THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – Album Review: “Who Knows Now?”

That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, plays acoustic and electric guitar, and creates all his own music, including beats and percussion. He’s produced an extensive catalog of outstanding alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix. The result is a varied and eclectic sound, delivered with exceptional guitar work and distinctive vocals that remind me at times of a young Bob Dylan.

I’ve featured That Hidden Promise on this blog a number of times over the last three-plus years, most recently just two months ago when I reviewed “You Can Have the World”, the lead single from his new album Who Knows Now?, which dropped October 2nd. The album is an ambitious and meticulously-crafted work featuring 12 tracks that, in Lee’s own words, “explores what it is to be in these times, through the joys, the frustrations, the anger, injustice and how do we even know what our place is in this world anymore?” The album was recorded and entirely self-produced, mixed and mastered by Lee between March-May 2020.

The album opens with “Intro“, an ominous instrumental track with a harsher and more psychedelic feel than any previous songs I can recall hearing by him. The spooky industrial synths and mix of wailing and distorted guitars set a darkly beautiful tone for what’s to come, and I love it. Next up is “You Can Have the World“, and as I wrote in my review of the song, Lee’s intricate layered guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It’s an electrifying and powerful wall of sound for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics that speak to finding strength through one’s confusion and rage over a corrupt and unjust system in order to survive and ultimately rise above it: “You can have the world if you’re gonna pay / Though have you got the nerve to fail again and again / Those who lead won’t keep you down / They may seek acclaim but it’s clear / If I win, If I fail in this world, Ain’t a damn thing to do with them.” I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

On “Your Own Enemy“, he urges us to live our own truths and forge our own paths forward in life: “Cut out all the voices, all the actions not working for you / Act free Act simply Act in your best interest / Forego your ego / Your shackles, release them / Construct your own self, not one projected for you.” Over a driving rhythm of throbbing bass and urgent toe-tapping beats, he layers a mix of gnarly and jangly guitars, all of which makes for a rousing and satisfying folk-rock song.

Caught in Yesterday” is a breezy and pretty tune, with lots of great guitar work and pleasing horn synths. The lyrics are an assurance of unconditional friendship, acceptance and standing by someone,: “You’ve got nothing to prove to me / If the world should split in two I’d be on the side with you / If the world should break in four we’d belong for evermore.”

Following on that thread, “End Game” is pre-apocalyptic, and speaks to finding acceptance and peace of mind when the end does arrive: “As we reach the end game / As we near our time don’t let fear sweep over / Just learn to free your mind / So take me with you to paradise / Away from conflict Away from these times.” It’s a musically complex and stunning song, and a real testament to Lee’s impressive songwriting and musicianship. The song opens with an ominous-sounding drumbeat, accompanied by gentle industrial synths, then a lovely strummed guitar enters along with shimmery synths, softening the mood as Lee begins to sing. Eventually, the languid vibe is briefly interrupted by a flourish of screaming guitar, only to calm back down. This back and forth continues through to the end, punctuated by some really stellar guitar work. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

As the album progresses, I’m struck by how really good every track is, as well as the variety of melodies, textures and sounds he’s used. It holds our interest from one track to the next, keeping the record from ever feeling monotonous or predictable. “One Day Other Than This” is a melancholy but lovely song with his heartfelt vocals accompanied by gentle string synths and beautifully strummed guitars, whereas the gorgeous “Stop Praying For the Sun” has a sweeping cinematic feel like a song you might hear in a Western movie soundtrack. Lee explained to me that lyrics are about not waiting for things that are out of your control to happen (praying for the sun), and also whether what you’re doing or where you’re headed is just delusion: “A new delusion of false design / If the best of times will come / Stop praying for the sun.”

Not In This World (Or the Next)” has a folk/Americana vibe, with a bouncy, head-bopping beat and lively riffs of jangly guitars. That Hidden Promise seems to ponder about our purpose on this earth: “I’ve given more than I can take / How much longer should I have to wait? / There’s time to come, there’s time to try / You give your all, but is it right? Alright.” The hauntingly beautiful “What Lies Beneath” is another favorite of mine, thanks to its eerie melody, piercing synths, and incredible guitar work.

That Hidden Promise turns more hopeful with “Calling All You Seekers“, a poignant ballad about holding on to our sense of adventure and optimism, and never giving up: “Calling all you seekers / The places yet to go / The majesty of wanderlust forever taking hold.” And even more so on “In the Night Time“, a celebratory folk-rock song about grabbing hold of one’s dreams and trying to make them real: “In the night time I’m inspired, and I just can’t settle / On fire / And this fever burns inside.

The closing track “Screaming in My Soul” seems to be somewhat auto-biographical, or at the very least, touches on some of the demons that plague musicians and songwriters if I’m reading these lyrics correctly: “Do you know what’s it’s like? To have a demon strip your soul / Well I know /All the songs that are trapped in my head / All the words that are lost in some black hole / I wish I could know how to bring them home / Got a screaming in my soul now.” Over a pulsating hypnotic groove, he layers swirling synths and a mix of intricate guitar riffs and textures to create a mesmerizing track.

