Stick To Your Guns
Compared to how on top of the world Stick To Your Guns felt about five to ten years ago, Spectre arrives with decidedly little fanfare. There’s a number of contributing factors—it comes after their longest break between albums to date, and some of the heat around Jesse Barnett at the moment won’t have helped—but most of all, the niche of charged hardcore (particularly in the political space) that Stick To Your Guns usurped in the 2010s has been distributed a bit more equally now. Now more than ever, in fact, the bands that fully push this style and mindset to its limit ultimately lap Stick To Your Guns’ own approach, and it’s just less impressive by comparison. Spectre is all teeth and claws but just shy of a killing blow, as Barnett douses his rallying cries in some particularly flammable vocal performances without the oncoming blaze searing as deeply as hoped. There’ll be samples and references to revolutionaries and protest works, and that can somewhat widen the gulf when there isn’t that level of precision on the issues from the band themselves. That comes right at the end with the acoustic No Way To Live, in a retrace of their last album True View with its closer as its most melodic, personal and lyrically colourful. To be fair though, that sort of criticism says more to an overarching standard when Spectre is still good, and still serving on the wavelength of vicious hardcore that, on Weapon or A World To Win, isn’t averse to hitting big, populist strides. The heavier angle is definitely where the band shine most here though, not only letting Barnett unleash a roar that frankly goes underrated among his contemporaries, but also guitarists Chris Rawson and Josh James getting more room to embrace a metallic stomp on Hush and Liberate. Stick To Your Guns’ formula is on broad display across Spectre, though that in itself isn’t objectionable. The dip into weirdly bright grunge tones on Open Up My Head isn’t an alternative that offers more without taking a lot away, and honestly just places a firmer onus on how well the existing sound works. It’s produced in a pleasingly heavy manner at that, and streamlined in the exact way that hardcore and metalcore of this stripe likes to be, where the strikes are swift and brusque with little energy wasted. Basically it’s on par for a band of Stick To Your Guns’ vintage at the stage they’re at, now lagging behind the more incendiary presences spawned in their wake, but providing the signal-boost of scene lifers still ploughing forward. For as far in as they now are, that’s enough.
For fans of: The Ghost Inside, Beartooth, A Day To Remember
‘Spectre’ by Stick To Your Guns is released on 29th July on End Hits Records / Pure Noise Records.
Be honest—who actually knew that Anberlin were active again? Apparently it’s been that way since 2018 and full-time since 2019, but this is their first new release since their supposed swan song in 2014’s Lowborn. With that in mind then, it’s little wonder Silverline hasn’t been lighting any fireworks, when its predecessor was a generally agreed-upon damp squib to end off on, not to mention the fact that a lot of Anberlin’s work hasn’t aged particularly flawlessly with how deeply ingrained in both the sides of 2000s emo and Christian rock it was. As such, it’s probably not a great start that of the two, Silverline trends closest to the latter for some saccharine, edgeless fare erring closer towards frontman Stephen Christian’s Anchor & Braille project. The cues from ‘modern rock’ feel blindingly superficial; production is caked on to where nothing can breathe, including the vocals, and it’s made all the more noticeable by the rigid, cavernous drumming that couldn’t be more regimenting. There’s clearly a shot taken at grandeur on a track like Asking For and its strings, but the mitigating factors of leaden pace and sterile, immovable presentation ensure Anberlin botch it as basically every turn. At least there’s Two Graves, a song that’s hardly anything special in its own right (and still creaking under the weight of its own mix), but it’ll at least cast glances at their old post-hardcore style. That’s effectively all that Anberlin have to offer though, on a monotonous listen that’s regularly about as perfunctory as they come. There’s no need for them to come back on this when artistic drive is evidently depleted this low, as Anberlin are left scrambling for vestiges of what’s deemed a ‘popular’ pivot, namely a brand of Imagine Dragons slipstreaming that isn’t even in date anymore. It drags the EP down considerably, congealing on a track like Circles with its nagging child vocals and bizarrely abrupt ending for a final product that could’ve—probably should’ve—been left on the drawing board. There’s likely enough nostalgic good will around Anberlin already to where something like this wasn’t necessary, a flat, cynical stab at an ‘update’ that faceplants far more often than it makes this revival seem worthwhile. If this is what they had in their locker for a comeback, maybe we didn’t need any new music after all.
