Album Review: Gnarwovles – ‘Outsiders’

Posted: by The Editor


‘Melodic hardcore’ has always sounded to me a facetious misnomer, as surely anything remotely tuneful evaporates hardcore’s native astringency; if any band accurately approximates the term however, it’s Gnarwolves. Of course, their nascent alignment has been skate punk – and that subclass’s propulsiveness lingers in these riffs – but Thom Weeks’s rasping vocals are conspicuously informed by Keith Morris, while their instrumentation can hurtle caustically when obligated. Equally there’s a ripe cynicism, poignancy, and delicacy that drapes them like a flaccid cloak, and on Outsiders this purposefulness takes centre stage, relegating the band’s sixth-gear accelerate-to-resolution format to the periphery. Outsiders is happy taking its time to reflect and open up.

Surviving your 20s in the UK is largely similar to surviving your 20s everywhere else, but it has its peculiarities; a foible they address directly on “English Kids.” While Gareth David of Los Campesinos! captures Britain’s disaffected zeitgeist in witty aphorisms and adroit observations about store-brand lager and daytime TV, Weeks’s wordplay is equivocal and often unsettling, intuitively felt rather than cognizantly read. The band’s eponymous outsiders aren’t the usual misunderstood teenage punks, but a collective isolated by the ideological disconnect between themselves and the plenitude of small-‘c’ conservatives and unduly angry people that populate small-town UK, and marks the cavernous disparity between those with anxiety (the outsiders) and those with paranoia (the normalised). In a way this is a natural progression for the band; after echoing that prototypical slice of adolescent alienation on Chronicles of Gnarnia – their 2014 EP compilation – confronting big issues makes sense. But such reductionism is doing them a disservice.

‘Straitjacket’ correlates the claustrophobic torpor of inhabiting middle England and its suburbia with alcoholism and drug use; that their hedonism isn’t so much debauch as an escape, but leaves ambiguous the extent to which it aggravates or – viably – precipitates depression or lethargy. The pervasion of ennui is expounded on the triple-header ‘Wires’, ‘Paint Me a Martyr’, and ‘English Kids,’ where bored resignation has conquered all. There are flickers of heartbreak drifting along on ‘Talking To Your Ghost’, – also implied earlier on ‘Wires’ – and with the album’s precedential allusions to everything else the product is an accumulative portrait of, well, a person. It’s Weeks as a complex person, a kind and flawed person, trying his best to try. It’s heavy and abstruse, but decidedly affecting. For all its solemnity it welcomingly retains a self-deprecating tenor on ‘Channelling Brian Malko’, and even at its bleakest on the chastising ‘Shut Up’; “Another day spent high as hell/Having sick, serious conversations with myself,” a couplet so brutally funny the laughs hang in wheezes.

There’s plenty of hooks – power chords hurling and burling along – and Max Weeks’ drumming is at its most feverishly relentless, but they never overstep their boundaries, foregrounding with humor or anguish Weeks’s pontification. That said it’s difficult not to get lost in the vitality of the ‘Wires’ cold opening, the bass bridge on ‘English Kids’, the quick-fire bombardment impelling ‘The Comedown Song’ (top marks for irony), or the agonising languor of ‘Shut Up’. Gnarwolves maintain their shrewd craftsmanship, but it’s now understated, a proficient companion to some seriously moving spoken-word displays.

Outsiders isn’t necessarily a political record, and it’s not necessarily a mental health record, and it’s not necessarily a romantic angst record, rather it’s an affirmation that these pillars of thought are interwoven and reciprocal, in constant dialogue. There are few things on this earth I enjoy more than records that say something important in a sophisticated voice while shredding, and Outsiders by Gnarwolves delivers.

Score: 8/10

Purchase Outsiders here

– Kieran Devlin