REVIEW ROUND-UP: Return To Dust, Bad Juju, Uzumaki

Artwork for Return To Dust’s ‘The Black Road’

Return To Dust

The Black Road

By now, TikTok as a means of music promotion is just a norm. Sure, it’s a vessel that tends to ferry either older songs to a new audience or the underdeveloped wares of bedroom-producers, but y’know…the intent is there. And although it’s probably disproportionately weighted, it can happen to anyone. Return To Dust are one such recipient, picking up a viral boost from their track Belly Up that has more in common with Alice In Chains than anyone else, and impacting before even this debut EP, at that. So here’s a brand new band who’ve found their profile exponentially explode, ready to step into the big, wide world of music-making with a pre-established audience as a substantial boon—sounds like a clear ‘next big thing’ candidate, right?

Well…maybe? With the right push, sure, there could be something here. But with as atomised as the concept of ‘next big thing’ has become, Return To Dust’s greatest successes will likely come on their home turf, where they probably would’ve done fairly well to begin with. And that’s not a slight against them—across these five tracks, they should some good aptitude for curving and manipulating grunge into its different forms—but it’s not hard to dispute that The Black Road feels more at home among the Badflowers of the world than the bona fide rock legends. That’s effectively set in stone on songs like Anyway I Die and Losing Faith, which tamp back on the heavier, sludgier impulses laid down up top for something nearer to the established alt-hard rock sound. When the vocals on those tracks carry more than a few shades of Nothing But Thieves’ Conor Mason in them, it’s even less arguable.

As a result, Return To Dust aren’t quite as incendiary as their earliest cuts could indicate. They’re still the best on this EP, with how belly-dragging and riffed-up the title track and Belly Up are to hit that Alice In Chains style. That’s where Return To Dust are at their best, but it also doesn’t quite feel sustainable all the way through. The building blocks haven’t really been reshaped, as much as placed down in their entirety and used as they are. That might change elsewhere, in the overall shifts made under the grunge umbrella, but they can also sound like totally different bands at times. And sure, as a brand spanking new band, Return To Dust can and probably should be given some leeway there; it’s just hard to picture how ideas as loosely connected as these can meld together in the future, which will likely be what longterm success will depend on.

As it stands though, this is alright for now. For those with a deep investment already in the newest waves of hard rock, Return To Dust will be an easy sell; for anyone outside, however, they might need to prove themselves a bit more beyond what’s here. The ideas individually feel solid, though with a limited display of how they can come together and pull off something more distinct to this band. They’re still young and chasing their influences, so that’s undoubtedly why, but it’s something that does need to be grown out of and, as a result, can’t be fully ignored. Still, if that comes in time, Return To Dust could find themselves blessed with some necessary clout within their scene, even if much more seems scarce.

For fans of: Alice In Chains, Highly Suspect, cleopatrick

‘The Black Road’ by Return To Dust is released on 28th July on Jim Kaufman Productions.

Artwork for Bad Juju’s ‘Blue Heaven’

Bad Juju

Blue Heaven

This feels like the kind of album destined to get swept up by the rest of its scene, without anything close to the necessary level of acknowledgment for how good it is. Yes, iffy name aside, Bad Juju are, in fact, very good, fitting among an ever-flourishing Australian alt-rock scene that’s found this debut album produced by some dab hands within it, but with very little groundswell around it, it seems. Maybe it’s some saturation within that scene that’s not allowed them to penetrate; maybe it’s some other extraneous factor entirely (again, that name). Whatever the case, Blue Heaven has seen remarkably little excitement around it from certain perspectives, which really doesn’t seem fair to an album that hits the ground running as emphatically as this one does.

Here, Bad Juju find themselves taking a recognisable grunge base and pairing it with a modern density in production, something which turns Blue Heaven into a real monolith at points. Well, okay, everywhere, which can yield a lack of variety or range of pacing that’s probably its most glaring flaw. By a point, it can feel as though it’s grinding towards the end, though that’s an issue to be ironed out rather than one with Bad Juju themselves right now. For what they’re doing, they’ve got an enormous sound, laid on thick by some gauzier touches to the wall of sound on Walking Away or Misery Sticks To Me, while Russell Holland seethes through gritted teeth like he’s about to burst a blood vessel. All the while, Bad Juju’s alt-rock and emo maelstroms powerfully roll in the background, all monochrome and intensely shaded.

