Review: Snake – Love, Hate, Life, Death [EP]

They say punk is dead in the UK. Well while it might not be alive and kicking, it’s got a pulse. As proof, we bring you Snake.

Snake, in their current form, are a ‘bare-essentials’ punk two-piece. What the shitting hell is ‘bare-essentials punk’ you ask? Put it this way: there’s a single guitar, one set of drums, and fervid, vehement vocals – the bare-essentials of hardcore punk. But by calling them ‘bare-essentials’ I don’t mean any disrespect – the sounds breaking forth from these two brothers from Kingston Upon Thames, London, is violent, harsh, and – considering there is only two of them – bloody impressive. Don’t get me wrong, the sound of a bass is salient in its absence, but that doesn’t mean you miss it. By powering forward with just a guitar, drums, and the bile in their lungs, you get a destructive rawness when listening to Snake’s new EP, Love, Hate, Life, Death. It’s just like moshing into a grater, y’know?

The rawness isn’t just created by absence either. It’s not just there because of a lack of a bassist, because of a failure to apply some technical gloss, or because of a bit of production polish that never got added. The fresh out of the cauldron vibe is fully sought after, the EP was played and recorded live. No polish wanted, no gloss needed. This is brutal punk, made to be heard loud, seen live, and to completely lose your shit to.

The EP kicks off with ‘Love’, not the most coveted topic of punk. Although it’s a pretty slow starting pace, singer/guitarist Louis’s vocals manage to add some fleeting urgency and carry the melody of the track. The drums, played by brother Will, pound on with a constant driving beat throughout the song. It certainly manages to be dark and gloomy, but that’s a dynamic you expect to find midway through a full length release, not as the opening track of a short EP. All in all, it is possibly the weakest of the four-track release, sticking to the same pattern and sounding more sad and pessimistic than aggressive. It’s mostly just a shame because it gives such a false impression for what lays ahead; luckily, it isn’t a sign of what follows!

‘Hate’ really picks up the momentum, kicking on with the pace and developing an intensity in the music, while a real catchiness manages to cling to the core of the song. I guarantee that this track in particular will have a whole crowd screaming angrily back at the band: “I’m A Lost Soul, I’m A Lost Soul, I’m A Lost Soul, I’m A Lost Soul”. It would be difficult to find a fan – especially a punk fan – who can’t find a sense of resonance with that. In fact, much of the EP will strike a chord with the troubled souls listening. Everybody’s felt lost sometime… I can’t stress how much more I enjoyed this second track than the first. It’s faster, but still low, cranking up the aggression. It’s almost cathartic, screaming out all of the clenched up anger and unleashing a destructive, fast-paced storm of punk.

‘Life’ continues down the path Hate started us on. On this track in particular, I think the introduction of a bass would be a loss rather than a gain. The rawness Snake capture really can’t be overstated. With a constant powerful riff ‘Life’ is as effective as possible, giving you a reason to get angry – if you weren’t already – and making you want to tear shit up. This is what punk is about, with crunching breakdowns closing out. Final track ‘Death’, despite its name, has got a real positive message: don’t be afraid, don’t dread death, and live life to the fullest. It’s not the message you usually expect from punk, but I really enjoy the positive vibes laid in a blanket of aggressive screams. More dirty riffs, more coarse vocals, more quality punk. This is more like it.

If you enjoy your punk loud, fast, and full of intensity, you need to check out Love, Hate, Life, Death; if that’s not how you enjoy punk, are you sure you even like punk? Seriously?! What can we take from these four tracks? Well Snake have some serious promise. That’s a fact. Despite a somewhat underwhelming start, this lures you in and leaves you wanting more; that’s the job of an EP, so mission accomplished.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Howls – No Living [EP]

It’s almost become ironic how in Britain’s musical landscape, at least over the last 5-10 years, most (I stress, most, not all) hardcore punk bands all conform to the same tried and tested method of a 4/5-piece with an overly-aggressive frontman. Howls break away from that mould. Brighton’s own Howls consists of only three, Will Richards (guitar), Ollie Shead (bass), and Sam Barnes (drums). Only having one guitarist could seem surprising for a band like this, but it is the sharing of the vocal duties between the trio that is the real surprise. But don’t worry, the burden doesn’t soften them, as Howls prove in their latest EP, the coarse and at times volatile No Living.

