Black Foxxes – Black Foxxes
A self titled album is a statement of intent. It’s a sign of a band standing up and telling the world “this is who we are”. For this reason they’re most commonly associated with debut albums as a way of making a strong first impression. When an established band decides to release an eponymous album however, it can carry a very different message. It’s a way of drawing a line in the sand between the past and the present. It marks the album as being a turning point for the band, and as such is not to be thrown around lightly.
The eponymous third album from Belwood favourites Black Foxxes certainly seems justified, as it feels like an important shift for the band. Major line-up changes are a key part of that; the third record boasting a brand new rhythm section, with frontman and primary songwriter Mark Holley as the unifying thread between eras. There’s a lot more to this new release than just personnel changes though, and the more I listen the deeper the stylistic shifts seem to go. Sadly for the most part this record does not feel like a clear change for the better. Often Black Foxxes feel like a new band for all the wrong reasons.
The most striking shift is how it loses a lot of what made the first two records so compelling. What first won me over about this band was their strong hooks and Holley’s fiery vocal delivery, neither of which are really firing on all cylinders here. The vocals don’t seem to carry the same emotional weight that they used to, and there aren’t really any memorable hooks this time around. Writing a good hook relies on a number of things; memorable lyrics, earworm melodies, exposure to the audience etc. All of this came naturally on the first two records, they were packed to the brim with infectious alt rock anthems, but here good hooks seem like an afterthought. When this record does recall their existence it ends up relying far too heavily on repetition. The first two tracks are by far the worst contenders on this front, immediately putting the record on the back foot, with seemingly half the songs made up of just the same uninteresting line shouted back at you for several minutes.
That same reliance on repetition has also seeped it’s way into the instrumentation. While on their last record Reiði the band began to dabble more with expansive dream pop soundscapes, this release often falls back onto simple and uninteresting grooves. The monotonous ‘Drug Holiday’ in particular really feels like there’s something missing, but it’s the album’s two longest tracks that are the most egregious examples. It’s the band’s first time exploring longer compositions and both ‘Badlands’ and ‘The Diving Bell’ feel like wasted opportunities to experiment and expand their artistic horizons. Both feel more like a few minutes worth of ideas stretched out in an attempt to fill twice the run time.
It’s especially frustrating as there are a few standout moments where the band really shines. ‘My Skin Is’ shifts between a heavy, menacing bass line and hazy dream pop guitar tones, while ‘Panic’ wears its Radiohead influences on its sleeve with light meandering riffs and intricate percussion reminiscent of ‘Reckoner’, as well as some electronic flourishes in the latter half of the track. ‘Pacific’ is bookended by wild, furious outbursts of punk, with a dark and dreamy atmosphere at its centre, punctuated by subdued bluesy guitar work and some understated splashes of brass. My personal highlight however is the soaring, squalling guitar tone that cries out in the closing moments of ‘Swim’. It’s probably one of the most enthralling and impassioned moments of musicianship that I’ve heard yet from the band.
Black Foxxes’ third record definitely marks an evolution in the band’s sound, but it feels an intermediate step between eras. This record is like a snapshot of a house in the process of being remodelled and revitalised. Some beloved old features are here to stay, and you can see where the work has begun and get a clear picture where the makeover is headed, but some areas that have been stripped back to bare brick have yet to get the TLC they need.