their split EP with If I Die First, and even then, the hunger and dynamism this band bring have been second-to-none at all times. It almost makes it slightly redundant to bring up how The Romance Of Affliction is basically more of the same from them, a statement whose oft-pejorative connotations really don’t fit here. The brashness and visceral electricity they embody is so jam-packed with thrills, be that in the shredded, frayed edges to Connie Sgarbossa’s shrieks, or a distinctly sharp instrumental tone, beholden to emo darkness and edge but never overrun by it. Once again, it’s the genre classicism that takes SeeYouSpaceCowboy so far, not just through pure nostalgia—although the vocal tone in the cleans on With Arms That Bind And Lips That Lock and …And My Faded Reflection In Your Eyes goes pretty far—but in the way it’s arranged to sound so vital, even a good decade-and-a-half-plus after its heyday. The brushstrokes of modern hardcore serve as the outmost coat, in production from Knocked Loose’s Isaac Hale and a guest turn from Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley, but in the darker melodies and anxious freneticism, the heart of a classic band is there and shines through excellently. By now though, SeeYouSpaceCowboy have borderline perfected that style, something which feels so evident across the entire album when they never miss a beat or sound anything less than skin-flayingly volatile. There’s definitely depth to that too, in lyrics engaging with a chaos in life that drags and pulls in every direction, and how redemption from that doesn’t come as easily and simply waiting out the storm. The fact that Sgarbossa herself almost died of a drug overdose just two weeks after recording the album lends an extra layer of sting, with the wall between artistic perspective and reality’s engine that powers it utterly demolished to feel so much more open and unguarded. Where so much of this music can be accused of blown-up melodrama and playing the game in its edginess, SeeYouSpaceCowboy are the immovable island keeping the balance between scene style and unflinching, bare realism alive. As of now, that comes with practically a spotless record in terms of their work, and The Romance Of Affliction isn’t changing that; they’re one of the best bands in modern hardcore, and they only keep providing reasons why that should be appreciated.
For fans of: Knocked Loose, From First To Last, Every Time I Die
‘The Romance Of Affliction’ by SeeYouSpaceCowboy is released on 5th November on Pure Noise Records.
Emma Ruth Rundle
Engine Of Hell
There’s always been an intrigue factor to artists like Emma Ruth Rundle that could be seen as the driving force behind them. An ornate, classical sensibility offered to a blend of doom, folk and the gothic has given some remarkably strong results across the scene, mostly because of the allure of the esoteric that’s so deeply baked in. So on paper, that feels as though it could be extrapolated to an album like Engine Of Hell, stripped back to its ghostly bones of solemn pianos and acoustic guitars for Rundle’s vocals to stand even more starkly. In truth though, it feels more as though Engine Of Hell just doesn’t have a lot to it; the aforementioned intrigue is a lot slighter and beyond the exceptionally realised content, there isn’t nearly as much to dig into as previous. To be fair though, that content pulls a serious amount of weight on its own, dredging up memories hidden—or perhaps held back—by hazes of obscurity and ambiguity, but delivered with the quivering, spartan intensity necessary to keep the subsuming darkness at bay, just about. And there’s definitely merit to keeping that held up with such a sparse presentation, but it rarely makes for an album as compelling as it could be. It’s hard to be when the instrumental palette doesn’t extend all that far; there’s definitely appeal to the rawness of it all and how confined it can be, but it’s also barebones to the point where it’s hard to glean much replayability from it. It feels more like a curio or an experiment for how stripped-back an album like this can be, taken to a logical endpoint where it’s interesting to see and peel back, but not necessarily to revisit. It’s disappointing to have to say that about an artist as routinely captivating as Rundle (and she herself is still great here as a vocalist), but an endeavour like this was always going to yield some disconnect, and that’s just how it’s turned out here.
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Nick Drake, Sun Kil Moon
‘Engine Of Hell’ by Emma Ruth Rundle is released on 5th November on Sargent House Records.
Diablo Swing Orchestra
Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole
It doesn’t take much deep diving to ascertain that Diablo Swing Orchestra live and die on their gimmick. That doesn’t seem like a tremendously bold statement, but it’s basically overtaken their entire musical identity now, more so than before. Whereas the concept of power-metal affixed with swing elements was novel to start with, its conceptual half-life has only become more and more apparent, and when the metal aspects on Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole are perhaps the least important part, it’s indicative of a band who’ve spiralled out as a means of keeping hold of their own gimmick. Though that was probably bound to happen at some point; this album does feel like a logical next step, in that it’s so confused and unaware of where the band’s true strengths lie, instead flailing wildly across an hour in the vain hope that something will land. As such, among the tinny swing of Speed Dating An Arsonist, there are elements of Latin music on Celebremos Lo Inevitable, Celtic skips on Jig Of The Century and a whole myriad of other disconnected styles, played with proficiency but lacking as much flair as Diablo Swing Orchestra clearly think they have. It’s seriously hampered by production that crushes guitars into a low-end slurry that doesn’t fit the bright, caffeinated tone of the rest of the album whatsoever, and can make the percussion feel so slappy and plastic, even on more straightforward metal pivots like The Prima Donna Gauntlet. While Diablo Swing Orchestra are clearly having fun, it doesn’t translate in a mix that’s never broad or deep enough to facilitate the freewheeling splashiness they’re trying to cultivate, making this more of a chore to sit through than a treat. Malign Monologues comes the closest, but it’s hardly a concession to everything else on its own, when even their own sense of quirkiness doesn’t seem to hit the right beats. Beyond that, the vocal performances are generally okay all round (apart from some painfully cringeworthy accents on Saluting The Reckoning), and the writing is about as disposable as one would expect for an album in this vein. And throughout, you can really tell that Diablo Swing Orchestra are trying to offset that on the basis of ‘creativity’, but they actually need to achieve something substantive for that to work, which demonstrably isn’t the case here. It just ends up as more of a lump of mess and noise than anything worth revisiting, or even anything worth hoping for much more of in the future.
For fans of: Nightwish, Ayreon, Theatre Of Tragedy
‘Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole’ by Diablo Swing Orchestra is out now on Searchlight Records / Spinefarm Records.
It’s a bit surprising that Greer are already signed to a label with as much clout as Epitaph, given that they’ve only released one other EP (which was also was released on the label), but it’s not inconceivable either. They appear to lean more on the side of its indie-rock roots, many of which can be indeed traced back to the ‘90s, and that comes together for a likable if not entirely developed package. On this new EP, Greer stand out most for how uniformly well they come across, where the indie and power-pop sweetness holds firm standing among a swaying command of melody that’s augmented with some pretty great bass work to keep it pushing along. It’s the same with writing that feels most rooted in relatable ethe coming out of the pandemic, where vocalist Josiah has the easygoing tone and character to generally feel like a welcome presence. And yet, that’s about it, as Greer’s approach rarely feels different across these four tracks. There’s nothing to actively dislike, but too often, they fall into the bottomless pit of agreeable indie-rock for whom agreeability is its strongest suit, not really clicking on a deeper or more memorable level. Maybe it’s the shortness of the release itself or the fact that Greer aren’t the most vibrant or energetic of bands, but Happy People serves as a nice proof of concept for classically-inclined indie-rock more than it does as an example of it. It might still be worth keeping an eye on Greer for what could potentially come—given the backing they’ve got already, there’s clearly something there that others are seeing—but it isn’t hard to see they aren’t fully there just yet.
For fans of: Wallows, Dayglow, Peach Tree Rascals
‘Happy People’ by Greer is released on 5th November on Epitaph Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall