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New Model Army - Between Wine And Blood (2014) - Review

Band: New Model Army
Album title: Between Wine And Blood
Release date: 8 September 2014
Label: Attack Attack Records

CD1 - Studio
01. According To You
02. Angry Planet
03. Guessing
04. Happy To Be Here
05. Devil’s Bargain
06. Sunrise

CD2 - Live
01. Stormclouds
02. March In September
03. Did You Make It Safe
04. I Need More Time
05. Pull The Sun
06. Lean Back And Fall
07. Seven Times
08. Between Dog And Wolf
09. Summer Moors
10. Knievel
11. Horsemen

30 years have elapsed since the release of New Model Army's debut album Vengeance, yet this unrivalled band from Bradford seems definitely embarked on its second youth. In 2013, Between Dog And Wolf already marked a before and after in New Model Army's career, having drawn both popular and critical acclaim to the point of being the band's best-selling album in decades, as well as reaching high positions in the main European charts. However New Model Army is an insatiable live beast and, as such, its resurgence was ratified by the fired-up audiences attending the band's major Between Dog and Wolf European tour late last year. I know what I am talking about, because I've been an eye witness to one of those memorable rituals. Nearly in parallel with the long-awaited documentary film about the band's history, New Model Army has launched its latest musical output in September. Entitled Between Wine And Blood, the new release comprises of a 6-track studio mini album and an 11-track live album recorded on the aforementioned tour.

The new songs on Between Wine And Blood give continuity to the preceding ones, embodying the band's wholly owned stirring rawness in duly retrofit sounds that still retain the fierce, frankness and passion which have made New Model Army a legend. Once more, the renown producer Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age... the list would be endless) has been in charge of the album's mixing, making every instrumental line shine with its own natural light, adding his peerless analogue sonic touch and taking care of the arrangements to the finest detail. The alchemy between both New Model Army and Barresi works so well that, in the words of Justin Sullivan himself, "... beginning to feel very much as if Joe's part of the NMA family". One easily perceives it when listening to the band's two last recorded offerings. What, moreover, is to be said about Joolz Denby's evocative artworks, somehow a redolent of cave paintings, which have become an inseparable complement for NMA's music. On this occasion, some devilish figures in black have been set in a raging contrast against completely red and splattered backgrounds, weaving in clues about the slight sound darkening of this album in comparison to the previous one. Again, a human dilemma arises from the title - dog or wolf, wine or blood - what, together with all of the above, connects this release with its predecessor while giving it a sort of murky B-side character.

Making the unveiling honours is "According To You", driven by churning bass chords and fleeting acoustic swirls that convey an acid social criticism: "... / According to you / There isn't anything left to believe in / Because you never could see / That there is everything that we are receiving / ...". While its 70's flavored, spiritual chants, cadenced rhythms and hooky melodies reinforce Justin's shamanic call for hope: "... / Come back to us all /...". It has such enrapturing vibe that it's impossible to take your ears off of it. "Angry Planet" comes next, releasing all its anthemic power through the trademark driving: choral grind of rattling drum thuds, roaring riffs and that typical low paired chords sounding like a ticking clock. Over the song's third minute, voltage momentarily drops off and all vanishes into a weirdly stringed, noisey passage which hints at Earth's irritation. Seconds after the track recovers its electrifying pace, leading to a thrilling last part. Then, some stringed percussion lines and classical arrangements are added to the mix providing an exotic, flawless finish to this piece which, at times, sounds as if it were a living being. "... / As the pressure moves the mountains, seven billion now and counting / As the monkey tribes advance across the ruined land / Sown with seed of mono-culture, war and rain and revolution coming / But I know it isn't personal - I just live on an angry planet". With modern-day vitality but also recalling the band's storied past, "Guessing" enters exultant and feisty like a rocking cry for freedom. Rolling bass grooves, ringing twangs, pounding drums, rattles near collapsing and the medicine man making us sharers in his heartfelt, foreboding chants. It's a rush of organic energy that brings together several key points to understanding New Model Army's musical singularity. Following "Happy To Be Here" suggests a haunting fascination towards dark and lonesome realms. Built in a bleak three time, this track seems to emerge from an other-worldly plane. Founded on clean guitars, sea waves simulations, shuffling drums and eloquently sorrowful vocals, music mirrors the title's irony in a ghostly, stark style which is quite reminiscent of Johnny Cash. Still stuck in that unnerving environment, the tribal drums on "Devil's Bargain" conjure up a dreamy whirlwind of violin, dulcimer and distant-sounding wails of guitar that ends up swallowing Justin's dismayed singing. Its mournful, ethnic musicality puts the listener's sensitivity to the test. This tune treasures a masterly work which, together with that on "Angry Planet", is the highlight of the mini-album in my opinion. "People are like trees, they sway and they bend / But you stand like a rock nad face into the wind / They call this faith, they call it a Devil's bargain...". In many ways connected with the opening track, "Sunrise" puts a serene, mellow closing parenthesis, throughout which Sullivan thrusts us into an intimate place where his affected vocals and acoustic pickings take on a particularly radiant, genuine sheen.

What you are ultimately left with is an album swelling with purely totemic rock; thrilling and authentic such as horseback riding without a saddle into the distance.

Review written by: Billyphobia
Rating: 9/10