For fans of: Acceptance, Relient K, Anchor & Braille
‘Silverline’ by Anberlin is released on 29th July on Rude Records / Equal Vision Records.
There’ll be some people who’ll absolutely lose their mind over Banks Arcade’s debut, and to an extent, that’s understandable. These kinds of flagrantly genre-splicing metalcore albums tend to open themselves up for a lot of praise on the back of what’s historically been a stagnant genre; it’s why this is so analogous with Bad Omens’ The Death Of Peace Of Mind from this year and the absurd praise it’s gleaned. Both albums do share a number of issues though, chiefly in lumpiness and stiffness that often comes with experiments like this, where the promise of ‘expanding the sound’ is given more worth than a defined endpoint. That said, Future Lovers is a bit better for what it is, for being more toned and flavourful in its approach. The integrations of Post Malone-esque flows and overwhelming bass tremors come more naturally on Fake Your Death or Spark, still with an element of fixing together disparate parts—especially in the former’s case—but the whole at least winds up being more solid. Joshua O’Donnell has the malleable voice to similarly pull it off; he’s got a more melodic register to favour singing or rapping over screaming, though that in itself is a good workaround to smoothen out some of the bumps in Banks Arcade’s concoction. This is still an obviously lopsided album in how it jerks between electronic and alt-metal extremes, but it’s delivered with a confidence to never feel in danger of collapsing completely. Furthermore, Banks Arcade are definitely more comfortable with outright experimentation that looks outside the predetermined box of tricks, like with the woodwinds and heavy breaths of Ether, or the swamped-out murk of Trip incorporating glitch and drum ‘n’ bass into its melting pot. They’re the instances when Future Lovers is at its most interesting, free of the shackles that come with slab-thick alt-metal that proves capable, but also can be as heavy an anchor as it sounds on here. To be fair, it doesn’t come around egregiously often (same with the writing; the trope-y metalcore habits are there but far from distracting), and there’s enough flair around Banks Arcade to where they aren’t just digging their heels into what came before. As somewhat jumbled as it still might be, they are making a good case for redrawing some of where metalcore goes forward, and there’s enough about Future Lovers to already hint that they know what they’re doing.
For fans of: Bad Omens, Ocean Grove, Void Of Vision
‘Future Lovers’ by Banks Arcade is released on 29th July on UNFD.
Let’s give Arising Empire a hand for diversifying their roster a bit with this one, making the leap from blank, interchangeable metalcore to blank, interchangeable hard rock. Truly a Herculean feat, but all facetiousness aside, the differences between blacktoothed’s JULI and the output of its labelmates are fairly negligible. If anything, it’s probably less beneficial to blacktoothed, when any hard rock flair or bombast is surgically removed and a cold, flat husk is left in its place. So Real and Tidal Wave catch the brunt of that, as unhelpfully stodgy production finds them lumbering on with the turning cogs trying to grind everything into place being practically audible. Elsewhere, it’s mostly a case of an already narrow repertoire of hard rock being hamstrung even further; the band that blacktoothed feel most aligned with is Skillet, not nearly as embarrassing as they can be but falling into a lot of the same holes when it comes to the easiest way to sap out the power of a sound that should be built on it. Thus, guitars are regularly weak and devoid of muscle; the rhythm section completely hinges on the drums when any bass is seldom present; and for as expressive as vocalist Hendrik is as a singer, the garbled filters slathered on him average closer to one of John Cooper’s more competent performances played underwater. Unsurprisingly, the best results come from—wouldn’t you know it?—embracing some hard rock sweep and power, and though Saviour and Between You & The World still aren’t exceptional with how clearly they’ve also been railroaded into the mould, they aren’t being drowned either. That being said, stack blacktoothed up against a lot of the upper tier in their field, and it’s no contest who comes out on top. Even outside of its own blockiness, JULI suffers from a dearth of instrumental or lyrical personality, or really anything indicative of something more than its surface-level projection shown here. It’s about as plain and unmemorable as it comes, and that isn’t even a shock.
For fans of: Skillet, Asking Alexandria, Stone Broken
‘JULI’ by blacktoothed is released on 29th July on Arising Empire.
Words by Luke Nuttall