The EP reminds me a little of Gallows, especially when the riffs kick in, but the overall sound seems a little more murky. The vocals are often more reminiscent of good ol’ fashioned punk – they’ve been described as larynx-lacerating hardcore, I think that’s fair – but they still manage to fit in some of the more catchy shouted lyrics, which should be a great bonus for crowd involvement. With only the one guitarist, the bass plays a more prominent role than in a lot of modern punk and hardcore as well, which helps Howls carve out more of an individual sound, mixing up traditional punk and modern hardcore with tracks flowing from explosive riffs to slow but crunching heavy grooves.

Opening track ‘Rest Well’ screams to life with an example of the aforementioned ferocious riffs paired with some head-slamming drum-pounding. When the vocals screech in, the song really comes together. It’s fast, there’s intricacy, but more importantly it’s completely fucking brutal. Lovely.

Title track ‘No Living’ also houses a peach of a riff, but it is a touch simpler and noticeable slower. That’s no criticism, it’s still ‘fast’; besides, a bit of variety is appreciated. The track shows a bit more artistry with some decipherable structure and varied sections of sound. The vocals, particularly nicely done across the chorus, gain a lot from being threefold. Whereas it could easily sound confused, jumbled, and chaotic, it provides complexity and a layered texture of sound. Pretty neat stuff.

The third and penultimate track ‘Black Dust’ brings with it an eruption of raw emotion which flares-up to form a corrosive wall of anger and vigour to slam against. The energy is ruthless and infectious; it’ll be a pleasure to experience live, that’s for sure. Final track ‘Ides’ almost made me think that Howls had forgotten the winning formula evident in the former three tracks, but they were just being a tricky bunch. ‘Ides’ doesn’t explode like the grenade on your face that the first three tracks form, but they haven’t lost their touch, the slower start allows the upsurge of sound to creep up on you, before destroying you one last time.

Howls combine threefold throat shredding vocals, raw riffs, and destructive drumming into an EP overflowing with aggression and potential. One of the best compliments I can give them is that they definitely sound like more than three guys. Seriously impressive stuff.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Luke Leighfield – V

Ten years after he started and with his fifth studio album, Luke Leighfield is back in business. It hasn’t all been smooth-sailing, but with the fan-funded album V, Leighfield returns packing a pop-rock punch. Just three years ago, in mid-2012, it looked as though Leighfield’s musical dream was over. Sure, he’d had a good run, playing hundreds of shows across the globe, but four albums on he had become tired of music – or tired of touring – and found himself a day job instead (albeit one in the lights and sounds of Berlin). Luckily for his loyal fan-base, this wasn’t the end.

That loyal fan-base rallied around Leighfield and pledged £13,000 on Kickstarter towards the production of a new album. With their financial backing, it was off Ohio to record V with none-other than much-admired producer Jim Wirt (Jack’s Mannequin, Incubus). After falling in and out of love, as much as in his personal life as with music itself, Leighfield has used his wealth of experience to create 12 anthemic pop-rock tunes custom made for summer – almost making it ironic that he’s British.

As soon as the snare hits introducing album opener ‘Begin Again’ reaches your ears, the production quality sounds crisp and clear, the perfect delivery method for Leighfield’s brand of pop-rock. As a song it is simple but effective, there isn’t too much going on but what you can hear starts to get stuck inside your head. ‘Fading Fast’ does anything but fade, carrying on from where the opener left off with another perfectly package piece of pop. The range of instrumentals is a big bonus, as Leighfield doesn’t follow some solo acts in depending far too much on their preferred instrument and their vocals. ‘Fading Fast’ doesn’t cling to acoustic guitars, but pushes beyond with the introduction of keys and even a catchy electric guitar solo. The song structure is still simple, but the melodies are catchy, it is exactly what pop-rock is all about.

