IAMWARFACE – Album Review: “Year of the Dragon”

I’ve stated it before, and will say it again – British electro-rock band IAMWARFACE can do no wrong when it comes to making music. From the moment I first heard their debut single “Say My Name” in 2016 – which I likened to being hit by an atomic blast – I’ve been a huge fan. Their aggressive name is a fitting metaphor for their bombastic, groove-based sound, and in the three years since their debut, they’ve continued to deliver one incredible song after another. Three of their four singles: “Say My Name”, “Closer” and “Fear the Future” (all of which I’ve reviewed) have reached #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Closer” finishing in the top 10 of my Top 100 Songs of 2018. Now, they’re set to finally unleash their first album Year of the Dragon, which drops September 6th. The album contains their first four singles, as well as six new tracks and four remixes.

IAMWARFACE new
Photo by Caitlin Stokes

Based in London and Brighton, England, IAMWARFACE consists of founder and frontman Matt Warneford (songwriting, vocals), Lou Matthews (guitars), Tom Howe (DJ synth), Mike Smith (bass) and Adam Stanley (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands and artists such as Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Kasabian, Muse, Big Black Delta, Nero, Queens of the Stone Age, Tears For Fears, MGMT and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, IAMWARFACE creates music that’s aggressive, melodically complex and always exciting.

The opening track on Year of the DragonSay My Name” certainly embodies those qualities, with an explosive barrage of gnarly guitars, screaming synths and thunderous percussion, driven by a deep, buzzing bassline. Warneford’s fierce, mind-blowing vocals are almost frightening as he wails and shrieks the lyrics. This incredible song still gives me chills three years later!

Next up is the gloriously bombastic kiss-off song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore“, which was their second single. Once again, they live up to their name by delivering a furious onslaught of jangly guitars, heavy bass and smashing drumbeats. It’s loud, in-your-face, and melodically beautiful, and the hard-driving guitar work is fantastic. Warneford’s impassioned vocals are positively chilling as he wails “Whoa oh oh, you were right, you don’t love me anymore!” The cool video shows the band performing the song wearing fluorescent body paint.

To Die For” is one of the new tracks, and I love it! The song immediately hooks us in with an assault of crashing drumbeats and a deep, wobbly bassline, then a mesmerizing spacey synth riff kicks in, creating a mysterious soundscape for Warneford’s marvelous vocals. The music intensifies with tortured guitars and piercing synths in the chorus as he laments “Seems like I’m alive for, something I could die for.

Fear the Future” was their most recent single, released this past February, and one of their best songs. The biting lyrics speak to the banal music and entertainment, bullshit and fear-mongering being fed to the masses in a pernicious attempt to dumb-down and divide us. Musically, the song features the band’s signature aggressive instrumentation and massive, driving rhythms, making for a incredibly powerful and exhilarating song that slams us against the wall. The disturbing video brilliantly brings the dark lyrics to life.

Now we get to what I consider to be their greatest song, the monumental and gorgeous “Closer“. Wow, this song is a masterpiece! It opens with a mysterious throbbing synth chord that slowly builds into a stunning and dramatic soundscape that envelops us as Warneford laments of an obsessive and destructive relationship. The song then erupts into a maelstrom of tortured wailing synths, grimy guitars, buzz-saw bass, and explosive percussion, punctuated by almost violently crashing cymbals that emphasize the feelings of desolation expressed in the bitter lyrics. But then, Warneford fervently sings that their love affair that now lies in tatters might still be salvageable: “Feel I’m walking on shattered glass. This romance just has to end, to reset, erase, begin again. And I’ll move, move closer. Yes I’ll move closer to you.” The spooky, strangely beautiful video shows a woman in a shabby gossamer dress dancing in a filthy abandoned warehouse as Warneford sings the song.

From this point on, all the tracks are new to us, and all of them superb. The rousing “Get So High” seems to channel a bit of MGMT with its trippy and melodic synth-driven grooves and chugging riffs of gnarly guitars. “Atomic White Gold” brings a pulsating mix of chiming and reverb-drenched fuzzy guitars, swirling synths and blasting drumbeats, wrapped in a dark, captivating melody. Smith’s deep, throbbing bass is a highlight here, giving the track incredible depth. Warneford’s vocals soar as he sings “Atomic white gold. Just like the real thing.” The extended wailing guitar run in the outro is awesome, sounding like a cross between an air-raid siren and incoming bombs.

Bleed Out” starts off with heavy, distorted reverb, then a driving punk rock beat kicks in, compelling us to take to the dance floor. Matthew’s furious riffs and Stanley’s pummeling drumbeats are so fucking good! I really love songs with this kind of hard-driving beat. At the three-minute mark, the tempo slows as Howe’s throbbing industrial synths take over, giving the song a dark, intense vibe that sounds like something Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails could have cooked up together. The track ends with the same heavy, distorted reverb it began with.

