Enter a drone on delay, drag out the scratches and build, call in a smooth set of chiming guitars and slam with a drum weighted howl. Hollow Thieves opens Bad Llama’s new EP with a clean polished anger and grandeur. It’s a guttural, frantic, neatly wrapped track with a sheen on the outside and grit running through. Slipped between the neat sheets of clean riffs, there are fleshed out guitars and grime heavy basslines, refined pummeled drums and vocals that moves from a tremolo tone to a sandpaper scream without compromise one way or other.
Bring Me The Horizon and Deftones are listed as bands who cast light on Bad Llama, I’d add Muse’s Showbiz and Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life to the references stated above. Showbiz for the zeal and the roll-with-the-punches. David Comes to Life for the thickening textures that lift and reduce through this five track release.
Apocrypha follows and displays a departure away from their high-shined firm footings. And though I suspect accidental, the opening intro does for Lenny Kravitz’s Fly Away riff as Manson did for Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus. Thug-rumble bass, guitars in phase, new slices of glam get sworn in. This ferocity mixes with succulent plush in a stadium sized grab for attention. Vibrato meets vocals that double with backing, rises and falls all perfectly formed. We crash into a break down where prog licks collide with a Green Day punk drop before crashing out slabs for the end. Bad Llama’s close study of their genre’s chemistry is coming out top at A*.
Polarize is the pitch for the widest song here. It’s been given the most space, the most room and most scope, but delicate aint sitting pretty. We move soaked in ambition for a feel-something stretch through grunge atmospherics and metal by numbers. I’m sad it’s more lurching than smooth, there’s parts on their own worth attention. If that focus stayed trained on the sound of the parts instead of the sound of the song, this could really be something to show.
But forgive us our sins, we all have them.
And forgiven they are in the songs that precede and the tracks that come after. The title track Crooked Empire takes us back to the pinpointed anger / release transitions that give us the best of this band. Mix this with the most harsh and aggressive sounds on here and we have a something we’re lost in. Spit, desperation, scream-emo-squeals, hushed whispers and howls hang fast and loose to the crackle and euphoric fuzz. ‘Nothing to Lose / Nothing to Prove’ gets sung in a falsetto croon… and leads into a brutal last act.
If Polarize shows off the worst inclinations of a band testing their strengths at all settings, the closing Blossom Rise puts those intentions right. It’s served up reduced with delicates over easy, heart-grabbing ambition switched out for intimacy, threads of light buried in avalanche waves of angst and pulsating anger.
Throughout this last track and throughout this release, there’s a gloss of refined atmospherics. That warm high-end glow from bands that came out of the gaps between gothic post punk and nu-wave, it’s a comforter running throughout. It’s too easy to say that the chemistry’s nailed, or just that formula’s aced. There’s a success in the blending of the parts and the shades that have shaped this band into their sound. There’s care to attention, there’s give-it-all balls. And there’s plenty of sharp-eyed surprise.
Crooked Empire was released in March 2018 and is available on Spotify now.