By Geoff Tobia Jr.
One of the most promising bands out of the United Kingdom, the six-piece Black Country, New Road has a catalog, albeit very small, that shows true musical prowess and ability to create one-of-a-kind timbral environments. “For The First Time” (2021), the band’s debut album, features instrumental arrangements that teeter on gorgeous yet terrifying, and guitarist and lead singer Isaac Wood’s lyricism and shaky vocal delivery leaves deep emotional impressions on its listeners. To their fans’ dismay, Wood announced in an Instagram post at the end of January on the band’s official page that he was leaving the band for personal reasons. While the remaining members of the band will continue to operate, the newly released “Ants From Up There” (2022) is the band’s final release with the vocal sound that Wood made so characteristic of this band. Nevertheless, Wood and everyone else in the band encouraged everyone to enjoy their latest record, and the record in question is full of things for fans to admire. Borrowing some of the best stylistic choices from their previous record, while also adding some new twists, “Ants From Up There” goes as swimmingly as any band could ever hope for their sophomore release to be.
Lead single “Chaos Space Marine” showed a notable difference in artistic direction compared to tracks like “Sunglasses” (2019) and “Track X” (2021), a couple of the band’s most popular songs. Instead of a softer, more progressive and dark melody, this track sees a pounding guitar/violin/saxophone combo that gives the feeling of a climactic moment in a musical. This is paired with a highly metaphorical lyrical performance from Wood, where he sings shakily, “Oh, I’m a chaos space marine/ So what, I love you/ Darling, will you take my metal hand?/ It’s cold.” Nothing was completely shocking about the way that this track sounded. Each band member was playing their part in the song, but it did not give a very clear indication of how “Ants From Up There” would sound as a record.
The next three leading singles to come out certainly told fans that, while “Chaos Space Marine” is an impressive and unique follow-up to the band’s previous material, it’s just one good track from the abundance of thoughtful and astounding songwriting that this band still continues to offer. “Concorde,” the third single, accompanied with a captivating but jarring music video, is much more reminiscent of their previous material, led by the guitar/bass/drum combo playing a gentle melody, going into more intense breakdowns and vocal deliveries. The fingerpicked guitar to kick off “Bread Song” shows how well this band can create a sound and mesmerizing progression. The song slowly becomes a swelling string section with hints of piano and cymbal, building tension through unresolved chords before falling back into the guitar — this time accompanied by a cross stick pattern from drummer Charlie Wayne. While nothing is different about the melody or tone of the guitar, this part in a new context with the crisp drum sound gives the song a whole new intensity.
Apart from the short but sweet “Intro,” the album’s first taste of new material is “Good Will Hunting.” The song’s melody is very hypnotic, drawing influence from metal, country and folk music all alike. Wood’s vocals are as impactful as always, giving lines like “She had Billie Eilish style/ Moving to Berlin for a little while/ I’m tryna find something to hold on to.” The track also demonstrates the band’s ability to make ear-worm-inducing songs, as the guitar/bass progression is something that can repeat in the listener’s head for hours after hearing it. Songs like “Haldern” show the band’s chemistry, as Lewis Evans’ saxophone, Georgia Ellery’s violin and May Kershaw’s piano play with phenomenal interaction and countermelodies. Like “Snow Globes,” the final pre-release single “Haldern” focuses on brighter, softer and more ambient tonal environments.
And yet, there’s still more firepower left in the band’s arsenal. Almost like a sad single you would have heard on the radio in 2009, “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” feels as if all the instruments are crying as much as Wood wants to cry, as he shouts “I’ll praise the Lord, burn my house/ I get lost, I freak out/ You come home and hold me tight/ As if it never happened at all.” This song and the over 12-minute closing track “Basketball Shoes” are perhaps where bassist Tyler Hyde and guitarist Luke Mark shine most. This song serves as the epic of the album, progressing with full intensity, but leaving some bare moments for key musical and lyrical phrases to receive the spotlight. Hyde’s harmonic plucking leaves tingles down the listener’s spine before the song’s final endeavor begins. And the song closes out in the bold and fearless manner that this entire record never stopped bringing. “Ants From Up There” gives Black Country, New Road another boost of momentum that is guaranteed to bring them more success in the future.