IAMWARFACE continue delivering the goods with the hard-hitting “Red Queen“. With a nod to Queens of the Stone Age, the chugging riffs of grimy guitars and massive driving rhythms really get our blood pumping. Matthews is an amazing guitarist, and his work here is nothing short of phenomenal. Warneford laments about his low status in the eyes and heart of the woman he desires: “You are the red queen. I am the lone dog. I would do anything to win back your heart. You are something, I am nothing to you.

Trigons” is a long (7:13 minutes) mostly instrumental track that really showcases this band’s impressive musicianship. Each member is allowed to shine, as the guitars, bass, synths and percussion are distinct, yet meld together beautifully to create a mesmerizing psychedelic fantasia. Warneford’s soaring vocals are sparse, entering only in the latter part of the track, but are powerfully compelling as always.

The Paris Alexander remix of “Closer” is particularly stunning, giving a the song a different, somewhat lighter feel through a captivating dance beat and dreamy, ethereal synths. Alexander is a music producer and composer, and has collaborated with Antipole, a Norwegian post punk band I’ve previously written about on this blog.

Year of the Dragon is a phenomenal album that feels almost like a greatest hits compilation, as every single track is outstanding. I loved IAMWARFACE before, and love them even more after hearing this album. Year of the Dragon drops September 6th, but you can pre-order it here.

Track Listing:
1. SAY MY NAME
2. YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE
3. TO DIE FOR
4. FEAR THE FUTURE
5. CLOSER
6. GET SO HIGH
7. ATOMIC WHITE GOLD
8. BLEED OUT
9. RED QUEEN
10. TRIGONS
11. SAY MY NAME (PAUL PARSONS REMIX)
12. CLOSER (PARIS ALEXANDER REMIX)
13. YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE (CROSSFLOW REMIX)
14. CLOSER (CONTROL FREAK REMIX)

Catch IAMWARFACE at one of these upcoming shows:

30 August 2019 – Bournemouth, UK (with The Kut, HAWXX, Black Tree Vultures)
7 September 2019- Twickenham, UK (with How To Live, Nick Swettenham)
26 September 2019- London, UK (with The Insect, Graves)
17 November 2019 – Brighton, UK (with Legpuppy, Androids In The Mist)

Connect with IAMWARFACE:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

BLACK BEAR KISS – Single Review: “I Wanna Know”

I Wanna Know

British alternative garage-rock band Black Bear Kiss have been on a creative tear since the release of their terrific debut single “Hooks” in April 2018. With their exciting, guitar-driven music, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, the talented five-piece have built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond – even out here in the Coachella Valley of Southern California!

Black Bear Kiss4

Comprised of Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on rhythm guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums, Black Bear Kiss have been busy playing gigs and putting out a series of great singles, as well as an EP Fighting Our Corner, which they released this past March. A favorite of this blog, I’ve previously reviewed three of their singles (which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this post). Now the prolific band makes a fourth appearance with their latest single “I Wanna Know“, which dropped on August 9th.

The song gets our blood pumping right from the get-go as Haden and Jones lay down chugging riffs of gnarly quitars over Sach’s heavy, buzzing bass line. These guys play as a tight unit, propelling the song forward with their hard-driving rock’n’roll rhythms while Bagnall pounds out the beat. The layered guitars are fantastic, with aggressive, swirling riffs that create an exhilarating backdrop for Leech’s warm, earnest vocals which, along with the stellar guitar work, are a major component of Black Bear Kiss’s outstanding sound.

With regard to the meaning of the lyrics, Leech explained that the song is “about playing live and the buzz that comes from it – plus relying on your bandmates”: “Come a little closer, the room is on fire. But I’m alright, you’re gonna be fine. Ah, this is our time. I wanna know, just how much you’re meaning this. Lookin’ around, can I rely on you? Guided by stars. Wanna feel it. Wanna feel it all. Guided by stars. Take the other way, take the other way home.

“I Wanna Know” is a great tune, and yet another in a string of solid singles by Black Bear Kiss. I hope they’ll continue to strike gold with many more!

Connect with Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their songs on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes cdbaby

VONUM – EP Review: “Dances in the Dark”

VONUM

Vonum are a British alternative blues rock band based in Manchester, England. Formed more than eight years ago while in their early teens, the trio includes Dominic Nicholls (guitar & lead vocals), Ben Stokes (drums) and Jordan North (bass). Lifelong friends who share a passion for music, the guys have known each other since they were four years old.  Since their formation, Vonum has had several fourth members who’ve come and gone and, earlier this year, the guys decided that they have better chemistry as a three-piece, so will remain a trio going forward.

