BlackWolf had an incredible debut album at the start of 2014. So much so that it stood shoulder to shoulder with bands like Foo Fighters, Slash and Rival Sons at the end of the year. Having launched a successful PledgeMusic campaign, one I contributed to, and with Toby Jepson at the helm, it was safe to say expectations were high.
Before the album dropped in my inbox a couple of days ago, it was preceded with some news: BlackWolf was undergoing big changes by way of a new name. Step forward: illustr8ors. Citing new views on the band’s sound and their hopes for the future, it’s not a decision to be made lightly.
However, and there’s a massive one here: if Photopia was played to me blind, I’d instantly say it was BlackWolf. Sure, the new album has some growth on it and the bluesy edge to their hard rock has been sanded down so it’s not so prominent. But it’s still there.
Admittedly, I was caught on the back foot when I hit the play button. “Something Biblical” comes racing out of the gate from the start and is a relentless beast; foaming at the mouth and pinning you to the wall. It’s straight-forward hard rock; old familiar for me. Right there, for three minutes and change, I understood the name change and as the album crashed into the second track, understanding came to an abrupt halt. The rest of the album presents a natural evolution of a band’s sound. As I’ve already mentioned, if you were familiar with BlackWolf, you’d be hard-pressed to think of another band if you heard this.
Photopia is a brilliant album showcasing the talents of a promising band and Toby Jepson continues to prove his newfound career as a producer has to be one of the best things to happen to the rock industry in recent years. He’s knocked it out of the park once again. Any excess fat has been trimmed away and illustr8ors sound tighter than ever, their past couple of years refining their performance. No track hits the four minute mark and after blinking a couple of times, you realise the adrenaline-fuelled romp is over, begging you to hit the play button once again. And you will.
Scott Sharp’s voice is as soulful as Danny Bowes’, hitting notes with ease; his rich, powerful voice flowing throughout tracks, rising and dropping where necessary on tracks like “Your Animal” and “Swimming With Anchors”. Meanwhile John Greenhill and Jason Cronin’s guitars recognisably wail and crunch, aiming for the modern hard rock angle but ensuring the blues influences remain, albeit far less pronounced than before, swaying around each other with ease on songs like “Feels Like Dying” and “Shush Shush”.
Meanwhile, Ben Webb’s bass lines rumble and groan like an impending maelstrom whilst giving songs a funky swagger with a gargantuan groove on “Won’t Bury Me” which will make you involuntarily sway. And Thomas Lennox-Brown on drums thunders trough his drums parts, deepening the soulful edge of the songs.
Photopia is an album which has certainly been worth the wait and illustr8ors could have easily released this under the BlackWolf name as it sounds like a natural evolution rather than a complete re-invention. I’ll be interested to see how the gutsy move plays out but regardless of names, illustr8ors have a mighty album on their hands.
Photopia is out now