Review: I, The Lion – Run [EP]

Post-punk is a bit of a funny label to play with. Readily applied to bands like Biffy Clyro, Thrice and Reuben, it seems to be a catch-all for anything that just sounds big these days. It would be far too easy to lump Cheltenham’s I, The Lion in with that lot. While it’s clear that the trio take influence from a few of the noisiest bands around, you’d be hard pressed to find a record that has the same heart and ambition as Run.

The EP is a technical masterpiece, to say the least. Recorded and produced by Jason Wilson at Stakeout Studios, who’s worked with big names like You Me At Six and Fightstar, was a clever move, helping to enhance and consolidate what is already an impressive signature sound. Everything about Run is huge, from the infectious riffs to the ambitious choruses. If you’ve ever seen I, The Lion live, then you’ll know that it is actually possible to make that level of noise with just three people, even if it seems unbelievable for now. Take lead single ‘Hold Strong’, for example – right from the start, you notice the sheer force of the drums and the incredible level of control in the melody. Then, when Chris’ vocals start to feed in, they’re just the right side of gruff, balancing perfectly against Elliot’s higher backing. Each element in ‘Hold Strong’ is so intricately crafted, and that carries through the entire record. ‘Icarus’ is perhaps my favourite track, with its playful opening riff that leads into a crushing breakdown right from the off. But, for those of you who like their stuff to sound epic, then ‘Bonny Island’ crashes through any expectations and totally rewrites them – a complex, time-signature bending pure rock pounder with riffs that Incubus would be jealous of.

However, it’s not just the fact that I, The Lion are completely on top of their game musically that really makes Run such a fantastic record. Lyrically, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s just another pile of metaphor on metaphor at first glance, but if you listen closely, Run is a thrilling, emotionally intelligent ride. From start to finish, it’s an exhilarating experience, and it’s impossible not to see the love and attention that has been lavished upon these four tracks.

Run is a statement of intent – I, The Lion have arrived, and they’re here to stay in your stereo. One of the most exciting new bands in the British scene, I, The Lion are perfectly poised to overthrow the alternative rock hierarchy and triumphantly claim your adoration as rightfully theirs.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

You can read our interview with I, The Lion about how Run came together here.

Interview: I, The Lion

I, The Lion are well known in Cheltenham town. And with their latest EP, Run, they’re set to be well known throughout the country, if not the world. Run is a masterpiece, full of heart and absolutely massive riffs. I caught up with Elliot and Chris following the release of Run to find out a little bit more about how it all came about, and just how they manage to create such an incredible and unique sound.

What’s the typical songwriting process for the band?

Elliot: Most of the time it starts as a basic idea from myself, like a riff or chord progression. Then I’ll show Chris and it starts to to get the intricate after a few tweeks. Nath will then have this idea in his head and add his wizardry drumming to complete our style. So over all it’s pretty much a combination of all of us sharing an idea and developing it to the best we can make it.

So Chris, you started off playing drums, then moved to guitar, before finally settling on bass – how has that shaped the way you come up with songs?

Chris: I think it has helped me to understand what the others do and what’s possible for one person to play, although the others constantly break the possible barrier. Playing drums has really helped with my rhythm, so it’s helped me to work with Nath (drums) as tightly as possible and allow Elliot to flow with his lightening fingers. Plus bass is the instrument of love, right? Guys? Right?

Elliot: Errr yeah, love. Good for you!

What was it like working with Jason Wilson? Did his direction affect the songs in any particular way?
Elliot: Sometimes it’s difficult having someone come in and give you their take on your songs, but it felt like throughout the entire recording process Jason knew exactly where we wanted our sound to be. He’s a perfectionist just like us, so being able to record to such precision was exactly what we wanted.

Has Elliot moving to Reading affected you as a band at all?
Elliot: Surprisingly, not as much as you’d think! The distance forces us to be proactive to ensure we’re seeing each other for rehearsals, lil jams or even just a beer. At this point, four years in, we don’t need to practice every week anymore and it’s all pretty much second nature.

How do you achieve such a massive, intricate sound with just three of you? Is there any pedal trickery, for example?

Elliot: We get asked this a lot of shows, it’s a mixture of a couple of things, really. Like you said, pedal trickery plays a minor part, I’m a major tech head and have been developing my tone for the best part of a decade. Also, the ridiculously thick guitar strings we use play a big part. My Gibson has bass strings on it because the electric string equivalent felt like a flappy sponge, and Chris’s lowest string is thicker than a telegraph pole. Oh, and also having a drummer that hits his kit so hard something breaks pretty much every song. True story.

What is your favourite bit of kit that you just couldn’t do without?

Elliot: For me, it’s gotta be my SG. There’s something amazing about the pickups on it that make any tone sound incredible.

Chris: For me, it’s my tiny but mighty Orange SP212 cab. It’s so small but it can still cause an earthquake.

You’ve played most of the songs from the EP live already. Has that affected the final version of the songs much?
Elliot: When we write new material, it goes though a lot of rehearsals to ensure its ready for gigs or recording. We’ll keep picking at it to get everything we can out of that song, so anything we play live it’s pretty much the final product. The four tracks on this EP in particular have never changed since conception.