VONUM young photo
A young VONUM playing their first gig in 2011

Drawing influences from some of their favorite bands like Kaleo, Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown, Alter Bridge and Muse, Vonum play some exceptional bluesy, guitar-driven rock. Their progressive, unconventional melodies, smart lyrics, skilled musicianship, and Dominic’s deep, raw vocal style give their music a maturity and depth that’s quite impressive given their relatively young ages. I’d guess it’s partly attributable no doubt to years spent perfecting their craft and growing into seasoned, albeit still young, musicians. In June (2019), they released their debut EP Dances in the Dark, featuring four tracks. The guys wrote and performed the songs, and the EP was produced by Ed Truby.

Reach Out” opens the EP with a moody little riff that immediately grabs my attention, then once the rhythm section kicks in with a deep, bluesy bassline and tumultuous drums, I’m hooked. Dom lays down gnarly riffs while plaintively crooning “She’s a grape to my red wine. She’s my one true life line.” As the song progresses, the guys continue delivering bluesy grooves, punctuated by a blistering guitar solo in the bridge. They keep the bluesy vibes rolling on “Double D-Light“, a lusty, hard-rocking tune about sexual attraction. Dom fervently sings: “It’s getting a little frisky. The air’s so tight. The days are getting stronger. The heat’s a-lasting longer. Now don’t put me on, you’re double d-light.” Once again, he lets loose with a brief but fiery guitar solo in the bridge.

Angel Queen Dancer” is a standout track that really showcases the guys’ great songwriting and musicianship skills. They weave together a compelling story line with a mesmerizing melody, drawing us in and holding our attention for the entire five-minute run time. Dom’s intricate guitar work is nicely complimented by Ben and Jordan’s tight, bluesy rhythms, making for a dynamic and incredibly satisfying track. Dom sounds better than ever as he ardently sings in his raspy, almost sultry voice of feeling besotted by a woman: “It’s her that I adore. She’s a hell of a mover. How do I say ‘scuse me miss, let me get out your way’. She’s an angel queen dancer. She knows just what I mean.” His guitar solo in the bridge is fire, and the piano keys in the final chorus are a nice touch.

Here’s a great Balcony Sessions stripped-down acoustic performance of the song:

The final track “When” is a darker, more intense song. It starts off calmly with Jordan’s deep bass riff, then a delicate synth, guitar and a somber drumbeat enter as Dom laments about the internal demons tormenting him: “When, when, when, when will it stop? The devil inside don’t know when to hide. Oh when, when, when, when will it stop? The thoughts aren’t me, and my mind ain’t free. / Dark cloud knocking at my door. Louder, louder, it’s hard to ignore.” The music eventually ramps up with chugging riffs of gnarly guitars, buzzing bass and pounding drums that continue through to the end for a dramatic finish.

Dances in the Dark is an excellent little EP, and an impressive debut for these three talented lads. All four tracks are superb, and I only wish there were more of them! If you like well-crafted blues rock and great guitar work, you’ll enjoy this EP. I hope we’ll be hearing new music from Vonum very soon.

Connect with Vonum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase their music on  Google Play / iTunes

WILD HORSE – Album Review: “DANCE!! Like An Animal”

Wild Horse album art

Today I’m pleased to present the exciting young British rock band Wild Horse. Formed in 2013 while in their early teens, the talented Heathfield, East Sussex trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin (both of whom play guitar and sing vocals), and their school friend Ed “Barking” Barnes on drums. While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy, punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music seriously with dedication, thoughtful lyricism, and a mature approach towards the music business.

Wild Horse quickly began earning recognition, first being nominated for the “Rock the House” competition in 2014, then later becoming finalists in 2016. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters, and in 2015 the band signed with a New York record company who released some of their original tracks on mixed EPs, leading to the release of their first album It’s Begun in January 2016. Now working independently, they recorded and released three EPs between late 2017 and early 2018 containing a total of 16 tracks. They followed up in June 2018 with their second album Songs About Last Night, and this past April (2019) dropped their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal – is that a great album title or what!

The album addresses themes related to transitioning from horny, angst-ridden teenagers to the sobering realities of adulthood. It was recorded at Cobham Sound Studios, and produced, mixed and mastered by Niall Squire. Stephen Baldwin (Jack and Henry’s dad) played bass, Hilary Squire played saxophone and percussion, and along with Ella Squire, sang backing vocals.

