REVIEW ROUND-UP: DevilDriver, Hot Mulligan, Himalayas, happydaze

Artwork for DevilDriver’s ‘Dealing With Demons Vol. II’ - a hooded figure with a lantern on top of a pile of demons


Dealing With Demons Vol. II

Chances are you forgot this was even coming out. It’s a wonder that DevilDriver themselves didn’t, given how much on their plate they’ve seemingly got at the moment, and how they don’t seem like the kind of band to easily juggle it all. That roadmap they had going all the way up to 2025 is seemingly out the window, seeing as this album was apparently due out two years ago; sticking to the original plan, this was supposed to be the second outlaw country covers album, likely a much more interesting release that what’s actually transpired. Because if the goal was to make a double album—why? There’s no reason that Dealing With Demons Vol. II has to connect to its predecessor in any way; it’s, quite simply, just another DevilDriver album.

And it’s not unbelievable that even DevilDriver fans might start to get bored of that. In the modern groove-metal and melodeath space, they’re often competent without much complexity, or even the high bar of consistency of a band like Lamb Of God. You could’ve sussed that out way before their tenth album, though …Vol. II doesn’t exactly hesitate in hammering it in. Here’s DevilDriver swinging for an easy hit, such is the prevalent absence of newness or vitality, or really anything all that conducive with a band advancing past their absolute most predictable state. There is the odd coquettish glance at black-metal on Summoning and Through The Depths, though that gets washed out pretty quickly by everything else. Everything from the style to the tempos to the production that holds them back from being all that heavy is so late-period DevilDriver, and the groove they’ve settled into couldn’t be more obvious.

They clearly still think they’re pulling it off though, to where it’s almost quaint that they’re going through this kind of effort. It’s a classic case of a long-running band not recognising the downswing they’re on, and even though DevilDriver’s floor of quality is high enough, the band trying to convince themselves that it’s all they need to do isn’t working for them. Just look at Dez Fafara, once a powerful lynchpin of the melodeath sound reduced to a vocalist who sounds noticeably weak now. There’s no gravity when he tries to scream; it mostly comes out garbled and forced, like he’s fighting back against his better instincts in order to meet expectations. Similarly in the writing, Fafara’s ‘big, angry metal man’ shtick just isn’t gripping anymore, not when wheels are so clearly being spun with no hint of movement in sight.

At the same time, there’s nothing even worth getting all that bothered about. Of all bands, DevilDriver aren’t one that inspire true emotional extremes, neither positive or negative; they never have been and, certainly now, they never will be. They’re just smack-dab in the middle of that spectrum, where you might get a decent tingle of joy in the moment, only for it to fade away almost instantaneously. So here’s to another DevilDriver album to keep the machine rollin’ along, pretty much the only thing they actively excel at these days.

For fans of: Lamb Of God, Chimaira, Shadows Fall

‘Dealing With Demons Vol. II’ by DevilDriver is released on 12th May on Napalm Records.

Artwork for Hot Mulligans’ ‘Why Would I Watch’ - a child under a plastic poncho holding a viewfinder toy to their eyes

Hot Mulligan

Why Would I Watch

This feels like an album that’s been a long time coming for Hot Mulligan. While they’ve had prominence in emo for a while now, it’s always been gradual, and generally confined to their scene. Maybe that’s because they’ve often been a weird band to market, placed between Midwestern emo twiddliness and something closer to pop-punk adjacency. So it’s not too surprising that Why Would I Watch—in what feels like an attempt to really nail down Hot Mulligan as a band to root for on a wide scale—has trended more towards the latter. It’s easily a more straightforwardly punchy and vital album than anything that came before, thanks to energy that’s clearly been redirected instead of cut off entirely. It remains identifiably a Hot Mulligan album, and for the many ways it seeks to tie up loose threads and generally tidy some of their straggling ends, likely their best yet.

That doesn’t feel as though it’ll be too controversial a statement either. It must be stressed that there’s no grand reinvention going on here, and in many ways, that’s for the best. To let their initial ideas die on the vine just wouldn’t be beneficial in the slightest; instead on Why Would I Watch, consolidation feels like the main aim at play. Thus, any jutting tics of math-rock are folded away to colour more detailled patterns on an already-strong emo and pop-punk base like on And I Smoke or This Song Is Called It’s Called What It’s Called. But that alone only goes so far; the central melody is ultimately king, and Hot Mulligan have decked out its crown more than ever this time around. Why Would I Watch boasts what are easily some of their most incessant hooks to date on No Shoes In The Coffee Shop (Or Socks) and Gans Media Retro Games, shooting for crisp emo melody and landing faultlessly.

It’s honestly the best medium for Hot Mulligan to inhabit, especially when you see how much they can wring from it without making too many sacrifices. The crackle and twinkle of homespun emo warmth is still fully present in the production, and in no way impeded by the album’s poppier sensibilities. Similarly, Tades Sanville still has a habit of flying off into mid-lyric vocal shredding to hone in on an emotional rawness, and placed among the ideas on here, it falls to a lot less dissonance. Where The Wonder Years comparisons have regularly been apt in Hot Mulligan’s more refined states, that’s no different here—there’s a lot of thematic wounds ripped open like on Shhh! Golf Is On, only hidden behind the deflection of shitpost song titles in a way that makes digging around in there sting just that bit more.

In other words, it’s yet more reassertion that Hot Mulligan really haven’t changed much. They’ve not needed to, and they’re clearly aware of that when Why Would I Watch is as natural a continuation as is necessary. The mood and tone continue to excel within their field, now held even more firmly by tighter constructive prowess and a sense of spark that, within their catalogue, is second-to-none. If all is right, this is where Hot Mulligan’s star makes its greatest ascent, vaulting into the upper tiers of emo where they clearly belong. More so now than ever before, that couldn’t be easier to see.

