For most in 2020, bands had to stop all their release and recording plans, and that’s without taking into account touring. While most retreated into our screens and social media feeds with live streams, a couple of people by the name of Seb and Biff Byford decided to go the opposite way – form a band and record an album. As a father and son duo whose respective bands sound completely different to one another (Naked Six and Saxon, respectively, if you’re keeping score), they’ve come together to make a band and album which sounds like neither of their full-time efforts.
Heavy Water present a forward-looking album with nods to the past. Soaked in blues and grunge with hints of classic rock itself, there’s also plenty of modernity without straying into the generic territory. What connects both father and son in this album is their respective bombastic bands to create a new dynamic. It’s both moody and uplifting at once with dark riffs from Seb battering against Biff’s own thundering basslines. While there are some cleaner moments, the album excels in those fuzzy, grimy numbers like “Revolution” or the title track, both of which could sit easily with Led Zeppelin or prime-era Deep Purple with their chugging rhythms and classic riffs whilst hinting at the darkness found in bands like Walking Papers.
While both Byfords are vocalists to trade, neither tries to outshine the other, instead their raspy yet different vocal attacks complement one another. Each takes the reins in lead vocals on songs whilst the other’s backing vocals each bring a new flavour of darkness to the music. Whilst Biff may not be hitting the notes like classic Saxon albums, the blend of vintage and modern rock on the album never calls for it and he trades wails for a grittier approach. The jangle of slow-burner of “Tree in the Wind” has him go full into a breathier style before sending it into bluesy ballad, laced with longing. Byford Jr gets his own chance to shine with the dirtier tracks like opener “Solution” or the bluesy plodding “Personal Issue No. 1” works perfectly with his drawl but also getting the chance to show off his powerful set of lungs. It’s a track which could be right at home on a Naked Six release.
“Medicine Man” may be a tried and true title but the stomp of the riff against the purring bass ensures it stays interesting in the verses. However, it’s the chorus where things take a left turn as it turns into an early 2010s number so many bands were firing out and worked great on TV ads – the type of song where substance is traded in for bombast. Here, it works mainly because it’s not been done in a while and not a stumble on the album but one of the less interesting tracks whilst showing both Byfords can walk in unfamiliar territory with ease.
Where the album is at its strongest is the last three numbers of the trippy, surf-laden “Follow the Moment”, the dreamy “Now I’m Home” and the retro-fuelled “Faith” as it oozes blues from its pores. As different as each song is, it shows the strengths of the Byfords as their music dances across the spectrum and makes the final stretch of the album an absolute joy to listen to.
Red Brick City is far from a vanity project. It’s a deep and engaging album, as both Seb and Biff Byford draw on their strengths whilst both taking ventures into territory you ordinarily wouldn’t know them for. This could have easily been an album laden with grungy, bluesy numbers but the choice to put them in the backseat and allow variation and innovation to take the lead has made this one of the most refreshing and accomplished albums you’ll hear in 2021.
Header image by Steph Byford
Red Brick City is released on 23rd July