There’s a lot of expectation for this, New Model Army’s 13th Studio album, following the success of their last full player Between Dog and Wolf, itself the first New Model Army album to reach the Top 40 of the UK charts since 1993’s The Love of Hopeless Causes. Like perhaps all New Model Army releases Between Dog and Wolf opened up a lot of debate and it was an album generally loved by all, but many would have liked to have seen a rockier edge to this thoughtful and contemplative piece of work. What was clear though was the NMA were back at their creative best and they had also gone to great lengths to ensure the production and the presentation of the album matched their ambitions; recording drums in specialist facilities and travelling to LA to get the mixing and mastering right. I personally loved the album.
So fast forward three years and NMA are ready to unleash their latest album, Winter, on the world. The same level of professionalism, production and presentation (the artwork, much like all NMA, is as stunning and as much a part of the story as the recorded content) has gone into Winter but this time NMA have stayed local and recorded and mixed this with Leeds Greenmount Studios and this has really worked for them. The team at Greenmount have really been able to capture the essence of what New Model Army are about. So we get a more punk, more inventive, rockier album but with the same level of production as before. The separation of the instruments in some of the more intense moments, the way the drums pound that tribal beat, the guitars are deliberately distorted, peaking at the top level but the bass still sits nicely on top… this has all helped create one of NMA’s best albums to date.
I know that everyone has different top New Model Army tracks and that this debate alone could last a lifetime but for me opening track “Beginning” has already become one of my new favourites, and I honestly believe one of the best tracks they have written to date. This is everything I ever want from a song; sincerity, that melancholy sense of longing. I would say this is a bit of an epic track, lasting 7 minutes and starting with just a simple 90’s sounding distorted guitar and Justin’s vocals. But even at this early stage there is a sense of anticipation in only that simple guitar sound, as though Justin is on the edge. When Michael Dean’s drums come in, it is with that NMA signature sound – tom heavy and well suited.
One of the signatures of this album is this organic coupling of the drums and the DIY punk sounding guitars. The opening guitar may be peaking but the lead is even more so. It is not quite so straightforward as an ever imploding opener, there are breaks where we get a bit of piano and the sounds weave in and out. The guitars are being played to the extreme but best of all the song builds to an all-out roar of an ending and becomes a song that you can get completely lost in. I don’t know about you but that ticks one of my criteria for a classic song. It feels like a storm that the band are wrestling to control and only just managing. Pure brilliance.
To complement this start, “Burn The Castle” will wipe any thoughts that this is Dog and Wolf Part 2 out of your mind. It is a classic NMA rock singalong and is going to be a great live song. It seamlessly begins where the last song ends. I know that as time goes on Justin has no problems explaining his lyrics in his interviews but for now I just have to go on what I am hearing. With “Burn The Castle”, it seems we have a call to arms about the leaders letting us down and not protecting us.
It is this side of New Model Army that in the past always seems to get highlighted. Are NMA a political band? I would say not, I think that lyrically they are a band that will make a social commentary and that also they are incredibly empathetic with the world that they see around them. There are two songs on this new album which highlight this so well. Any band that challenges its audience and gets them thinking about the plight of those they may not feel personally connected with is going to be creating something very special. The best of these on this album is “Die Trying”. It’s a simple acoustic guitar-led track but if you ever needed a song to highlight that empathy, this is it. It appears to be about refuges at Calais trying to get over to the UK but really could be a song representing refuges anywhere. Those so desperate to be safe they will risk their lives trying. The imagery in this song is great and I hope it moves more people to help out those more in need. The layered vocals of the main chorus will make you stop for pause. “Winter storms and the snow flying, Razor wire and the gulls crying, Cross the water or die trying.”. This theme is also picked up elsewhere on the album. On “Part the Waters” there is a Moses theme to helping refugees escape. Its almost a question as to who will be that Moses and help these people. It’s a rockier track and the energy works with this question.
Winter comes in at thirteen tracks long and every track has its merits and – much as I would like to go into detail of each one of them – I am limited with what I can cover. You will just have to wait until August 26th to hear it for yourself. Many of the themes from a NMA album are there. On the excellent first single “Winter” we are left with the image of New Model Army forever on a windy moor looking into the distance. “Born Feral” is another standout track and another song that is going to be great live. It has a true organic feel to the beat and the cry of the “Born Feral “chorus is rousing to say the least. There are so many great tracks to choose From: “Devil”, “Strogoula”, “Eyes Get Used to the Darkness”… all are great.
New Model Army are without a doubt at a creative peak at the moment and Winter really enhances the back catalogue. This is New Model Army, it is punk, it’s thoughtful, it’s athematic, it is empathetic, it is a contradiction, it makes you stop and makes you want to dance. What more could you expect from them? With all that is going on right now in the world, the world needs New Model Army now more than ever. If it doesn’t make you stop and think about things, it will certainly make you dance and forget.
Winter is out on August 26th