With “Who Know Now?, That Hidden Promise has created his best work yet. It’s an exquisite album filled with exceptional songs, and his impressive songwriting, musicianship and production skills are evident on every track.

Follow That Hidden Promise:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

MALLAVORA – Single Review: “Deceiver”

Mallavora
Photos by Aesha Nisar

Bristol, England-based hard rock band Mallavora are making a big splash on the British music scene with their exciting and hard-hitting sound, with features on BBC Introducing and airplay on UK radio station Planet Rock. Hot on the heels of the late March release of their spectacular single “Ego” (you can read my review here), on April 26th they dropped their latest single “Deceiver“, and now follow up with an exciting new video of them performing the song. “Deceiver” is the second single from their forthcoming Paradise EP, due out later this year, and it another winning tune.

Strongly influenced by progressive rock, groove and doom metal elements from some of their favorite bands like KoЯn, Mastodon, Muse and Alter Bridge, Mallavora create melodic hard rock songs characterized by thunderous riffs, driving rhythms, intelligent lyrics and the incredible sparks that come from having both female and male vocalists with great singing voices. The current lineup consists of Larry Sobieraj (guitar), Ellis James (bass/vocals), Jessica Douek (vocals) and Jack Pedersen (drums).

“Deceiver” explores the theme of domestic abuse, with lyrics describing someone trapped in a toxic relationship. She yearns to break free, but his recurring promises of love, combined with her weakness and lack of self-esteem, prevent her from leaving him. Mallavora skillfully expresses the darkness of the subject matter with an aggressive barrage of Larry’s chugging gnarly riffs, Jack’s pummeling drums and Ellis’ heavy, grinding bass that together sound downright diabolical. Larry’s an amazing guitarist, and his wailing guitar solo in the bridge is a highlight for me. Then there’s Jessica’s powerful, soaring vocals, which beautifully convey the intense emotion and despair described in the lyrics.

Look in his eyes
Love is a lie

She can’t hear anything
Her heads still ringing
The tears on her face
The last result of his embrace

And she can hear him calling
Feels her heart start stalling
She lets her life stay falling down
Without a sound

So wash away the truth
Except the one he told you
Give him your hand to hold
And let the fear within take control
Look in his eyes
Love is a lie
She can’t feel anything
Her heart’s still beating
The rings round her eyes
Revealing how she spent last night

Goes to where she was lying
To find her phone still dialing
But no one’s replying how
Is she gonna leave him now?

You’ve gotta tell the truth
Accept the things he’s done to you
Break free from his hold
It’s your life babe, regain control

Look in his eyes
Love is a lie

Follow Mallavora:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play / Amazon

MALLAVORA – Single Review: “Ego”

Mallavora4
Photos by Aesha Nisar

Bristol, England-based Mallavora are a young hard rock band on the rise. Their exciting, hard-driving sound is strongly influenced by progressive rock, groove and doom metal elements. They’ve released two terrific singles, beginning with “Clockwork Drunk” in 2017 and followed by “Daylight” in 2019, and have been featured on Planet Rock and BBC Introducing. 2019 also brought changes in their lineup with the addition of a new female vocalist, as well as the recording of four new songs that will be featured on their forthcoming Paradise EP, due out later this year. They plan to release all of the songs as singles over the coming months, the first of which is “Ego“, which drops today, March 29.

Mallavora Ego artwork

Mallavora’s new lineup consists of Larry Sobieraj (guitar), Ellis James (bass/vocals), Jessica Ansell (vocals) and Jack Pedersen (drums). About the new single “Ego”, they state that it’s about “autophobia”, generally defined as a phobia of isolation, specifically a dread of being alone or isolated, but oddly also having a morbid fear of being egotistical. The lyrics are about “confronting a tortured soul consumed by fear of itself.”

The song opens strong with a thunderous explosion of gnarly riffs, driving bass and pummeling drumbeats. What’s unusual is that the first lyrics we hear are actually the chorus, passionately sung by the dramatic vocal harmonies of Jessica and Ellis that remind me a bit of Evanescence:

Holds me tight
Her grip’s all I can feel
Seeps through my dreams
I can’t tell what is real
Why can’t you just set me free
I’m begging
Take this voice from me

The music calms down to a melodic interlude in the verses, highlighted by Larry’s gorgeous chiming guitar and Jessica and Ellis’ stunning vocal harmonies. Their vibrant singing voices are somewhat similar in tone, and sound really incredible together.

She’s in my head again
Twisting words and sense she bends
Plunged into my soul
Washed away my pure with cold
Tore out my heart my love my empathy
Left me just with lust and insecurity

Crept away into my mind
Left no place for me to hide
Darkest truths untold
Dreaming of losing control
I can’t hold back what’s beneath the skin
She will break out and torture everything

The music ramps up to a feverish crescendo in the final chorus as the band unleash their arsenal of sonic weaponry. Larry shreds his guitar to the breaking point as he lays down intense reverb-soaked riffs of distortion, while Ellis and Jack nearly blow out the speakers with their punishing bass and smashing drums. And, of course, Jessica and Ellis’ vocal harmonies are spine-tingling.