Wild Horse2

DANCE!! Like An Animal begins with the abrupt sounds of Jack’s distinctive vocals accompanied by a pleasing little guitar riff as he sings the opening lyrics to “Blame“. His unusual vocal style is hard to describe, but has an endearing quirkiness as he plaintively croons in his strong British accent: “Sometimes I feel like I’m on my own. Wandering around with a gun in my hand. I swear if it happens again I’ll start a band, and I’ll write a song about all of my troubles and what’s going on in my other life. The one you haven’t seen.” After the line “Don’t want you to feel as fucked up as I do“, the music ramps up with a volley of shredded guitars and raging percussion, and I’m now hooked on the guys’ exuberant punk rock grooves that set a joyful tone for the album.

They next launch into “Frustrations“, a rousing banger about sexual tension. This time Henry sings lead, channeling equal measures of Michael Hutchence and a young Mick Jagger both in sound and swagger as he seductively teases “Can’t you see I’m into you. I suppose you’re into me. Can’t you see it’s got to be. Frustrations taking over us. Dance like an animal. Dance like an animal for me!” Jack provides his charming backing vocals that contrast nicely with Henry’s as they both let loose with some tasty riffs while Ed hammers out the sexy beat. I really dig this song.

Those sexual tensions reach the breaking point on the provocative “LISTEN! Stop Messing Around“, where Jack laments about how his sexual desires continue to go unmet by an unhappy set of circumstances: “I wanna take you out but I’ve got no money to spend. So let me take you closer, closer to my bed./ That time you nearly gave me head. Oh I was feeling blessed. Then your phone started to ring. You walked out the door and you left me wanting more./ Got fucking on my mind but it never ends that way. Oh girl can’t you see what it’s doing to me. I can barely stand up and I’m begging for you please.” The song has an infectious bouncy melody with some fine gnarly riffs.

The guys touch on the perils of excessive drinking and how it wastes both time and brain cells on “9:10“. Jack moans of his inability to stop, despite his best intentions: “And I swear to god I’ll stop at ten past nine. But another brings me wine. And all I see are blurred visions of the night, and stories about how I totally died.” “Why Do We Pretend?” speaks to the coming of age experience of discovering that perhaps a relationship you thought was great is just not meant to be.  “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we don’t get along. And we say it will all work out in the end. But we know it’s wrong. And when you don’t answer your phone, and I’ve just had enough of you. And I’m sure you have too.” The guys’ bluesy guitars, combined with Hilary Squire’s soulful saxophone and her and Ella Squire’s impassioned backing vocals, make this one of the standout tracks.

The guys keep the punk grooves rolling with “Hypnotise“, a fun, upbeat track that has Henry singing about being under the spell of a girl. But they then take a more serious turn on “The Kids Are on Drugs“, one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song starts off with Henry singing in a somber voice, accompanied by a simple strummed guitar: “The kids are all on drugs just to keep them sane. Oh the kids are all in pain, and they want to escape. But they can’t, because the world won’t let them.” The music suddenly erupts into a frantic punk song with raging guitars and furious drumbeats as the guys rail about the myriad anxieties facing today’s youth. I especially like these pointed lyrics about the toxic need for acceptance and validation on social media that I can relate to: “Lying on the street on a tab of ecstasy ’cause you only got 74 likes on your Instagram./ Social media makes them sad.”

Things lighten back up on “Seduction“, a sexy tune about the power of erotic attraction. I love the spicy little flourish of Latin guitar at the beginning, as well as the great piano keys and sultry bass line. Hilary’s soulful sax makes a welcome reappearance in the chorus. “(Can’t Believe How Much) The Night Has Changed You” is a song to a friend who remains unsettled and unable to connect with their true self:  “I would say I wanna be you. But privately everyone is blue. So I’ll settle down. Settle down with who I am. And you should settle down with you.” The track has a lively, bass-driven beat with fantastic guitar work and Ed’s impeccable drumming. Henry’s vocals really sound like Mick Jagger on this track, and despite the huge contrast in their singing voices, he & Jack harmonize quite nicely.

Impossible Words” is a bluesy number with a Country-rock vibe, courtesy of some marvelous twangy guitars and harmonica. The tongue-in-cheek song seems to wrap up the album, not only literally but figuratively, by pulling in some of the titles of other songs: “I have frustrations, and you’re the one to blame. All you do is hypnotise me baby, at ten past nine./ Why do we pretend? Cause I can’t believe how much the night has changed you.” I love it! Following this track are three ‘clean’ radio edit versions of “Blame”, “LISTEN! Stop Messing Around” and “The Kids Are on Drugs”.

DANCE!! Like An Animal is a wonderful album that I enjoy more with each listen. Henry, Jack and Ed are immensely talented songwriters and musicians, and with an already impressive catalog of music to their credit, I’m confident they will only continue to grow as artists. They’re currently in the process of writing and recording new music for another album, and I can’t wait to hear it!

