REVIEW ROUND-UP: Year Of The Knife, Sugar Horse, Sleep Outside, Black Water County

Artwork for Year Of The Knife’s ‘No Love Lost’

Year Of The Knife

No Love Lost

The events around this album have heavily overshadowed any actual music from it. June saw Year Of The Knife involved in a serious road accident, affecting all members but especially vocalist Madi Watkins, who suffered considerable head and spinal trauma and multiple broken bones. The story of her recovery has been playing out ever since, and although Watkins has now been discharged from hospital only weeks ago, it almost makes a new album seem unimportant by comparison, even if normal circumstances would have the hype for No Love Lost off the charts. 2020’s Internal Incarceration was a terrific metallic hardcore album, and with the influence of Converge’s Kurt Ballou on production for this one, there’d be little reason to expect different, even at only 20 minutes long.

And while it’s a bit of a stretch to connect No Love Lost to Year Of The Knife’s personal hell outside of very tenuous threads, it stands as a testament to survival itself, standing tall against even the harshest adversity and ultimately winning. That is to say, hardcore like this can increase so drastically in value when placed in a context that allows its unrestrained vitriol to carry so much more weight, and that’s No Love Lost in a nutshell. On the first album with Watkins as a lead vocalist, there’s a fearlessness that she embodies in leading these songs, rarely with the most distinction but plenty of raw willpower to spare. Last Laugh is the lynchpin moment of that, where, alongside Full Of Hell’s Dylan Walker, Year Of The Knife flood in the death metal that’s often in the peripheral vision of their sound, for a 48-second shrapnel-blast that’s the easiest imaginable highlight to pick out.

It’s a frequent boon that Year Of The Knife find themselves bestowed with—they’re incredibly capable of making hardcore thrilling, even if they’re not directly contributing to how it’s reshaped or defined. Having Ballou onboard certainly piles in a darker, denser tone, but on their own merits, they’re producing results like Wish’s rampaging chaos, or the seething blows bursting out all across Your Control or Heaven Denied. Sure, Mourning The Living might feel a little thin at times—there are places where awkward negative space crops up and it can really destabilise what’s going on around it—but in general, No Love Lost makes the most of its incredibly brief runtime. That alone puts stock in how Year Of The Knife aren’t ones for wasting time, and the proof is evidently in the pudding. It’s very rare that you’ll come across a moment on No Love Lost that isn’t boiling metallic hardcore down to its most efficient, rabbit-punching essence.

It also doesn’t leave much more to say because of that, but once again, the reliance on results is more than enough. Feed in the added defiance of everything that’s occurred around it, and No Love Lost cuts its already lean, ridiculously potent figure into an even more triumphant shape. The profile of Year Of The Knife is now one of inherent tenacity and strength, distilled into a body of work with a viciousness that refuses to be kept down. Even if this hadn’t come on the other side of a near-death experience, No Love Lost would’ve earned boundless respect for that alone.

For fans of: Sanction, Inclination, Judiciary

‘No Love Lost’ by Year Of The Knife is out now on Pure Noise Records.

Artwork for Sugar Horse’s ‘Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico’

Sugar Horse

Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico

Today’s EP from Sugar Horse has been brought to you by the letter A. Er…sorry, the note A. That’s because the newest venture from them—the ever-obtuse scamps that they are—is a single song broken up into more manageable chunks, in which the conceit is to see how far they can with just one note. If that idea were from almost anyone else, it’d be a horrifying notion, but Sugar Horse have earned enough good will in progressive metal through other hair-brained, self-contained EPs to at least warrant a go. If nothing else, the dogged determination to make something interesting puts them at an advantage right away.

Which is definitely useful, seeing as Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico isn’t quite up there with some of Sugar Horse’s other stuff. With the limitations placed on it by design though, that’s kind of a given. They’re unable to really sprawl in ways that’d otherwise come so naturally, leaving their free-roaming strains of prog, doom and shoegaze to be brought in more tightly. It’s not quite as electrifying that way, even when it’s intrinsically tied to the give-and-take of the ‘segmented single piece’ dynamic. That said, moments that do stand on their own are fittingly emboldened—the cavernous vocal harmonies on I – Truth are cool, as is the funereal riff creeping across II – Or and reprised on VI – Mexico in even more ground-tearing form.

On the other hand, the flatter chugs on IV – Comma are a pretty weak EP lynchpin, as a more glaring reminder of Sugar Horse’s self-imposed boundaries. To be fair though, it’s a low point that’s never replicated or even that far encroached on; Sugar Horse are otherwise capable of keeping their experiments afloat. That’s because the reverberating size that’s built-in is just that unshakable, even on a project that’s not entirely built to handle it. Even outside the plunging instrumental tone and its own weight, Ashley Tubb is a consistently strong additional source of volume. Lyrics rarely leap out on their own, but they’re nevertheless a vehicle for Tubb to work towards an even more resonant sound, even so much as aiding in slimming down a prog-metal sound otherwise expanding through its own colossal force.

There’s enough of Sugar Horse’s own ideals to keep Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico from completely losing its way, even if it’s absolutely lagging behind their prior works. But for what’s effectively a side-venture—and built on such specific criteria designed to drill into a singular creative beat—it’s still alright for what it is. The main thing is its affirmation of Sugar Horse as not just a creative band, but one willing to have fun with that and hammer away at prog’s stone-faced reputation. That in itself is worth its weight in gold, even if the outcome is slightly less so.