You’ve got quite a distinctive sound, very different from your contemporaries in Gloucestershire. Is it ever a bugger to find a bill you really fit into?
Elliot: Oh yeah, it’s almost impossible! The number of metal shows we were put on to when we started was ridiculous. Me and Nath are metal heads deep down but our sound stuck out like a sore thumb. These days, we just accept whatever bill were put onto and give it all we’ve got.

You did a fair few festivals last year, including local favourite 2000trees. Are you considering a similar run this year?
Elliot: Definitely! Festival season is just ace, it’s such a different vibe to touring but both are equally awesome.

I, The Lion are Chris Evans (bass/vocals), Elliot Withers (guitar/vocals), and Nath Priday (drums). Their latest EP, Run, is out now, and the band will be touring the UK from 25 February.

Robyn’s Top 10 Valentine’s Tracks for 2015

I normally do an ‘anti-Valentines’ playlist every year. I try to be witty, and pick songs that are all about death and hate and horror. ‘Last Caress’ by the Misfits has topped my list virtually every year since I was 18. But this year, I decided that I should actually take the spirit of the season properly and come up with a list of songs that are actually about love and mushy stuff and all that stuff… kind of.

10) Millencolin – Fox

Okay, okay, so I’ve got to get a joke song in there at some point, and I figured I’d get it over and done with first thing. Millencolin’s heartfelt punk rock love letter to their car is brilliant. A perfect example of how great Pennybridge Pioneers is, it’s a fun-filled ride from start to finish.

9) Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – See Her On The Weekend

The whole AM In The Wilderness record is incredible, but there are certain songs in particular that left an impression on me. I’ve found that the older I get, the less I want to hear about your stereotypical adolescent romance, and I want to hear about something real. See Her On The Weekend is one of those such songs – just simple musings about life and the love that comes with it.

8) AFI – End Transmission

Davey Havok’s Bonnie and Clyde-esque tale about running away into the sunset is probably the best thing about Crash Love. The first verse is hopelessly romantic, and even if there aren’t any of signs of Davey’s signature ‘oh!’, it’s still pretty fantastic.

7) Lanterns – Happiness Pt 3

To be honest, I could have picked any of the ‘Happiness’ trio, but Pt 3 just is this perfect exaltation of love. I’d be loathe to say you need romantic love to be happy in life, but ‘Happiness Pt 3’ explains just how happy someone else can make you feel. Plus, it has an absolutely gorgeous build-up towards the end.

6) The Lawrence Arms – Fireflies

‘Fireflies’ is a tale of love long lost, but it’s definitely earned its place on this list. It’s one of the best songs on The Greatest Story Ever Told, and it’s probably the smartest in this bunch. If you don’t totally fall head over heels for Chris’ vocals, then you’re probably soulless.

5) Sugarcult – Lost In You

I adored this record when I was a kid, and I thought that ‘Lost In You’ was the prettiest little thing. Lots of the record was typical pop-punk fare, but ‘Lost In You’ was something deeper. It’s a catchy track, and it made me want to have the kind of love that led to that kind of heartbreak.

4) Descendents – Talking

The Descendents always keep it real. ‘Talking’ is all about frustrating long distance relationships and trying to keep it all together over the phone. In typical Descendents style, it’s as honest as it comes. It’s hard not to fall in love with Stephen Egerton’s infectious riffs, and the line ‘Maybe we’ll fall in love when I get home’ will get stuck in your head for days.

3) Say Anything – Crush’d

Out of all of Max Bemis’ proclamations of love, Crush’d is by far my favourite. Branded with the typical Say Anything wittiness, it’s a gem of a track, lurking on their oft-forgotten self-titled record. It’s a total love letter to his wife Sherri, and it’s bloody wonderful.

2) Candy Hearts – I Miss You

‘I Miss You’ is just lovely, earnest pop-punk joy. If a red velvet cupcake could be a song, then this would be it with sprinkles on top. But it’s also totally real – Mariel’s lyrics indicate a fear of handing yourself over completely to one person, but at the same time, there’s a great sense of excitement about being so in love.

1) Brand New – Soco Amaretto Lime

Do I even need to explain anything? Brand New’s anthem about the end of adolescence is the sweetest love song of all time.

Review: Atlas Losing Grip – Currents

Ambition is not a bad thing. If it weren’t for ambition would At The Drive-In have made Relationship of Command? Would Iggy Pop have gone solo? Would Nirvana have made Nevermind? That said, at times on Atlas Losing Grip’s second LP Currents, there is perhaps a little bit too much going on. This is the sound of a band exploring – no, exhausting – every single idea they have, with a mixed bag of results.

Currents opens with a big, moody two minute Metallica-esque instrumental before finally breaking into a rattling barnstormer of a verse in track one, ‘Sinking Ship’. Make no mistake, this is not punk: this is pure, neck breaking thrash metal. You have big galloping riffs, rapid-fire drums and a touch of cheese in the big anthemic chorus. There are twisty sections and it is difficult to keep up with the amount of ideas being thrown at this piece of music. Could this be a pioneering release in an oxymoronic new genre? Is this the birth of prog-punk?