You did it to yourself
Forgot your mental health 

“Ego” is a spectacular and beautifully-crafted song, and a big step forward for Mallavora. It’s great to see a band’s music and songwriting improve over time, and I’m confident they’ll have a bright and successful future.

Sadly, like so many other artists who’ve seen their tours canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Mallavora have had to postpone their April mini-tour as well. They hope to be able to go on tour later in the year. The artwork for “Ego”, as well as the EP and all upcoming singles was done by Caitlin Shephard.

Connect with Mallavora:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: SpotifyApple Music
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

TUNGZ – Single Review: “Can’t We Just Be Friends Again”

Tungz single art

I recently learned about British band Tungz when their PR rep reached out to me about a possible review of their latest single “Can’t We Just Be Friends Again“, and after listening to a few of their songs I’m now a big fan of this charming foursome. Formed in early 2017, and based in Bristol & London, Tungz is comprised of Jamie Maier (guitar, vocals), Nicky Green (keyboards, vocals), Ollie Horne (bass) and Rick Holland (drums). Drawing from elements of pop, funk, soul and disco, they create wonderful music that’s upbeat, melodic and overflowing with smooth, soulful grooves. Having two vocalists also gives their songs extra vibrance and color.

Tungz

They released their enchanting debut single “Window Love” in 2018, then followed up with the delightful “Fruit”. In October 2019, they dropped their self-produced EP Okay, featuring four outstanding tracks that are far and away better than okay. They now return with ‘Can’t We Just Be Friends Again’, released via their label Heist Or Hit on March 12th.

About the song, the band states “The track is an open dialogue about wanting to snap back to being happy with someone you’ve only ever really been cool with before. [The opening line] ‘This is BS and we said this was golden paradise’ expresses the weird frustration that comes with trying to argue with someone you don’t know how to argue with because you’ve never had need to do so. It’s about two people who’ve never really started an argument trying to end one. This track feels like a statement to us. But it’s also a question. That’s why we left off the question mark. We went heavy on the production – it’s gonna be a nightmare to work out how to play it live.

Starting with a lively mix of bouncy percussive drum beats as a foundation, the guys add layers of swirling and warbling synths, funky guitars and throbbing bass to create a sexy and soulful sound with a retro 80s vibe. As I listened to the song, I sensed a familiarity that took a bit of thinking, but it eventually dawned on me that it sounds like some of the songs by 80s British bands Go West and Scritti Politti. Jaime sings lead vocals on this track, and I love his smooth voice and fervent delivery that beautifully conveys the urgency expressed by the lyrics:

This is BS
And we said this was golden paradise
Pretty pointless
This isn’t even what we are like

It doesn’t have to be so hard (Can’t you see what you’ve done to me?)
Aren’t we both on the same team? (Take a look what you did to me)
Can’t we just skip this part (Can’t you see what you’ve done to me?)
If we both want the same thing? (Take a look what you did to me)

(Blame myself but it’s bad for my health to blame myself when you’re not blameless either)

Can’t we just be friends again?
Can’t we just be friends again?
You know it’ll be easier on me

Sadly, due to the nasty virus now plaguing the world, their tour to promote the new single ended after the first show at Bristol venue Rough Trade. They hope to restart the tour this summer, music gods willing.

Follow TUNGZ:  WebsiteFacebookTwitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple MusicYouTube
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play

GLASS VIOLET – Single Review: “Chemicals”

Glass Violet Chemicals

Glass Violet is a fairly new band from Bristol, England that I’ve recently come across, and I really like their sound. Formed in 2018 by guitarist/lead vocalist Tom Hurdiss and guitarist/vocalist Alex John, and influenced by acts like Kasabian, The Killers, Foals and Catfish and the Bottlemen (all bands I love), the two began writing songs together. They soon added Josh Walsh (bass), Matt West (drums) and Declan Pollard (synths, keys) to complete the band lineup.

They released a hard-rocking banger of a demo track “North Sentinel Island” this past March (2019), and followed up with their official debut single “Chemicals” on August 16th. The song’s an upbeat anthemic tune, with exuberant layers of jangly and swirling guitars, accompanied by a deep, buzzing bass line, aggressive percussion and melodic keyboards. Tom’s clear, earnest vocals have just the right amount of fervor, and I love how his charming British accent shines through. It’s a terrific song.

About the song’s lyrics, Alex told me “We basically wanted to just write a song that sort of soundtracks a night out. The lyrics aren’t anything special and they don’t mean much. But it’s catchy and it works. Our lyrics normally have more meaning and are quite conceptual, so we’re looking forward to getting that across in the future releases.”

Connect with Glass Violet:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / deezer / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Google Play