For fans of: Free Throw, The Wonder Years, Oso Oso

‘Why Would I Watch’ by Hot Mulligan is released on 12th May on Wax Bodega.

Artwork for Himalayas’ ‘From Hell To Here’ - a statue of a figure with no skin holding a phone to take a selfie


From Hell To Here

In the world that Himalayas likely want to live in, they’re already rock icons. Hell, had they been knocking about around a decade ago, it’s not hard to imagine them in a parallel state to, say, Royal Blood. They’re the sort of band who’ll inevitably generate the same flavour of response, as a middle ground between indie and ‘proper’ rock scenes through deeply ingrained accessibility and a fat, low-swinging sound. You can probably tell from that description why they feel like a bit of relic nowadays, but they’re also not unpleasant in any massive way.

In that sense, From Hell To Here is painted all over with the colours of Royal Blood’s debut, or even the Arctic Monkeys’ AM. It runs through the riff-rock train of thought, less interested in branching into subgenres that doubling down on rock music in its purest form. Thus, the title track sets the mood with plenty of scuzz and fuzz, extrapolated into a heftier groove on Darkest Before The Dawn, and a more ominous swing of the axe on Somebody Else. That’s effectively the snaking route that Himalayas go down on From Here To Hell—seldom unpredictable, but certainly proficient. And that’s kind of where this thing tends to fall now, especially a decade or so removed from its peak. You’d be hard pressed to find a new idea among what Himalayas lay out here (which, in all honesty, can make the album drag its feet a little), but they’re doing what they do well enough.

And that’s also where the album kind of ends. The reliance on sounding huge and thunderous and filling all available space in its production is where the most attention goes, which means naturally the neglect elsewhere can start to show. For one, this feels as though it should be a more memorable album than it is given the style, but it’s not something that Himalayas do a lot to carve out. As a whole, From Hell To Here can sometimes feel like the raw materials of a stronger album, especially from the standpoint of how clear its influences are. Royal Blood and the Arctic Monkeys are the big ones, in occupying similar design space to the former, and Joe Williams’ voice drifting very close into Alex Turner territory at times. Right now, Himalayas don’t feel like their own thing just yet, despite amassing some decent impulses that could get them there. They’re generally lyrically different in exploring a psychological human darkness (still in broad strokes, but you know how it goes); that’s kind of the extent of it for now though.

Still, this is alright. It’s tempting to be more charitable when Himalayas aren’t reinventing the wheel by design, and at least the increased presence and power can offset a personality that can still feel a bit lacking. Maybe that’s the intent though, and From Hell To Here is already everything that Himalayas want to be; if that’s the case, ambitions of superstardom might have to go on the back burner, but that’s not the same as no success whatsoever. Something like this can do well—it has plenty of times before—and Himalayas seem as though they know how to pilot it to achieve similar results.

For fans of: Royal Blood, Arctic Monkeys, Mini Mansions

‘From Hell To Here’ by Himalayas is released on 12th May on Nettwerk.

Artwork for happydaze’s ‘Full Free Radical’ - colourful, angular shapes made to look like living things


Full Free Radical

Remember UK pop-punk’s little moment it had in the 2010s? Where it felt like you couldn’t move without a new band popping up and trying to be their town’s equivalent of Neck Deep? Well, that’s pretty much dead now, and has been for some time. Sure, it was formulaic and repetitive at the time, but with hindsight being what it is, it’d likely be preferable to where pop-punk is now, dominated by moonlighting influencers with the occasional actual band deigned some sliver of the spotlight. As for happydaze, they come as an endpoint to some interesting thought experiment—what if that UK pop-punk wave wasn’t cut off at the roots, and instead continued evolving concurrently with everything else going around today?

Now, that’s something of a crapshoot to get an entirely accurate answer, but Full Free Radical more or less feels like it. You’ve got the big, slamming, Neck Deep-esque melodies made all the denser by a treacle of dark pop production, something akin to a decidedly more British take on Waterparks or Point North. And just like those bands, what’s here can be a bit hit-or-miss, but generally works. To iron out the issues first, it is a bit too stiffened and mechanised because of that production, and placing it as the dominant factor only draws more attention to that. Just try and imagine Cool Blue or Day In And Out with some of that pressure eased back, and some fairly strong compositional chops would be able to shine a lot more.

Because, yeah, happydaze do prove themselves to be strong songwriters. It’s very ingrained within pop-punk thematically, but that’s not really a problem when the title track or Heaven You Felt are more concerned with their own towering size. It’s a direct result of how many cues from Neck Deep are taken, particularly from their later eras. The pop-rock impulses come out more readily, and Luke Bovill sounds a fair bit like Ben Barlow already, to where these could just straight-up be Neck Deep songs in another universe. And yet, when happydaze have their moments of creative openness and willingness to cast their net out wider, they aren’t just ripoffs either. Across these seven songs, not one feels like it’s cribbing overly liberally from any one influence, and for a new band, that’s not nothing.

There’s still work to be done, definitely, but not the near-complete overhaul necessary for most acts at this stage to break out of early-days shackles. happydaze clearly have an idea of what they want to be beyond the basics, and Full Free Radical does a good job at laying those out already—they’re pop-punk, yes, but there’s a lot more to take in too. The tightening and refining to come down the line is ultimately inevitable; right now, just basking in the promise is absolutely fine. It’s not like pop-punk brings something along like that every day, after all.

For fans of: Neck Deep, Point North, ROAM

‘Full Free Radical’ by happydaze is released on 12th May on Thriller Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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