Connect with Wild Horse:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / Amazon

OPERATION GUILLOTINE – Single Review: “Good Times”

Operation Guillotine Good Times

This is a rather bittersweet post I’m afraid. Operation Guillotine is/was a blues rock band from Coventry, England who described themselves as “five lovable rogues from the Midlands that just aim to bring good vibes” but, alas, they are no more. They had a great run since forming in 2016, releasing a number of excellent, hard-hitting singles, but after experiencing the loss of their drummer and bassist, they’ve decided to officially put an end to Operation Guillotine. However, fear not, because surviving members Alice Clarke (vocals), Rhys Scott (guitar, backing vocals) and Ben “Fogal” Ollis (lead guitar) will soon be forming an entirely new band with a new direction and sound.

reviewed their previous single, the stonking “No Victory”, just before Christmas 2018. They just dropped their final single “Good Times” on June 28, and it’s a fitting swan song. Even though it was actually one of the first songs they wrote as a band, it perfectly encapsulates their music legacy with the lyric “We’re here for a good time, not for a long time.” They really go out with a bang, delivering explosive riffs of distorted, reverb-drenched guitars and pounding drumbeats.

Alice is a fantastic singer, skillfully matching the intensity of the instrumentals note for note with vocals that range from fiery passion to a sensual purr. Though we may be upset that Operation Guillotine is done, she admonishes us to keep a stiff upper lip: “So turn it around, bring your frown upside down, ’cause baby it’s a good time we made.” And so they have.

Connect with Operation Guillotine:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream, download or purchase their music on Spotify / BandcampiTunes

New Song of the Week: THE ONLY ROUTE [TOR] – “Secrets”

The Only Route3

British alternative rock band The Only Route (also known as TOR) play some of the finest, most aggressive guitar-driven rock of any indie act around today. Slicing through the airwaves with wicked riffs, explosive percussion and addictive melodies, their hard-hitting songs never fail to deliver an electrifying listening experience. The Lowestoft, England four-piece consists of Ryan Redwood (vocals, guitar), Robby Hodgey (lead guitar), Andy Kirk (bass) and Matty Larkman (drums).

Since early 2017, they’ve released a series of terrific singles, including the blistering semi-autobiographical “Made” in January 2018, and the fantastic kiss-off “Not Worth It” this past March (a real ripper of a song which has spent the past nine weeks on my Weekly Top 30). I reviewed both of those singles, the links to which you can find under “Related” at the bottom of this page. They’re now back with a new banger of a single “Secrets“, which drops today.

As expected, TOR demonstrate yet again their talent for composing arresting melodies and penning straightforward lyrics based on their real-life experiences, and bringing them to life with their outstanding musicianship. The guitar work is fantastic as always, and Robby’s guitar solo in the bridge is absolute fire. Andy and Matty keep a tight rhythm while Ryan denounces a friend that cheated on his wife, who then left him and ran away from their town, but he kept it a secret. She eventually returns, but is like a stranger to everyone, with a completely different personality: “I looked out your window and saw that she was back. And you’ve got some secrets and they’re really bad./ Why doesn’t she look the same? She said she had changed her name.”

Ryan has a wonderful, commanding voice that’s perfectly suited to their style of hard-driving rock, and is one of the many positive attributes of TOR’s music. Plus I’m a sucker for a good strong British accent that comes through in the vocals. I love this band!

Connect with TOR:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Google Play
Purchase on iTunes

HARROLAND – Single Review: “Brothers”

Harroland

I first featured British alternative indie-rock band Harroland this past February upon the release of their single “Home” (read my review here), the first in a series of releases planned for 2019. The single received airplay on BBC Radio’s Introducing program, and the band is quickly gaining a large following, already being dubbed the ‘Best New Band’ in the Reading area. They’re now back with a wonderful new single “Brothers“, which officially dropped on June 21st.

Based in Reading, England, Harroland is comprised of siblings Michael (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Kate Kennedy (synths, keyboards, backing vocals), Steve Tabor (lead guitar), and drummer Stu Roberts, who joined the band in March. “Brothers” is the band’s first release under the current lineup. They express their social and political consciousness through compelling, relevant lyrics, and package them with gorgeous soundscapes that make for a pleasing listening experience.

Whereas “Home” addressed those intent on holding onto their own power while disregarding the hopes and dreams of others, “Brothers” explores the concept of people choosing to live their lives under invisible power structures that offer a false sense of freedom. Michael Kennedy explains: “It’s this idea that maybe we forgo our own desires for the safety of working within a corporate environment – that we are unlikely to take risks or take command of our own lives. What would happen if we did the opposite? Is such a life, for the average person, sustainable, or even possible?

