I have spoken before about how over at Musical Outcast towers I have a tendency to get drawn to the unorthodox, and well, it’s happened again. It’s not often that you get to review a rock band who have a violinist but that’s exactly what I currently find myself doing. I mean plenty of rock bands have dabbled in using an orchestra or using strings in some way but how many of them actually have a violinist?? I know I can’t think of any. So I was really interested to get my hands on this record by Sky Burns Red, I love rock music and I love strings, win win situation right?
Sky Burns Red are Jase Johnson (Vocals, guitar) Laura Williams (Violin) Michael Bowditch (Bass) and James Grey. (Drums) The band are based in Swindon and list rum among their interests… I’m starting to like them already.
Things get underway with the immensely grandiose ‘Malfunction.’ The strings soar, the gravely vocal from Johnson towers over everything before it. The blend of the strings with the grungy sounding guitars is absolutely spot on; it’s an absolutely brilliant way to start the album. ‘Biting Hands’ is nowhere near as heavy and has a totally different feel. On any project versatility is a massive plus for me; I like to get the impression that the band have stretched themselves at least to some degree. In contrast to the roaring opener this track practically skips along, with everything feeling a whole lot more refined, less blood and thunder and more sophistication.
The first thing that strikes you about ‘Pens Down’ is ‘Man that intro sounds like it’s from an Arctic Monkeys tune!’ It’s frightening similar to their earlier work it has to be said. As for the remainder, it’s all about rapid fire lyrics and a big hook. These big, powerful choruses seem to be something that the band have a knack for writing, and as far as song writing goes that’s a pretty helpful knack to have. The rolling drums which drive ‘Lost At Sea’ make you feel like you’re cast away on some sea battered vessel being tossed around by the waves. Again the violin gives the track quite a grand feeling and more impact and emotion than it would have had otherwise. I was worried that the violin would sound forced, like it had just been dropped in as a gimmick but in truth that couldn’t be further from the truth as it fits alongside everything else really well.
‘Constellations’ for the most part is your classic stripped back rock ballad. The main emphasis is on the vocal from Johnson and he isn’t found wanting with the sweeping violin melody from Williams in the background carrying the track along. It isn’t until around two thirds of the way through that things really go up a gear leading to a great grandstand finish.
The following track ‘Riddle’ comes within inches of being the best song that you have heard this year. The guitar ominously looms over the track as the withdrawn violin oozes menace, even the vocal seems to hint at impending doom. Basically the whole track feels like it is building towards a monumental drop which will blow your speakers to shit, but that drop doesn’t quite arrive. Don’t get me wrong there is a drop where the band channel their inner Nirvana and the guitars ramp up and the vocal hits a scream but it still feels like there is a bit of restraint there. The band could have really gone for it, picked up the tempo launched into a guitar solo and turned this great song into an absolute epic masterpiece but for whatever reason that doesn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong this is a great track but as it ended I felt like a love-sick teenager again… ‘Oh what might have been…’
‘Blah Blah Blah’ sees the feeling of doom shaken off as the band up the tempo and return to more familiar territory. Up tempo and full of energy it’s another really good track. The big choruses are back as ‘Cowboys’ kicks into life but I have to say that this song took a good handful of listens to really grow on me, but when it did the results were very rewarding.
Up next is probably my least favourite on the record. There is nothing drastically wrong with ‘Bring Your Boys’ but I found it all just a bit safe. It just feels like we’ve heard this all before and the track really doesn’t stand out in any way. It’s a decent enough album track but it won’t live long in the memory. I made reference above to the band channelling their inner Nirvana and the grunge legends were definitely a big influence on ‘Cat And Mouse.’ In fact had Kurt Cobain played violin instead of guitar then there is a far chance that this is what it would have sounded like. The track has more of a rock kick than the previous couple and after the blandness of the last song this is a welcome return to form.
‘It’s Not Me It’s You’ fakes like it’s about to launch into ballady (I’ve just decided that that’s a word) nothingness but then the guitars crunch in and all is well. The violin is so sweeping it will knock you off your feet on what is in the end a really strong track. As many of you know I’m never short of an opinion or two but I genuinely don’t know what I think about ‘You CAN Stop… Just Saying.’ On some listens I like it and then on others I don’t get what my own fuss was about. On the last listen as I write this I like it, the understated intro and the almost stabbing feel of the violin during the verses being the highlight.
It’s just a personal thing but I always like my rock albums to finish with a massive bang so I’m not a massive fan of when bands take the ballad route, it just makes it feel like the album finishes on a flat note. There are exceptions to the rule of course but generally speaking I don’t like it. The only thing that saves ‘Little Man’ from falling completely foul of the aforementioned problem is a quicker section mid-way through, otherwise I don’t think the track is strong enough to use as a closer. I have nothing against the track it’s just the placing of it that I’m not quite sure about.
All in all Machines is a really good listen. The things that I mentioned that I didn’t like or marked it down for are hardly massive but they do stop the album from taking the next step up on the ladder to being exceptional. The lack of a real signature killer guitar riff/solo is also a slight negative. However, there is a load of stuff to be positive about, the album has a great flow, the vocal is very impressive, and the songs showcase plenty of variety. Plus much to my delight the violin isn’t a gimmick! It actually really enhances the band’s sound, so they get a massive thumbs up for that. There’s plenty of replay value and lots to enjoy, overall a good little album.
‘Machines’ is out now