ALBUM REVIEW: Hot Milk – ‘A Call To The Void’

Artwork for Hot Milk’s ‘A Call To The Void’

This has been a long time coming. Longer than many might believe in fact, given how Hot Milk came out of the gates effectively fully formed, to where something like this could’ve been dropped immediately. Awful Ever After was their debut single that showed no sign of teething problems, a piece of sparkly, propulsive, dark-edged pop-rock that was almost singlehandedly responsible for launching Hot Milk on such a successful trajectory. Since early 2019 when that came out, they’ve barely put a foot wrong. Singles have easily caught fire; EPs have only grown their profile further; a full-length could’ve been an inevitability at least a year or two ago, and yielded the same results.

Except, when you compared Hot Milk now to where they started out, they do seem rather different. As good as their debut EP Are You Feeling Alive? was (still indisputably packing some of their biggest and best choruses yet), the shift from that kind of pop-rock was almost instantaneous afterwards. Since then, Hot Milk have strived to be darker and heavier, and allowing of some harder, more incisive edges to take a driving seat. It’s ultimately what’s given them their longevity up to now, testing the waters and continuously refining it with more condensed releases since to reach this point. It why the assertions of Hot Milk simply being another get-rich-quick pop-rock band jumping on the same edgy bandwagons as everyone else feel more misinformed than ever. Yes, there’s a genealogy between this sound and some…less-than-stellar names in recent times, especially in pop-rock, but it’s Hot Milk’s commitment to playing the long game that’s found them in much greater stead. A Call To The Void is coming out on an uncommonly strong foundation, thanks to the ways that Hot Milk have been building themselves up.

Therefore, there’s an unmistakable readiness about this album that feels intrinsic to Hot Milk at this stage. Tracing the culmination of everything they’ve done up to now leads to A Call To The Void, not only comfortably their strongest full body of work, but also the one that has the most to offer. Hot Milk have evolved and augmented themselves way past their pop-rock roots; more than ever, they feel like a towering rock colossus ready to take whatever leaps and plunges they want. This is just proof of that—a massive statement of intent to the wider world, drenched in the power and wherewithal of a band gunning for the stars.

Just like how that ramp-up has been noticeable across each Hot Milk release up to now, A Call To The Void is no exception. It’s perhaps the cleanest meshing of everything they’ve done so far, be that in pristine alt-pop, crunching punk- and emo-adjacent pop-rock, or a propensity to not be defined by rigid classifications and let themselves careen onwards. In that case, the likelihood of some shakiness is more present—the pseudo-rapping on Party On My Deathbed easily feels like the album’s biggest dud moment—but by now, Hot Milk are well aware of how to utilise their strengths. Thus, letting the cord snap that’s holding back full-on metalcore screams on Over Your Dead Body lands with particular potency, and the closer Forget Me Not actually nails the vibe of an earlier-period Halsey, in the pulsating alt-pop synths and Han Mee’s more porcelain vocal register.

Primarily though, it’s about showing off what their core sound has grown into now, and the heavier, sharper presentation that never marginalises how effortlessly this band can pen a hook is, hands down, its best form. If that hadn’t quite been actualised on the last couple of EPs, A Call To The Void has no such issues, evidenced nice and early on first track proper Horror Show with driving percussion and guitars mixed in a way that’s verging on something industrial. Meanwhile, Alice Cooper’s Pool House is a big, bouncy number held by its central stop-start riff (as well as featuring a skit from the man himself stuck to the end), and Over Your Dead Body pushes forward with its chainsaw bassline on easily the album’s most aggressive turn.

For the most part, A Call To The Void feels like a rock album, rather than just co-opting the texture of one. It’s been one of Hot Milk’s strengths from the beginning, and now finally gets some proper space to show off a variant of modern rock without concessions made either way. It also gives them a lot more leeway to prove they aren’t shackled there, and how it’s more a case of Hot Milk’s creative breadth encompassing a wide enough space that they can pull off quite a lot. Chiefly on Bloodstream and Breathing Underwater, they show a real dab-handedness for unloading in a way that allows for blockbuster emotionality, the former with its synthpop shuffle that’s much closer to their earliest work, and the latter as a titanic, arms-aloft ballad that could do with not suffocating its string section as much, but still manages to hit regardless. In that example especially, it’s a case study for how A Call To The Void’s unashamedly maximalist production can paper over a lot of cracks, where unencumbered enormity (that enables a lot of its heaviest moments, too) gets Hot Milk rather far on its own.

That’s been the case for a while, but A Call To The Void is arguably where it rises to the fullest height. After all, this is a big-feeling album on all fronts, and it makes the most sense to zero in where applicable to wring the most potential from it. It’s why Han Mee and Jim Shaw work so well as a vocal pair, both carrying the same gnashing, rambunctious energy that keeps them bouncing off each other in particularly effective ways. On an album that finds them both barrelling forward past all the numbness of modern life—often exacerbated by excesses and unsustainable short-term hits—the twin-headed cry into whatever lies ahead does carry a lot of catharsis when pulled off this well. It might also be the most equal play the two have had in terms of a real spotlighted performance; there’s no moment where one feels like a clear standout over the other, and that’s especially useful on Bloodstream or Amphetamine where the whole design is around the all-encompassing release. It also does a lot for Over Your Dead Body, the screed against a toxic figure that’s so incredibly satisfying when the verbal drubbing comes breathlessly from two angles at once.

That’s the kind of things that highlight what Hot Milk tacitly bring to the scene that really doesn’t get the appreciation it should. Of course these songs would work on their own, but accompanied by interesting techniques and details within them edges that bit further up. Put them all together in close quarters, and Hot Milk display the added strength that’s seen them vault over their peers in such a short space of time. And chances are, with A Call To The Void bringing even more of that on top of another terrific batch of rock songs, the ascent isn’t going to slow any time soon. It might just be Hot Milk’s most accomplished work to date, which is no mean feat within a catalogue that, thus far, has experienced no real lows to speak of. But that just goes to show the acceleration speed at play here, and how, in every way, Hot Milk are making the most of all which their momentum has given them. The end results just keep gleaming more and more brightly.

For fans of: Boston Manor, As It Is, RedHook

‘A Call To The Void’ by Hot Milk is released on 25th August on Music For Nations.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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