It’s easy to be a fun rock band. Riffs, catchy bits, “la la las” and singalongs? A doddle. Even Liam Gallagher can do it. But drama? Drama is hard. It’s drama that places Exeter’s Black Foxxes in the very top drawer of current British rock bands. Reiði, their second album, contains more shiver-inducing, goosebump-raising thrills than most bands manage in an entire career. It harks back to the heart-on-the-sleeve Nineties alt-rock of Smashing Pumpkins, Jeff Buckley and early Radiohead, but with a nakedly emotive punch that is extremely 2018, and a knack for gulping pop choruses and distilled outsiderdom that is both timeless and entirely the band’s own.
Frontman Mark Holley has a gift for processing his mental and physical pain into perfectly executed chunks of epic rock noise, expressing his state of health and state of mind in feedback and falsetto in a way that is both accessible and exhilarating. On their 2016 debut, I’m Not Well the band made a feature of melancholia; it was a gorgeous record but also a rather gloomy one and you felt they’d pushed that aspect of their sound as far as it could go. Happily Reiði (the word means “rage” in old Norse, though don’t expect such a direct emotional through-line here) paints with more colours. Holley is still mining his darker moods (he talks about “feeling numb” on no-less than three different songs) but his leaning into epic-pop suggests there’s a lot more more breathing-space in his creative process these days.
Both ‘Manic In Me’ and ‘Sæla’ feel like classic singles, and easily could be if the stars aligned in the right way. Both deploy the textbook quiet/loud dynamic that became the cornerstone of alternative rock, and ‘Manic In Me’ in particular could have come out at any point in the last 25 years and slotted right in: It’s genuinely timeless - a sugar-rush thrill that shoves in a stomach-plunging extra chunk of chorus just when you think the elation has hit maximum. Opener ‘Breathe’ raises shivers with its breakdown and descending strings, ‘Flowers’ has the queasy intensity of My Bloody Valentine and makes elegant use of space and balance, while ‘JOY’ is a throbbing fuzz monster, all desperation and thunder. Again and again the trio wrap drama in something shimmering and glorious, like aural pigs-in-blankets, weaving intricate and catchy lead lines and rattling snare fills between huge pillars of sonic emotion.
You can almost feel the band spreading their arms to hold back this huge, powerful noise before it crashes through the dam and drowns the valley below. On ‘Oh, It Had To be You’ the power is allowed to escape a drip at a time, starting with droplets of bright piano and building to a roaring flood as the walls come tumbling down. By the end of the beautiful ‘Take Me Home’, as another dark wave is unleashed, you suspect no power on earth could keep the waters at bay.
Black Foxxes are a special band. The kind that deserves to have their logo written on pencil cases, and their posters bluetacked to walls. The kind of band that turn every walk or drive they soundtrack into a cinematic masterpiece. The kind that make you cry. The kind that keep your heart beating. This is music for dark nights and bright mornings. Music for the cold, the lonely and the loved all at once. Music to wrap yourself in and make your own. It’s drama and joy and thrilling noise, and you need to hear it now.
10Marc Burrows's Score