An aggressive, muscular and diverse album, I'm Not Well is an early front runner for the best album of the year.
There has been somewhat of a resurgence in the British rock scene recently following the simultaneous stumble of the post-Lostprophets generation of British punk rock-metal – see the likes of You Me At Six, Bullet For My Valentine, and The Blackout – following the rave reviews and chart records of Royal Blood’s self-titled debut album in 2014. Since, bands such as Moose Blood have broken through from the unknown and Bring Me The Horizon has garnered significant popularity through a more deviated pop-metal sound to help breathe a bit of life back into the community. Exeter’s Black Foxxes is another band seeking to join this resurgence and stake their claim among the best, and they certainly achieve this with debut album I’m Not Well.
The album starts off with the fantastic title track, easing in with Mark Holley’s vocals and guitar for the first verse. His moans are a soothing yet rough sound leading to a terrific crescendo, in which bassist Tristan Jane and drummer Ant Thornton crash in as Holley cries “‘Cos I’m not well / No, teach me to breathe!” His vocals are refreshing with his rippling riff work, easing the song out in similar fashion to its opening. This fantastic beginning only continues with ‘Husk,’ a muscular stunner of a track. Guitars chug away with Jane’s bass in particular serving the song with a dense and heavy sound. The band describes its music as rock/depression pop, and this clearly shines through even further with ‘Husk’ – “I’m now a lying narcissist / Faith town fickle shit,” shrieks Holley – and its lyrics’ anger and aggressiveness translates tremendously to its anthemic and enormous sound.
‘Whatever Lets You Cope’ certainly resides more in the depression-pop side of band’s output, being a slower and more melancholic song both in lyrics and music – the guitars are reminiscent of the emo-riffs of the late 90s-early 2000s scene, à la Sunny Day Real Estate. Nonetheless, it feels right at home among the pure aggression of I’m Not Well, and other tracks such as ‘River’ play out in the same vein and to much the same degree of success.
‘Maple Summer’ is another standout track which expertly combines the two sides of the I’m Not Well coin: heartfelt, emotive lyrics and hugely powerful instrumentation. Conversely, ‘Bronte’ is mellower and slower, though still carrying significant heft behind it. These two tracks alone stand as great examples of the musical diversity and maturity of Black Foxxes in what is a remarkable debut. I’m Not Well is neither an album of repetition nor one that plays it safe, instead remaining experimental and, quite frankly, epic in scope.
Just when it seems like the record could face the age-old rock ‘n’ roll dilemma of a reliance on filler material, ‘Home’ and ‘Slow Jams Forever’ launch a (good) assault on the eardrums with their earth-rattling choruses, particularly in the riffs. ‘Pines’ closes in serious style, embodying the album’s sound with delectably heavy guitars and some awesome, thunderous drumming to back them up.
A unique and refreshing behemoth of a debut, I’m Not Well could well be a game changer for not only the British rock scene, but for the wider world of rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps the most important album since Royal Blood, it’s a soaring, awe-inspiring album from the most exciting band in rock and undoubtedly the best album of the year so far.
I’m Not Well is out now via Spinefarm Records