“Winter Is Coming” and I’m sure I’m not the only closet Game Of Thrones fan who has started off a review of New Model Army’s 13th studio album this way. Truth is I had to wait a while for it to get here but now having spun the disc numerous times it is already like listening to an old friend. The 14 tracks here have been quick to work their charm and spread their stories to my heart and all that remains now is to await catching them live for the first time. Active since 1980, NMA are not the sort of band to be a casual observer with, you are with them for life. Thankfully it has been a long one despite some leaving it during these years. Justin Sullivan has weathered the course throughout and in recent years with albums such as Today Is A Good Day (2009) and ‘Between Dog And Wolf (2013) has driven the band from strength to strength and proven them to be as relevant today as they were over three and a half decades ago. I have kind of found this an album with many nuances of the old within its framework but also seeing the band moving forward with it. Not as wild as TIAGD and not quite as mellow an even dare I say experimental as BDAW, it fits in perfectly as another great chapter. Time to open the pages and dip straight in.
It starts as it should at the ‘Beginning’ and it has to be said my hard case dig pack with Joolz lovely artwork and pages of lyrics does truly resemble a small book. A throbbing tone moves into a slow-burning and poetic track vocally transporting you straight into a great tale. It takes time to stoke the flame and gradually builds around Michael Dean’s slow drum tattoo and some delicate keyboard parts, bass lines thicken and guitars and vocals become more strident then the full impassioned force hits with a mighty wallop; yep they are in the zone and so is the listener. Keeping the impetus flowing ‘Burn The Castle’ as title suggests is the album’s barnstorming anthem. A vitriolic call to arms that chugs in and storms the walls (maybe they have been watching Game Of Thrones too). One hit of the powerful chorus and you are well aware that it’s going to be met by stomping boots, clogs and whatever anyone else is sporting on their feet live. The title track is a chilly tale and after the violence of the last one the acoustic spark and pure narrative genius matched with compulsive melody lines makes it easy to see why it was chosen as first representation of the album. It just has you thinking of campfires and cold nights and is a dreamy and totally haunting number you cannot help falling in love with as it even touches upon psychedelic instrumental flurries hitting like snowflakes in a storm.
I really didn’t want to turn this into a track by track dissection but it’s kind of difficult not to. Each and every song has something about it, their own distinct personality, their own tale to tell and it’s nearly impossible not to completely immerse yourself in them. We have the powerful chorus of Part The Waters’ with some driving and rugged instrumental parts and rousing backing vocal chorals that take it to an almost fevered gospel pitch. Then there’s some classic and timeless melody lines, a twang to bass and guitar that take you right back to the early days on ‘Eyes Get Used To the Darkness.’ ‘Drifts’ has a subtle touch of the old violin about it and even a pinch of harmonica and the chorus of ‘Born Feral’ is kind of reminiscent to 90’s number ‘Impurity.’ It’s the music I am really concentrating on, yet to sit down and read the lyrics along to the tracks as they play but that is certainly going to be another major pleasure to discover with this album and even touching the surface of things in this respect is somewhat magical. ‘Die Trying’ for example serves as a sing-along acoustic ballad and is perfect for doing just that to.
There’s something about the chorus of ‘Devil’ that really hits you hard, it’s in a pinch proven as a favourite track due to this and it’s no surprise at all to discover that it has been chosen for the album’s second single. It’s another one that is guaranteed to sound absolutely massive live. There is a lot happening over these 14 tracks and I am going to stop going into the last few and leave you to discover them for yourself but this feels like a timeless and classic album one to unite the past and the present and prove yet again why New Model Army are held with the highest regard by their ever eager legion of fans. It also proves why they are followed so devoutly, as this is a band who have never failed to give 100%, putting as much in as they get back in dedication. Long may they continue too and although ‘Winter’ may have a seasonal touch it’s an album that is going to prove an addictive one all year round.
(9/10 Pete Woods)