‘Fool for Love’, the lead single from V, sums up Leighfield’s sound perfectly. It brings with it a subtle backing of keys and sweeping melodies from an electric guitar, the perfect stage for vocals to come out front and centre. As well as the insatiable melodies, there also seems to be an emo-tinge to some parts of the album, particularly evident on ‘Oh, Canada’; a simple song of heartbreak (which, it should be added, features a horn section and somehow still comes off sounding sincere – bravo!)

I was worried that the album would drift away into a mire of pop sameness, but final and aptly-named track ‘Something Different’ leaves a lasting impression with a little more rock introduced to the pop. The sighs, regrets and heart-felt longing that can be found in other parts of the album are banished. I can only think that this must be the song that came into Leighfield’s head as he started to wonder whether he had left all of the music behind him, pondering life from an office in Berlin. The songs depth seems to come from ridding one’s self of the worries of the past and moving on, to something bigger and better. “I know that I was made for something different”, sings Leighfield, perhaps reflecting on all of that time sat behind a computer instead of sitting behind a piano in a recording studio.

Granted, V is nothing new. Leighfield’s pop-rock isn’t unique – I couldn’t help but hear elements of later Dashboard Confessional, and perhaps even a sprinkling of Hellogoodbye’s pop-monster for good measure – but it is really well done. There is simple songwriting, catchy melodies aplenty, and the expert production you would expect from Jim Wirt. If you like your pop with a large helping of rock, or you like your rock infected to the core with catchy pop melodies, V is for you.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Patrons – The Momentary Effects of Sunlight [EP]

UK-based hardcore outfit Patrons are a band to remember if their self-released second EP The Momentary Effects of Sunlight is anything to go by. The new EP is small and subtle, standing only at four tracks, but they’re four tracks exploding with passion and technical ability from a band who are promising to carve their initials firmly into the heart of the hardcore scene. While large parts of the EP could comfortably be called melodic rock, Patrons manage to bring a variety of different sounds and influences into this short space. Elements of punk are not hard to hear, with some emo and progressive sounds coming to the fore as well.

The intro works to lure you in with simple string-work and gentle vocals, slowly building the momentum until the chorus hits you with the volume turned up to max, the hooks come flying in and the vocals get a hell of a lot more gruff and aggressive. With the exception of the single line of vocals screamed while standing back from the mic (a technique I still fail to understand the point of), opening track ‘Lost Age’ really delivers as a crafted entry into the alternative/hardcore genre. From the teasing beginning to the funky breakdown and powerful reoccurring outro, Patrons are right on the money here.

‘Circus’ kicks in a lot faster and it is here that I start to hear why there have been comparisons to Thrice and Biffy Clyro thrown around. There are a lot of the same melodic rock sounds dominating, as the last minute or so takes over and steals the show again with a quality breakdown closing out in riffs and crashing cymbals. The only criticism would be that in such a short EP, is it different enough from the first track? It slides smoothly from clean guitars and vocals into a crunching wall of heaviness – just as ‘Lost Age’ did – but little else is on offer.

So what we need is something a bit different… Enter third track ‘Old Rain’. The song may be short, but it is full of riffs and hooks. The track is simpler than the first two, with a more consistent tempo which helps the vocals take centre stage. Even after the first listen it is clear that ‘Old Rain’ has the potential to be a fan favourite, with emo-esque lyrics of standing tall despite all of the pain life throws at you.