“Brothers” is a stunning track, with an irresistibly catchy tempo and glorious instrumentals. The band plays as a tight unit, each member performing their part with perfection to create a song of exceptional quality. Steve’s guitar work is fantastic, and Stu does a stellar job pounding out the captivating beat. Kate’s dreamy keyboards are a thing of beauty, and I love how they interplay with Steve’s chiming guitar. Michael deftly keeps the rhythm with his strummed guitar, but a highlight for me are his distinctive vocals, which I find utterly enchanting. I love this song, and have listened to it at least 20 times already!

We can fantasize about everything we do
Take it back, take it back right now
Don’t tell me it ain’t true
And hold it straight
Line it up and let it loose
Lap it up, lap it up right now
There’s nothing else to choose

We can compromise
Change our jobs and trade our lives
No matter what I think, someone’s in charge of mine
I can calculate
That even if I was to leave
I’d have a freedom
That lacks security

Maybe we’re like brothers rolling across this land or
Maybe we’re like someone else in somebody else’s hands

The video for the song is a live performance by Harroland at Pyramid Studios in Reading, which they won in a competition run by the studio. It was filmed by local photographer Victoria Holt and edited by Kate Kennedy. The track was mixed and mastered by sound engineer Jack Twiner, who’s a co-owner of Pyramid Studios.

Connect with Harroland on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music

SABOTEURS – Album Review: “Dance With the Hunted”

Saboteurs album art

Saboteurs is a rock band from Lincoln, England who (in their own words) “play trans-genre songs about badgers, constellations and other things which creep into our lives during the night.” Fusing elements of alt-rock, grunge, post-punk, metal and folk, they create hard-hitting music that thrills and surprises our ears and minds.  Like many a band, they’ve experienced some personnel changes since forming, and now consist of Ben Ellis (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Whitehead (lead guitar/vocals), Kirsty Marlog (backing vocals), Geoff Standeven (bass), and Pete Botterill (drums), although for the album Dance With the Hunted, drums and percussion were performed by Hamish Dickinson, who also handled production, mixing and mastering.

The band released their self-titled debut EP Saboteurs in 2018, immediately attracting a growing base of fans and recognition by BBC Introducing, as well as being named Richer Sound’s Artist of the Week and finalists in Radio Wigwam’s Rock Act of the Year. But shoulder surgery for lead guitarist Whitehead led to unrest in the band and, ultimately, a violent split with the rhythm section. This caused the band’s songwriters Ellis and Whitehead to sink into a dark place, which actually provided them with needed impetus for an explosion of new material that would become their first full album Dance With the Hunted, which dropped on May 4th.

The opening track “Splintered” reveals the intensity of their feelings while writing the songs for the album. The biting lyrics speak to a bitter breakup of a relationship, delivered by Ellis’ fiery vocals: “The pain – I dedicate our loss to you. The shame will never end but I’m coping on my own. The ones I left behind – they just fade out. If I fall down, I won’t stay down. If you fall down, you will stay down.” The roiling riffs of grungy guitars, pulsating bass and thunderous drums are fantastic.

Next up is “Over and Doubt“, a moody but gorgeous track that leaves no doubt that these guys know a thing or two about crafting superb songs with the power to inspire and move the listener. And I’ll state right here how much I love Ellis’ vocals, which in addition to his and Whitehead’s spectacular guitar work, are one of the strong points of Saboteurs’ overall sound. He’s one of the best rock vocalists around today, in my opinion, with an incredible tone and range that give him the ability to comfort us one moment, then chill us to the bone the next. When he plaintively wails “Please stay with me, over and over again!“, we really believe him. On this track he sounds a lot like Steve Kilbey of The Church. Musically, the song features a complex, ever-changing melody that keeps us enthralled from start to finish, and the guitar work is outstanding. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The dark and moody vibe continues with “Believe Nothing Hurts“, but presented here with an exhilarating fast-paced rhythm and chugging riffs of gnarly guitars. Ellis angrily snarls the searing lyrics condemning someone for their duplicity: “This time, believe nothing hurts. Oh, your lies. As they come in they’re drowning now in your own sweet precious melody of lies.” “Break Down” is a lovely, incredibly melodic song with a 1990s vibe that, to my ears, calls to mind songs by the Goo Goo Dolls, Gin Blossoms and Deep Blue Something. The strummed guitar is a great addition, providing a wonderful added texture of sound. The backing vocal choruses by Miles Kent and Kirsty Marlog are especially nice.