For fans of: Oceansize, Pijn, Cult Of Luna

‘Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico’ by Sugar Horse is released on 3rd November on Fat Dracula Records.

Artwork for Sleep Outside’s ‘Lakes In Which To Drown In’

Sleep Outside

Lakes In Which To Drown In

That title doesn’t exactly feel good on the tongue, does it? Nevertheless, in the realms of oblique yet light-laced sonder of Sleep Outside and their emo-pop ilk, it fits the bill. Just like their scene’s nominated figureheads Lakes, it’s the intoxicating textures and melodies that have done the most for Sleep Outside, namely on their 2021 EP This Won’t Ever Last and just how much of a full-formed entity they already seemed to be. Lakes In Which To Drown In doesn’t disappoint either; if anything, this might be an even more refined and tight-knit collection among its sparkle and shimmer.

For starters, this sound has become no less instantly attractive. Pop-rock sharpness with a woody finish and all-natural air remains a magic combo that serves Sleep Outside well across all six of these tracks. The key-change on Sick is impeccably executed to fit its humble presentation; the silken acoustics of Awen flutter with the aura of more opulent balladry; and if it’s pure-bred alt-rock ear-candy you’re after, Math Rock Millionaire and Spider are both incredibly hard to argue with. All the while, Sleep Outside pay unmitigated attention to the details they thread through, in softer instrumental choices across harps and shimmering keys and percussion options to enrich what already sounds fantastic.

The smaller scale adds a lot to that too, as the ribbon that adorns what’s already packaged so neatly and tightly. Not feeling overblown or chasing sky-high tenets of stardom, Sleep Outside approach pop songcraft in a far more easygoing—and, therefore, human—way. You get your melancholy poetry that’s not so overwritten that it actively makes the core impenetrable, vocalised by Adam Holborn and his total eschewing of histrionics to nail down how disinterested in the gaudy side of performance Sleep Outside are. And yet, with nothing close to flab or a significant drop-off at any point, Lakes In Which To Drown In fully owns that. It’s brisk and tidy in presentation, to hold the wealth of richness that Sleep Outside have crammed within.

And while that approach tends to remain landlocked to emo circles (otherwise, there’d have been plenty who’d have made waves by now), Sleep Outside don’t seem too fazed by that. If they were, this would be an entirely different beast, decked out and inflated to monstrous levels in order to will some crossover potential. Lakes In Which To Drown In feels more real and honest, and that’s incalculably more compelling. With that onboard, even at just six tracks long, you’ve got an EP here that could bowl over some bands’ entire catalogues.

For fans of: Lakes, I Feel Fine, Coast To Coast

‘Lakes In Which To Drown In’ by Sleep Outside is released on 1st November on Best Life Records.

Artwork for Black Water County’s ‘The Only Life Worth Living’

Black Water County

The Only Life Worth Living

You might notice one very noteworthy feature on Black Water County’s third album—Creeper’s Hannah Greenwood on the track Second Guessing, in what might pop out as a bit of a creative mismatch. Black Water County bear nothing close to Creeper’s gothic, vampiric excess; instead, they’ve rooted themselves halfway between the folk-punk and Britrock that both enjoyed their brightest spots circa the mid-2010s. Still, the Creeper Seal of Approval is not nothing, and with the pandemic scuppering any expectations for bigger things, a leg up for Black Water County is no bad thing. At least The Only Life Worth Living is solid enough to deserve it.

That’s still while acknowledging that, yes, Black Water County do indeed sound a little dated in where they’re coming from. Folk-punk is a space really only occupied by those who’ve withstood the tectonic shift of genres, and while that does encapsulate Black Water County themselves (who actually released their first album in 2017), the fact they’re not a ubiquitous name can knock them back a little. This isn’t as ripping as it could’ve felt five-to-ten years ago, even if the intent hasn’t budged. The opening title track makes that abundantly clear, shotgunning a homegrown punk gallop laced with banjo and tin whistle in a very Flogging Molly-esque way. The aim is for the kind of big, communal, universal knees-ups that are the most natural thing in the world within this sonic palette, anf Black Water County are generally good at side-stepping a lack of biting relevance to get there.

At least they aren’t lodged in that to the point of immovability as well, as so many similar acts can feel. Sure, the production style keeps the windswept bluster rather uniform, but there are still higher degradations of quality within that. It’s as simple as trading off vocals between Shan Byrom and Tim Harris on Here We Are Again (on top of the album’s bar-none best chorus), or opting for a more straight-ahead folk approach where the buildup into rock bombast is more deliberate on Second Guessing. Even when they’re the immediate standouts, though, you’d be hard-pressed to call any singular track on The Only Life Worth Living outright bad. Even if they aren’t new ideas, there’s a panache to how they’re approached, even in the sweeping lyricism that makes up for new insight or detail with how much energy pervades inside.

It’s also just a fun enough listen to where Black Water County can avoid succumbing to bloat or overwrought mass, and just breeze by on their own energy. In that sense, it doesn’t matter if this is nothing new; there’s warmth and humanity that’s a far more important quality. It doesn’t need to be primed to blow up in the near future, because there’s enough that’s self-evidently likable to keep it afloat regardless. Go in expecting little more than a good time with some big alt-rock anthems, and Black Water County will surely deliver.

For fans of: Flogging Molly, Frank Turner, Deaf Havana

‘The Only Life Worth Living’ by Black Water County is released on 3rd November.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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