For an album tied to the steady decimation of the planet, it certainly fits in terms of tone. Even on a more hook-heavy song like Raincoat, there’s an absurd amount of tension and attrition at play, all in aid of making Blue Heaven sound as imposing as possible. And that undeniably works for what Bad Juju are trying to achieve. In an effort to modernise the ideals of grunge, the emphasis on that fat low end and churning, surging guitar tone is imperative, with sound and tone all coming together to hit a real sweet spot overall. Plus, there can be a real sense of thrust when the album clicks into place, particularly among its first half. The aforementioned dip (after House Of Greed) does scupper that a bit, but even so, the foundation remains rock-solid, as does Bad Juju’s commitment to wringing out as much gusto from it as possible.

So while it mightn’t be a tremendous feat of ingenuity, there’s still a good bit about Blue Heaven to admire. Bad Juju have definitely tapped into something profoundly workable here, where the stability of the bedrock echoes that of everything built on it. Even if it isn’t blowing the roof off just yet, Blue Heaven feels like the kind of thing that could really attract a core audience in spades, and Bad Juju could find some incredibly stable footing off it. With the right awareness towards it, it’s only a matter of time.

For fans of: Boston Manor, Citizen, Thrice

‘Blue Heaven’ by Bad Juju is out now.

Artwork for Uzumaki’s ‘Square One’


Square One

For a band name primarily evoking a Japanese flavour—it’s both a horror manga from 1998 and Naruto’s surname; pick your preference—Uzumaki come out with some distinct Britishness to them. Or rather, a Britishness spawned from some profound influence from American grunge and indie-rock in the ‘90s. It’s not an unfamiliar concoction for bands in their ilk, but Uzumaki do play more directly to the grunge end of things than bucketing it into an indie-punk whole. The result is Square One, a debut EP coated in familiarity—both in scenes operating today and about 30 years ago—that its creators prove extremely adept at mining something worthwhile from.

Thankfully, that means that Uzumaki aren’t shackled to nostalgic impulses like so many in the same position would be. Obviously it’s not impossible to escape them, as noteworthy elements of a plethora of grunge, indie, power-pop and Britpop all seep through at various points, but it’s a creative springboard rather than a crutch. Just take the opener Hey There, with an extended intro of low-slung grunge-pop that morphs into brighter, careening indie, with more dynamism to it than a simple Dinosaur Jr or early Foo Fighters copy-paste. Similarly, On And On pairs hypnagogic bass thrums and guitar cycles with melodic impulses stepping forwards in time to The Strokes, and Flip Side’s gang-vocalled hooks are borderline Britrock in sound.

All the while, Uzumaki never lose sight of what their core musical tenets are. They aren’t flying off the handle and kneecapping themselves in terms of enjoyability; instead, they’ve got a focused pool of sounds that can clearly work in tandem with one another, and present it accordingly. Thus, there’s an earthy production tone and very human style of presentation and writing, as to generally be expected. That section of the DIY map is where Uzumaki are predominantly drawing from, with a lot of instincts that fit with indie-punk, even if the parallels aren’t one-to-one. But in that field, Square One has enough about it to rise above its peers, thanks to a sonic breadth and diversity that’s tight-knit but noticeable all the same. And sure, that’s markedly easier to achieve over just four tracks, but the quality and consistency still speaks for itself when it’s all said and done.

And having a band as reliable as Uzumaki seem to be championing this sound is undoubtedly a good thing. For starters—and this isn’t a minor point at all—it’s proof that more can be done with ‘90s worship than simply regurgitating everything that came before; they’re still components, but at least more is being done with them! It’s an unfortunate rarity, but one that Uzumaki have embraced from the jump, and they’re all the better for it. They feel more fluid and adaptable, and comfortable with the idea of doing their own thing as a means of pressing ahead. Just like a lot of ‘90s bands, really.

For fans of: Weezer, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr

‘Square One’ by Uzumaki is released on 25th August on Everything Sucks Music.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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