Marooned” is a big, arena-worthy track, with lush, layered guitars and a torrent of bombastic percussion. But it’s the deep, pulsating bass that plays a starring role here, giving the song a massive U2 vibe. In fact, Ellis’ vocals sound a bit like Bono on this and a few other tracks. He passionately sings of emotional hurt that can never be undone: “Broken red skies are endless. The reason I guess why you left me here. They look like the old wounds you can’t suture. They are the scars of time.” On the poignant, hard-rocking “I Think My Face Hates Me“, Ellis sings of his feelings of hopelessness: “I’ve been lying on the floor just eating time. Pretending there’s no light behind my eyes. I’m going home or I’m going down. Every day I am reborn in the skin I’ve had before.

The guys keep delivering compelling lyrics and killer riffs with “One Track Mind“. The protagonist acknowledges his need to change his ways: “What would it take to be the better man? To say, ‘Yes, I can – I’ll never let you down’. Constant mistakes – pathetic apologies. Want to effect a change and make it alright.” But then he bitterly resigns himself to the fact that while he’s the one who must change “I kill the doubt inside and learn to play your game.“, others will not: “You all stay the same.

The title track “Dance With the Hunted” is about a rock star whose fame has not brought the happiness and contentment he’d hoped for. Instead, he lives a miserable, self-destructive life: “The spotlight I always craved keeps pulling me back but there’s no light behind these eyes./  Is art ever worth the pain? To watch you die on centre stage for fifteen minutes of shame.The disappointment never ends.

Traces” is one the darkest tracks on the album, with trace elements (no pun intended) of metal, giving it a heavier vibe. The song opens with a mesmerizing guitar riff, then expands with a powerful melange of intricate guitars, throbbing bass and hammering drums. The lyrics speak of someone tortured by their past and possible mental illness, desperate to escape their surroundings in the hope of starting over fresh: “There are traces of the old times. Like battle scars in my mind. Only the world to me. Turn the lights out – leave this home. Wherever the white lines take us.” Backing metalcore growls by guest vocalist Jamie Armstrong add an extra layer of gritty texture to Ellis’ raw vocals, to great effect.

The final track “Willows” closes out the album on a gloomy note, speaking of a couple whose relationship is so damaged by hurt and pain, it may be beyond salvation. In vocals that really seem to channel Bono, Ellis passionately wails “Skin so thin, so thin it bleeds right through you. And we blame ourselves, don’t you blame yourself too? Walking wounded – in a black wind. Take me to the place where the willows grow. Write down everything that hurt us so. Everything we never said.” As always, the instrumentals are hard-hitting, with furious riffs, crushing bass and tumultuous drums.

Dance With the Hunted is a heavy, emotionally-wrought album to be sure – there are no upbeat love songs here! But it’s a beautifully-crafted work, with deeply compelling, heartfelt lyrics, gorgeous rock melodies, and magnificent instrumentals. Every track is superb, with no filler or throwaways. If you like some of the aforementioned bands I discussed, you will enjoy the music of Saboteurs.

The beautiful original album artwork was designed by Anita Inverarity.

Catch Saboteurs at one of these upcoming shows:

Saboteurs concerts

Follow Saboteurs:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play

New Song of the Week: REVOLVERS – “Rubbing Shoulders With the Devil”

Revolvers2

There are many terrific indie artists and bands in the UK these days making some really outstanding music, and among the best of them is London four-piece Revolvers. Originally formed in 2016 and comprised of James Thurling (guitar/lead vocals) Will Oliver (guitar/backing vocals), Steven Morrison (bass/backing vocals) and Rhys Kibble (drums), they play sensational high-energy guitar-driven melodic rock. I first featured them in February when I reviewed their single “True Love”, a fantastic, hard-driving track filled with lush, reverb-drenched jangly riffs. They followed up in early April with another great banger of a tune “Come Again”, and now return with their third in a series of singles “Rubbing Shoulders With the Devil“, and I think it’s their best work yet. All three singles were produced by George Apsion (White Lies, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Ellie Goulding).

It’s a darkly beautiful track, opening with an ominous gritty guitar riff and a deep, buzzing bassline that immediately hook us in. As James starts to sing, the music expands with more guitars and Rhys’ thumping drumbeats and crashing cymbals into an exciting and rather menacing soundscape. In his review of the song for Obscure Sound, Mike Mineo observed that Revolvers exude a vibe reminiscent of early Arctic Monkeys, and I totally agree. Once the chorus arrives in a stream of sweeping synths and wailing distorted riffs, I’m completely besotted with this song. James’ vocals have a cold, yet slightly seductive quality, backed by the guys’ stunning but ominous vocal harmonies that have a kind of gothic horror film air, similar to what you’d hear in a film like The Omen or The Exorcist as they croon:

