Review Summary: The Blackout have grown up, and their ambition moves from blind to critical.
While many a grizzled veteran will tell you that making and touring records is far from easy, there is little doubt that countless young bands starting out in the caper do so simply to have fun. At best, they tour the world and make some money. At worst, they party, sleep in and bum around until the next party. While it may be harsh, early releases from Welsh post-hardcore sextet The Blackout, suggested that they were one such outfit. However, something clearly clicked during the recording of their superb second LP 'The Best in Town'. The band had suddenly surpassed many of their peers and the world was potentially at their feet. For this reason, it is no surprise that subsequent LP 'Hope' is their most mature to date. The Blackout have grown up, and their ambition has moved from blind to critical.
It is appropriate then that 'Hope' opens up with a track called 'Ambition Is Critical'. Of course, songwriters cannot grow without infusing their lyrics with suitable irony, so The Blackout immediately suggest "Call me what you want, ask me what you will. We are doing this for nothing but the thrill", before proclaiming "Where we are, what we've found, is we don't need to wear your crown". The tune itself is rather indicative of the album as a whole. Clearly influenced by fellow Welshmen - and touring mates - Lostprophets, The Blackout target a larger audience third time around, by toning down their aggressive post-hardcore tendencies, while continuing to infuse their trademark fun and energy. The result is a collection of melodic rock tracks that always threaten to, but only occasionally, take off.
As a by-product of their pursuit of growth, diversity is not an issue on 'Hope', with The Blackout unafraid to test some waters. The aforementioned opener begins with distorted vocal effects, attention-seeking lead single 'Higher & Higher' features LA based rapper Hyro da Hero, and the soaring guitar lines of multiple cuts suggest that James & Matthew Davies have done their fair share of listening to U2 of late. All the ingredients are there, it is just the method in which they are combined that produces mixed results. Understandably, it is those songs which see The Blackout furthest from their comfort zone that fare worst, with the mid-tempo anthems being most inconsistent. Clearly targeting worldwide arenas and radio airplay, the catchy title track is lifted by call & response vocals and a guitar solo, but 'The Last Goodbye', 'You're Not Alone' and especially 'Keep On Moving' do nothing significantly memorable to differentiate The Blackout from the multitude of melodic rock bands in existence.
Predictably, it is those tracks which see The Blackout utilize their two-pronged vocal attack, which succeed most. And while Sean Smith continues to steadily improve his clean vocals, that generally means it is the heavier cuts which will satisfy here. 'Never By Your Side' is the first to showcase the dueling vocal approach, with Smith's manic screams intertwining with Gavin Butler's clean vocals during the verses, before the infectious chorus characteristically explodes. 'No More Waiting' channels Rage Against the Machine with its "Wake Up" call to arms, while 'This Is Our Time' injects a hardcore punk vibe with its gang chants. Best of the pack however, is 'The Devil Inside', a song which successfully marries menacing guitar tones, frantic screams & shout out loud catchiness.
No, The Blackout are still not looking to reinvent the wheel with 'Hope', but it is clear that the sextet have grown as a unit. Many will find it difficult to take their maturing seriously, but 'Hope' is the natural progression that was required for the Welshmen to experience longevity. Solid and relatively consistent, 'Hope' is better than a "finding their feet" experiment, yet that is ultimately what it is. With vocals advancing once more, and the musicianship undoubtedly tightening up, the future is rosy for The Blackout. It is quite fitting then that it is Hope's closer 'The Storm', which brings it all together in genuinely impressive fashion. Some killer spiraling guitar lines join what may be the album's best vocals, to provide a glimpse of what may be in store for The Blackout's future. Let's just hope that they do not progress to the grizzled veteran stage too hastily.
Recommended Tracks: The Devil Inside, The Storm, Hope (Scream It Out Loud) & Never By Your Side.