Artist: Lions Lions
Album: To Carve Our Names
Label: Hollywood Waste Records
Methinks To Carve Our Names could be a grower. It’s a fine album, all fresh-faced ardour and youthful bombast, but it doesn’t leave the most lingering of impressions on its first listen. The problem with hardcore of this kind is that it’s so easily put together. Without meaning to impugn the technical skills of any of the bands in the genre, it’s a scene that has a very specific and certain sound and covers such a wide array of bands that it is very tough to distinguish yourself from the throng. It’s almost too easy to be welcomed into the fold with a careful balance of growling and breakdowns, and while this often makes for an intensive and exhilarating listen, it doesn’t always leave an enduring impression.
That said, Lions Lions have plenty of charm. Their vocals are as youthful and precocious as any other hardcore-leaning band, but there’s a quietly compelling strength to them that makes everything sound much more genuine and less forced. Joshua Herzer leads the charge with an uncommon presence, allowing the band to sidestep the pitfalls of too much grit and coercion. The guitars are idealistic and bright, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the band’s vision isn’t always as memorable as it could be.
“Milestones” and “Stable as Stone” offer a fresh and gnarly perspective and harmonies galore but at the same time, they don’t strike the listener as particularly inventive or original. They’re quality songs, but too recognisable. “The Undertow” fares better, a rugged and ambitious track with destructive, bass-driven verses that seize attention instantly. “White Flag” is good and tumultuous, but burdened with an awkward vocal interplay, it seems too simple. The early, programming-laden strains of “The Right Steps” seem equally music-by-numbers and too closely identifiable with the synth explosion in all contemporary alternative genres, though this one does manage to redeem itself with attentive structure and a richly emotive chorus. The comedown from the latter is a touch indulgent but there’s more depth to this track, suggesting that the grittier songwriting could excel with a more daring approach.
After the rawer, animating flourishes of “Carry On,” the band sets itself on shaky ground with a number of unconvincing, poorly realised tracks. “Losing Balance” does its best to work but the stilted beat is too confining, making the song sound grossly self-aware in its quest to appear serious and harangued. The music is good and the spectral presence of the guitar in the background really eye-catching, but it comes apart when the vocals descend into silliness with an all-too-familiar, discordant affray of alternating clean and heavy lines. “Grounded” is earnest as they come, with a solid positive message, but it’s executed so awkwardly that it kind of makes you cringe. All the hopefulness and optimism of the band’s words is lost in the whimsical wreckage of arching vocals. “Our Colours” offers an acoustic ending to the album, which isn’t exactly the most original of methods for a slower, sadder song, but its sparse layout and tender vocals are sweetly endearing.
It’s difficult to reconcile the obvious talent and potential of the band with the somewhat ordinary nature of their output – it seems harsh to criticise something with obvious appeal, but that self-same obviousness is its undoing. This can intrigue and delight in equal measure as it’s playing, but it won’t necessarily stay with you after, and aside from the vocals there’s little to really separate it from a cacophony of like-minded bands. However, as noted above, it has grower potential, and after a few listens it should ingrain itself affectionately in your mind. Lions Lions could be superstars yet, as in spite of everything this does indicate a winning mindset and writing skills. To Carve Our Names may not blaze triumphantly over the finishing line but it has a buzz that their next outing ought to punch home.
Review written by Grace Duffy