Rubbing shoulders with the devil
  (Anywhere you go I’ll go there)
Rubbing shoulders with the devil
 (Anywhere you stay I’ll be there)
Rubbing shoulders with the devil
 (Cause you drag me down)

James continues to sing the brilliant lyrics that speak to someone who leaves him feeling unsettled almost to the point of revulsion:

But every night I wake up to the smell of you
While I’m clutching to a dirty pillow
Your shadow stops the reflection of bedroom lights
And raises alarms in my head
Complain the swimming pool’s not as deep as your love darling
Guess your love is just so ardent
But every time I see someone drinking your cocktail
Take refuge inside the devil’s lair

I’m really impressed by the high quality of a lot of music videos being made by indie bands today (having also been blown away by the video UNDER AEGIS made for their song “Separate” that I just reviewed). Like the music, the gorgeously-filmed video has a dark feel similar to The Omen, and I think it’s brilliant that parts of it were filmed in a cathedral. It was expertly directed by Bradley Davies of Yosemite Bear Productions, and stars band frontman James, who now plays the role of the devilish character. He’s a nice-looking fellow, but that cold stare of his is downright malevolent! He’s shown carrying a briefcase as he lurks and skulks around in a disquieting manner, and at one point coldly watches a woman drowning in a pool, and even strangles a man in another scene. It’s pretty disturbing, but the scenes of the band performing the song in the cathedral balance things out quite nicely – both symbolically and literally.

I love this band and I love this song! It’s instantly one of my favorites of the year, and will most definitely end up on my list of Top 100 Songs of 2019.

Those of you fortunate to live in and around London can catch Revolvers at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday 7 June @ 7:30 pm – The Finborough Arms, London
Saturday 15 June @ 7 pm – Roadtrip & the Workshop, London

Connect with Revolvers on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp

New Song of the Week – THE COMMON VIEW: “A Perfect Bridge”

The Common View single art

Back in February, I featured the wonderful young British band The Common View on this blog. Formed in 2018, the Leeds four-piece consists of Dom Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jose Ignacio Barrera (guitar), Jacob Lindsay (drums, vocals) and Joe Sykes (bass).  Their indelible and dynamic style of alternative rock is influenced by indie pop-rock, post-punk revival, ska and rockabilly. They released their self-titled debut EP The Common View, Vol. 1 in December 2018, featuring three outstanding tracks, then quickly followed with a provocative single “Fuck Them”, a scathing critique of the failure of British society and the government to adequately address the chronic issues of health care, poverty and homelessness.

Now they return with “A Perfect Bridge“, a sweet song of romantic love. The track opens strong with exuberant riffs of swirling guitars, sparkling synths and bouncy drumbeats, accompanied by lots of crashing cymbals. Dom and Jose skillfully capture the ardor of young love with their achingly beautiful and intricate guitar work, while Joe lays down a sultry bass line that adds a slow burn to the mix. Jacob’s fervent vocals are marvelous, and nicely complemented by the guys’ fine backing harmonies. It’s another terrific release from these talented young gentlemen.

I’m gonna stop the world for you and me,
by writing songs for us and backing up the beat.
Let’s go and fly away to hold the mystery,
We don’t need any words to see what it could be

Help me out to build the perfect bridge,
across the love, because I wanna feel your lips.
We have places that we know that we can be,
one is where your magic’s good to me

I wanna make you feel alive tonight
By looking for your thoughts, I wanna cross that line.
it’s such a perfect day to see the blue sky,
out in the open sun we’ll lose track of time

Help me out to build the perfect bridge,
across the love, because I wanna feel your lips.
We have places that we know that we can be,
one is where your magic’s good to me

So, would you like to cross this bridge with me?
I’ll ignite my bones if that is what you need
We have places that we know that we can be,
Just don’t forget that always we can
Use hope, oh honey use trust, oh honey use love as our bridge

Catch The Common View at one of these upcoming shows:

Wednesday, 22 May @ 7 PM – w/ Suns Up & Hakara, Late Nights at West Street Live
Thursday, 23 May @ 6 PM – w/Ourkid, The Stocks, We The North @ Bar21uk, Manchester, UK
Friday, 31 May @ 8 PM – w/The Marble Arches, Solarays, Ben Bickley @ 360 Club, Leeds, UK
Sunday, 2 June @ 12 PM – Below The Bridge // End Of Term special! @ Zombie Shack, Manchester, UK
Saturday, 29 June @ 6 PM – SoundWaves Music Competition – The Final @ O2 Academy, Leeds, UK
Saturday 13 July @ 7:30 PM – w/The Masons & Paradas @ Gullivers NQ, Manchester, UK

Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes