Right at the beginning of 2016, an album entitled All in Time landed in my inbox boasting of influences from Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown and basically any other notable modern day household-name band you can think of. It was everything I wanted from a band and they were from the UK and the album was superb. What followed them was deluge of similar sounding bands and whilst so many of them have been great, with the odd exception, they all sounded roughly the same.
Where Stone Broken had the edge was, not only were they the first, but they made sure they were one of the best and looking at what has followed since their debut, they’ve had one hell of a journey. Ain’t Always Easy finds the Walsall quartet striking while the iron’s still hot. Opening with “Worth Fighting For”, the young hard rockers immediately show how they’ve grown. A song of empowerment, much like their influences, they’ve got one of their own now. Gritty and slightly cynical in places and followed up by “Let Me See it All”, it’s immediately obvious how much they’ve grown as musicians and songwriters.
“Heartbeat Away” paints a dark picture of bullying and domestic violence held in place with Kieron Conroy’s bass work and Robyn Haycock’s unsettlingly mirroring of someone being punched. Backing onto it is “Home”, lifting the album’s title from its lyrics, it’s the album’s “big ballad” moment with its acoustic leanings. Revisited later with “Anyone”, its lyrics are just as heartfelt but packed just a bit less oomph than the former.
Stone Broken have been conscious in not making the same album twice whilst sticking true to their core sound. Instead of pushing the genre further, they’ve looked at other influences and the album veers into the post-grunge sound at times. It’s hard not to make the comparison when Rich Moss could stand in for Tyler Connolly and you’d struggle to tell the difference. Mixed with his and Dean Back’s crunchy guitars, there’s some songs here which could have come from the first couple of Theory of a Deadman albums.
Closing out the album is “The Only Thing”. Upbeat, complex and exceptionally radio-friendly, it’s far less dark than the rest of the album but parting shots go, they could have chosen far worse. It sounds like it should have been on the first album and feels like the estranged distant cousin of the rest of Ain’t Always Easy… yet it works. Whilst its ending makes you think there’s more to come, if it was buried halfway into the tracklist, it would have been ignored and ultimately, it wouldn’t have worked.
Upping the production values from the first time around, it’s far better mixed. Moss’ voice is much higher, guitars are a touch more subdued with its darker, grittier sound. It’s still exactly what you’d expect from Stone Broken and bands of their ilk. Meanwhile, Robyn Haycock continues to be an excellent drummer, flexing her muscles more on this record and working well with Conroy’s thrumming bass lines. Lyrically, it’s about finding hope and empowering those who need those words of encouragement without becoming cliché.
There’s points where Ain’t Always Easy feels at odds with itself. With Stone Broken presenting their sound in a more post-grunge fashion, they should sound rawer yet with better production, it’s negated it. Not having quite the same impact as the first album, no tracks particularly stand out besides the afore-mentioned “The Only Thing”. As they’ve grown as people and musicians in the last two years, their sound has matured, delivering what they did last time around but more full-bodied.
Header image by Paul Harries
Ain’t Always Easy is released on 2nd March