Next up is the slightly less head spinning ‘The Curse’. This tune is much more accessible and mid paced, with another one of those massive choruses slotted in for good measure. It sounds a little bit like The Wildhearts. The album follows this formula, with a mix of thrash metal and anthemic punk; imagine Bad Religion covering Iron Maiden and you’re close. There’s some good stuff here. ‘Unknown Waters’ and ‘Cynosure’ showcase a band confidently going about doing what they do best. ‘Downwind’ is a particular album highlight, rumbling as it does at a high rate of knots with some brilliant Thin Lizzy like swirls of twin lead guitar.

Confusingly though, despite making no mention of Satanism or the devil anywhere throughout the album, Atlas Losing Grip made a big deal in the press about their new album lasting 66 minutes and 6 seconds. Now, first of all, as a pedant I know that 66:06 is not the number of the beast, and secondly, because of the length of the album, there is a lot of filler here. You get the overly sentimental acoustic work out of ‘Closure’, six minutes of ‘Kings and Fools’ that meander away but don’t ever really go anywhere, and ‘Ithaka’ which – excuse my language – is 11 minutes long for fuck’s sake. There’s a big embarrassing chorus that sounds like it was ripped directly out of a Dragonforce song and about 2 and a half minutes of sea noises. The album may well be 66 minutes and 6 seconds long but some of those minutes are a total waste.

In fact, over the second half of the album, it really loses its way as Atlas Losing Grip saw fit to really run with their ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ philosophy. There really is no need for the two bars of electronic drum samples in ‘Through The Distance’ and I’d have given the album an extra high 5 had they not bothered recording ‘Cold Dirt’ which is within touching distance of being a straight up Bon Jovi piano ballad.

Currents then, is a frustrating listen. There is probably a full album’s worth of cracking stuff here; it’s just bolstered by a lot of really bad stuff. Not one person in the studio ever stopped and said “maybe this is a bit too much lads.” Not one person said “are you sure this is necessary?” As a result, Atlas Losing Grip sound like a band wrestling with their identity, who have made an album that is all at sea.

2 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Choke Up – Black Coffee, Bad Habits

Straight out of the musical hotbed that is Boston comes Choke Up, four punk rock dudes who ‘love the Weakerthans and King of the Hill’. With a heady mix of emotional hardcore outbursts and pop punk hooks, Black Coffee, Bad Habits fits nicely into the current alternative musical spectrum. At times sounding like a more grown-up Real Friends, at others like a more melodic Gnarworlves, and occasionally like how you imagine Fugazi would have turned out had they formed in the noughties and swapped politics for pizza.

Lyrically the record pretty much sticks to genre conventions of girls, growing up, and giving up on where you’re from (see Robyn’s excellent article ‘The Seven Basic Pop-Punk Songs’ for more on this) but the vocals are the real trump card here, switching from vicious screams one second to hook-drenched harmonies the next. At times sounding like Vinnie Caruana at his most bitter, before drowning in the guttural depths of a Rites Of Spring-esque tirade, and even bearing resemblance to Gerard Way’s stream of consciousness on early MCR, they soar above the nasal fauxmerican offerings of similar pop-punkers. I defy anyone not to furiously fist-pump their way through the screamo rant that concludes ‘My Oh My’… it’s fucking glorious stuff. It’s just a shame that sometimes the guitars struggle to keep up. They’re perfectly played and full of catchy melodies and driving riffs, but I’d personally like a little more feedback, squall, and general punk rock chaos to match the rawness of the vocals.

The record offers a couple of genuine surprises when the band ease up on the distortion and deliver two stunning acoustic tracks. Both ‘Polka Dots’ and ‘Dry Out’ tick all of the emo singer-songwriter boxes with the former’s stomping percussion and latter’s lilting slide guitars lending an authentically alt-country vibe. With confessional lyrics and a fragile vocal delivery, neither would be out of place on a Bright Eyes record. Despite the change of tact, these songs sit perfectly on the grand scheme of the record instead of feeling like the token acoustic offerings that plague the end of many lesser albums. In fact, when taken as a whole, Black Coffee, Bad Habits is beautifully sequenced, with real thought given to the order of tracks and how they flow into each other. Given that these days too many acts drop EP after EP without ever committing to a full-length record, this 14-tracker feels like a real statement of intent. Impressively strong for a debut album, it rewards repeated listens with an admirable variety of styles and never outstays its welcome.

The only criticism that I can really make of this record is that it can be hard to define exactly what makes Choke Up unique. There are a lot of bands peddling this sound at the moment and, although these guys do it so much better than most, they’re going to have to shout pretty loud to stand out in such a crowded scene. While listening to the record, there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve thought ‘this bit sounds like this band’ and ‘that bit sounds like that other band’. Being fortunate enough to grow up during the glory years of third-wave emo, I’ve maybe been spoilt by such reference points, but for the kids of today Choke Up could well be their Movielife or even their Brand New. This band have real potential for progression and if Black Coffee, Bad Habits is their ‘Your New Favourite Weapon’, I can’t wait for their ‘Deja Entendu’!

4 out of 5 high fives!