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Of Allies - 'Are We Better Off?' Album Review


1. Doublespeak

2. An Echo (Or Nothing)

3. Off The Map

4. Blossoms

5. Beyond The Wave

6. Still Memory

7. Deadlights

8. Are We Better Off?

9. The Heirophant

10. Big Mouth

11. Someday

12. Afterglow

13. Liminal Hearts

14. Goodbye

I love it when I’m listening to a band I’ve never heard before and, whist being suitably impressed by their music, I decide to do a bit of digging and discover a fact about them that blows me away - and in the case of Of Allies, it’s the fact that they’re unsigned. This probably shouldn’t surprise me so much these days as there are a lot of independent bands out there, but it initially struck me a bit of a crime. The truth of it, however, is that when a band is unsigned it means that they've got the freedom to do what they want with their music and image instead of having it locked-down and informed by so-called 'industry experts', who will take away their creative freedom and drain their soul and identity until there's an empty husk left. On the flip-side, it’s not easy being independent; there are a lot of things to juggle and a good deal of financial wrangling and shenanigans that go along with managing the band. Not just that - they also have to keep a grip on the reins on the creative and performance side of things too, so it's really nothing to be sniffed at and it's something that always draws a lot of respect from me.

If you, like I was, are unfamiliar with Of Allies, they’re a bunch of lads from Hull, Yorkshire, who have managed to get where they are through hard grafting, prodigious use of social media and, of course, being canny at writing the odd tune or two. They formed back in 2013 and released their debut album ‘Night Sky’ in 2017 to a raft of positive reviews. They even managed to score some airplay on several prominent Rock radio stations, which was an impressive feat indeed. The band, consisting of Rich Nichols on Vocals and Guitar, Tom Hewson on Guitar and Vocals, Nick Tyldsley on Bass Guitar and Danny Barrick on Drums, have already managed to amass a healthy legion of fans who will no doubt be excited to hear what’s in store for their ears on this new album.

So what do Of Allies sound like, then? Well, it’s actually pretty difficult to pin them down because I can hear a lot of influences in their sound, but according to the blurb on their own social media page they are described as being “...for fans of Twin Atlantic, Lower Than Atlantis, Mallory Knox and Deaf Havana”. I have to admit however that I’ve only vaguely heard of these bands, so I’m going to have to resort to describing how Of Allies sound by casting them with similarities to bands that I'm actually familiar with. To my ears, I’d probably say that they sound a bit like a mash-up of Incubus, Filter and Deftones because while they aren’t averse to the odd bit of riffage, they’ve got a deeply melodic, chilled-out and soulful side to them too.

‘Are We Better Off?’ delivers a good mix of heavy riffs, strong melodies, and quieter, more serene and reflective moments, and the thing that really shines about it is actually down to the vocals of lead singer Nichols as he’s got one hell of a set of pipes on him. He’s incredibly versatile and is equally adept at belting his vocals out during the noisier bits as he is at keeping them in check during the quieter sections, with probably the strongest of all of his vocals being on the leading track on the album, ‘An Echo (Or Nothing)’, which blew my socks off when I heard it for the first time. It’s a quintessential team effort though, as the rest of the band pull their weight equally - there’s absolutely solid guitar work by Hewson on all of the tracks, with his solos really punching through to the fore with verve, evident talent and great musicality. Tyldsley’s bass licks sound sufficiently meaty, but they’re buried a little too deep in the mix for my liking, and Barrick’s work on the pots and pans is impressive and he proves to be a dynamo that powers the rest of the band along with his punchy and dynamic drumming.

The album, while generally good, does have a few weak areas, though - it has a few peaks and troughs in terms of pacing and variety, and while there are no truly ‘bad’ tracks, some of them are a little perfunctory rather than properly engaging. The good news to counter that is that the good tracks outnumber those, with the afore-mentioned opening track ‘An Echo (Or Nothing)’ being one of the best as it jumps into a soaring and hooky anthemic chorus not long after it makes its entrance, and is powered along by pleasingly fuzzy guitars and massive drums. It definitely reminds me of a couple of Incubus tracks and to my ears wouldn’t sound out of place nestling next to some of the tracks on their ‘Morning View’ album, which is great praise indeed. ‘Blossoms’ is another one of the stronger tracks, in which the band breaks into a towering riff that almost sounds like its been pinched from Filter as it’s got a massive groove in it that makes the song instantly engaging and it barrels along at a big, stompy pace before going out with a bang.

An interesting thing about Of Allies is that they’re actually really good at creating softer, quieter tracks that are as hook-laden as their noisy ones, with ‘Deadlights’ being one of the highlights on the album. Nichols is able adapt his voice brilliantly on this track as he injects a mellow and soulful tone to it as the track, which weaves along gently before breaking into a brief but brilliant wall of noise as it comes to its conclusion. Another interesting thing about them is the fact that they successfully manage to incorporate an electronic element to their music; the title track ‘Are We Better Off?’ is all about soft electronic drums and synths, which they utilise brilliantly to create a beautifully dreamlike atmosphere that’s really rather wonderful to listen to. A lot of bands fail to incorporate electronic elements into their music with as much success, so hats off to the lads.

Summing up, I have to say that I’m super-impressed with Of Allies and this album. For a completely independent and unsigned band, they have achieved something rather impressive, and I won’t be surprised at all if they manage to get more airplay with this album than they did with their first, as they’ve crafted a sound which is hard to pin down and they don’t - as far as I’m aware - sound like anyone else out there at the moment, which is a pretty impressive achievement in itself. If this sounds appealing to you and you’re a fan of deeply melodical and emotional (but not particularly angsty) Rock music with soul and groove in equal measure, I’ve got a feeling that these guys might be right up your street.

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Review - Craig Henderson

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