Nothing is ever going to stop this army marching on, no matter what is flung at them the charge is constant and despite at times it seems as though Bradford’s finest are cursed they have made it through all the odds surviving 33 years to deliver their twelfth studio album to their dedicated fans, who like me have been with them every step of the way. They have persevered through deaths, on stage electrocutions and most recently the destruction of their mill, recording studio along with much of their equipment and the somewhat surprising (well I certainly didn’t see it coming) departure of bassist Nelson after 22 years of active service. Justin Sullivan has kept things flowing through all the years and the band are constantly touring and as anyone who has seen them will contest as one of the most dynamic forces you will ever witness on stage. Albums may not come out on a yearly basis but keep us waiting expectantly, well thought out with time between them for new songs to develop and new stories to be told. Last album ‘Today Is A Good Day’ was the hungriest we had seen them for years containing some urgent barn-storming numbers not in my opinion seen since the likes of ‘Impurity’ and ‘The Love Of Hopeless Causes.’ If that is what you were expecting here, well it’s not what you are going to find. ‘Between Dog And Wolf’ sees the band in more reflective, gentler and poetic mood. Not that this is bad, we have been here before with the likes of ‘Eight,’ ‘Carnival’ and ‘High.’ Look on this as a slight step aside but it has plenty of moments about it and the new songs draw you in as expected. The stories are not epic but there are a lot of them, 14 in all and over an hours-worth of music. Let’s open the page, turn the cover and step inside.
As ‘Horsemen’ canters in you first can’t help but note the rich crystalline production and the mark that the tribal beat puts on things. Drummer Michael Dean really marks his territory excellently throughout the album and without anything guitar wise dramatically taking the charge on the opening song it is left to him and vocal harmonies along with Dean White’s wispy keyboard to take you into an almost ‘Man Like Horse’ shamanic state. ‘March In September’ lands perfectly at this time of year. And melodies flirt with old favourite numbers before opening up into a dynamic slow-burning chorus with backing vocal “whoos” which wouldn’t be out of place in stadium headlining band’s armoury. It’s just one of many tracks that infectiously sinks claws in after several listens. ‘Seven Times’ meanders around with some convoluted guitar parts and that tribal feel is back. There is a feeling of looseness and even experimentation about things but in a controlled fashion too and as tracks progress there is a feel that at times things have gone back in time to tales of old, less troubled and confusing times. The artwork and simplistic nature of things with none of the instrumental parts in battle add to this, everything strikes as being in total balance. ‘I Need More Time’ does build up into one of the albums most rigorous moments and jams away like a good un (for wont’ of a better phrase) with new bassist Ceri Monger solidifying his position.
I keep coming back to thoughts of primitive man worshipping nature and the gods. Is not ‘Pulling The Sun’ the opposite of Drawing Down The Moon? There are songs however that bring us into more recent history (in a retro way) and as Mambo Queen on the last album had a lot of people asking questions about its theme Knievel is bound to do so here. You are not going to be able to listen to this without a mind full of images and again the simple acoustic ebb of the music along with the rafter rising chorus line are pure magic. ‘Storm Clouds’ sees the electrics turned back on and the meter is running with some nice chugging guitar lines building into the album’s most anthemic peaks. It’s still no ‘War,’ Wonderful Way’ or Love The World’ etc but it gets the blood flowing nicely and you can easily see this one being the number that has the pyramids forming live. It also allows Marshall to get some metallic licks down.
The title song is somewhat odd with what sounds like xylophone tinkling away and a feeling of the band playing in a free-form, care free, somewhat experimental fashion but completely enjoying doing so, throwing any pre-conceived shackles away in the process. It’s a quirky number and I can again see the audience cutting some sort of strange jig to this as they enjoy it live. We have been to different continents before and the ethnic twists and turns of ‘Quasr El Nil Bridge’ takes us to the dusky Saharan gulf with the shadow of conflict brooding heavily over things. It’s another different but enlightening number seeing the band ever evolving down unexpected but welcome paths. ‘Tomorrow Comes’ takes us back to the old days and it could almost hark to ‘Vengeance’ although it’s in a mellower way the passion and yearning is very much there as are the excellent harmonies. The vocals are fantastic and the backing chants spot on, plenty to love about this.
We almost come full circle ending with that tribal canter on ‘Ghosts’ feeling as though we have been taken on a great journey through times and civilisations and one that is full of wonder. It may not have been quite what was expected but having spent time to immerse myself in this I am completely at ease and content with where it has taken me. Fans of the band should also embrace this with open arms and I cannot wait to see how some of these songs translate live on tour. The mark here is a cautious one rather than me being an ultimate fan-boy and giving the band full points for everything they do. ‘Between Dog And Wolf’ is all part of New Model Army’s evolution, long may it continue and it’s great to see they still have the power to both illuminate and surprise after all these years.
(8/10 Pete Woods)