Patrons end the EP with the sort of song usually reserved for full length releases; a seven-minute epic of passionate vocals and even more melodic riffs: ‘Blood Symphony’ is a pretty darn good note to end on. It does follow a similar clean-to-dirty formula as the first two tracks, but it brings enough variety in to keep the listener interested for the whole song. Technically it doesn’t try to overcomplicate things and become two-songs-in-one, but it provides enough avoid the trap of sounding too ‘samey’ and going on for too long. It provides a balance of lyrically ‘releasing anger’ and ‘building up confidence’, another pretty emo trait, closing out happy in the knowledge that this song will get stuck in your head.

As far as EPs go, The Momentary Effects of Sunlight is a solid release which shows more than a glimpse of what this band is capable of. They’re not breaking down the boundaries of hardcore, but by introducing other influences they manage to craft a refreshing sound which makes it easy to see why Patrons have caught the attention of many different publications so far this year.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Darwin & The Dinosaur – A Thousand Ships

You know how all of the good rock bands say that they’re fuelled by a near-lethal concoction of sex, drugs, and booze, yeah? Well, no, actually, because today we’ve got a ‘delightfully British’ helping for you all in the form of Darwin and the Dinosaur (D&tD), a band who keep their energy levels topped up with a not-so-dangerous mix of pot noodles, tea, and biscuits. What could be more British than tea, biscuits, and rock’n’roll eh? I like them already.

These guys sound like some sort of nerdy dream, you say? Well you haven’t heard anything yet. Calling Norwich home (a city with a castle and two cathedrals … they seem pretty proud about that), the band promises energetic shows filled to the brim with ‘dad-jokes’. D&tD’s drummer, Joe, runs the N.L.A – Norfolk L.A.R.P (Live Action Role Playing) Association, while the guitarist and backing vocalist, Steve, has apparently appeared as a supporting actor in every single Harry Potter film.

Nerd heaven.

Oh, that isn’t enough for you? Well I should probably let you know about their debut album A Thousand Ships which is being released in March (and in case you’re not excited yet, they have a freakin’ narwhal on the album sleeve! You know the one, the unicorns of the sea, with the most impressive but pointless horns in the animal kingdom). With a range of influences from Thrice to Fleetwood Mac, the four-piece Norwich outfit give a stellar account of themselves in this full-length debut (but we always knew they would – take a look at when we checked out their 2012 EP here).

Vocalist, Alan Hiom, provides far softer vocals than you usually get from similar bands. He also manages to keep a hold of some British pronunciation, showing you don’t have to bow to every Americanism in order to get a kick-ass sound. This blend of vocals is actually a pretty good metaphor for the entire album, which manages to capture a diverse range of styles and genres without ever sounding over-ambitious or confused. In fact the production is completely squeaky clean (without being over-edited).

One track which captures this variety of styles is ‘Hand in Hand’, with infectious verses, which are still stuck in my head, and a bouncing, ‘popping and punking’ chorus. The ability to seamlessly switch between the heavier metal-inspired instrumentals to a more pop-punk sound (as well as plenty in between) is a real highlight of the LP. The whole album conveys great technical skill, well crafted melodies, and a whole load of emotion.

A special mention has to go to ‘Riff Town Population – You’, which is quite simply a fantastic track. There is wonderful grit about it, sounding like a shout-out to great British rock acts of the past, and it sounds like a song pulled straight from the live scene. As one of the heavier songs to feature on the album, it also keeps a great melodic core, boasting D&tD’s dynamic range of talents and influences. I can certainly hear elements of Hundred Reasons and Reuben in there, while they create a sound of their own as well. Serious kudos for these guys.

A Thousand Ships has a great feel to it as an album. Some bands’ debut releases can smash into a cliff-face when they sacrifice the feel of a a whole album by just throwing together the best tracks they can record without a thought for how they go together; others get sucked into a vapid maelstrom when they spend too much time concentrating on the ‘overall sound’ and fail to deliver any stand out songs. D&tD manage to sail A Thousand Ships between these threats. It’s heavy, loud, and fast, but it also has a melodic chilled-out element in the middle.

What more can we say? You need to check these chaps out.

4 out of 5 high fives!