Album Review: New Model Army – “Winter”
New Model Army have undergone something of a creative Indian summer in recent years, with 2013’s Between Dog And Wolf (and its companion album Between Wine And Blood) being one of their most acclaimed and best-selling for years. So it’s safe to say they might just have raised the bar a bit in terms of expectations for this one.
It begins as uncompromisingly as you’d expect with the slow-building tribal drums and seething vocals of Justin Sullivan building up the seven minute epic Beginning. The furious political anger of Burn The Castle harks right back to NMA’s Smalltown England debut and is all the better for it, while the acoustic led title track and refugee lament Die Trying bring back memories of classics like 51st State and Poison Street. Eyes Get Used To The Darkness meanwhile is a distant cousin of No Rest with its lyric of “If our eyes get used to the darkness, we’ll see the damage that we’ve done”, and the frenetic Weak And Strong is cut from similar cloth.
It’s not all harking back to the past though, as easy as that would be to do. The mournful Part The Waters has a seasick almost folk-waltz feel to it, while the skeletal Born Feral (which has a haunting almost dub-like extended outro) is a touching tribute to lost comrades. At the other end of the scale, the ferocious Devil is a scathing tirade against the “me first and sod the rest of you” ethic of modern society, built over a ferocious tribal drumbeat. The wistful After Something, meanwhile, helps to end the album on a more sedate note and is one of the highlights.
It takes a hell of a balancing act to come up with an album that reminds you of all the best moments of a band’s past while still sounding like it’s striking out for new ground and saying something relevant. New Model Army deserve huge respect for not only pulling such a trick off but doing so with quite some panache.
Following up an album like Between Dog And Wolf was never going to be easy but if anything, Winter is actually even better. At once a reminder of everything that's made NMA such a great band down the years and simultaneously moving its horizons forward to take in new ideas, there's several bands who would kill to write an album this good at this stage of their careers.