Adolescence is Gnarwolves most accomplished record to date
Gnarwolves had a fairly rapid ascent to become one of the darlings of the British punk scene. Granted it was a rapid ascent built on the back of relentless touring and they were the darlings that sang about skating and getting high, but in less than three years they built up a devoted fan base through a series of critically acclaimed EP’s. This initial rise culminated in the release of their fantastic self-titled debut album in 2014, the year that they also played the main stage of Reading and Leeds Festivals. From here it would have been fairly easy for them to plan their attack on to the next level by refining the pop-punk elements of their sound and acting as support on more lucrative tours. Instead they kept touring the punk circuit and brought along excellent bands like The Smith Street Band and Great Cynics, worked on side projects (ILL and Shit Present), and delved into their heavier, 80s hardcore influences for a new EP, Adolesence.
The four track EP comes in well under ten minutes and barely gives you a moments rest. Opener ‘The Waiting Line’ is one of the heaviest songs the band has ever done and sees Gnarwolves tighter than ever in their writing. The song jumps around eclectically, never waiting on a rhythm or a riff for more than a couple of bars before attacking you from a different album. It’s immediately noticeable how massive the rhythm section of Charlie Piper and Max Weeks sounds, driving relentlessly up and down the frets, around the kit and through the kit. This solid base has allowed Thom Weeks’ guitar playing to be more expansive than ever; combining rapid riffs with stinging solos that never let you settle. The song is equally dark and pointed lyrically, with Weeks spitting “Do you ever worry your life is growing stale, Listening to the same old fucking tune? Well you're the lucky one, Sat rotting uncomfortably, Feeling nothing, Staring blankly at a screen”.
Track two ‘Daydreamer’ has a more approachable opening. It’s less aggressive sonically than ‘The Waiting Line’ and Weeks initially sings in his catchier, pop punk influenced style. However, a certain anger and contempt comes through in the delivery and the songs gets heavier and darker as it builds. Lyrically this is some of Thom’s best work, it builds from the poetic and almost tentative opening verse (“But I watch a moon grow, I watch it wane and seem too slow, We could embrace this thickening fear , Or hide away and just get stoned”), into the assertive second (“Buy a home, fulfill your goals, Let your complex ego know, You're so scared to disappear, And it grabs you by the throat”). The tightness of the band then shines through again as the song breaks down into a long (by Gnarwolves standards) solo from Thom as Charlie and Max relentlessly drive towards the finish in a borderline thrash style, increasing the tempo and noise with every bar. If I was a good writer/a dick I’d say that given the reflective lyrics about growing older and grasping at an increasingly wistful purpose, this might represent how time moves ever quicker as we age and that it gets exponentially more difficult to catch up with life when it starts to slip away, but I’m not, so I won’t.
Things seem to take a breather with ‘Blondie’, Gnarwolves first ever acoustic song. Thom’s acoustic solo work is often very intricate and soulful, but this is simpler musically and has a dark haunting atmosphere. Thom’s vocal delivery is excellent and ‘Blondie’ is a thematic contrast from the contempt and fear he seems to have for a life without striving for something that characterised the first two tracks, and discusses the darker realities of his life in a band. The track clocks in at one minute and doesn’t interrupt the frenetic pace of the EP thanks to Thom’s excellent delivery that makes you feel like something could explode at any moment, which it does. From the dark refrain of “got me hanging me on the telephone” the band launch into the heavy riff of closer ‘Bad Dreams’. This song is a mash up of Gnarwolves disparate styles and influences that have shined through throughout the EP. This is probably some of Charlie’s best bass work as the opening riff is replaced by the rhythm section that drives the first verse. This continues the more directly personally writing of ‘Blondie’ and features some excellent lines from Thom (“I make a plan to start smiling and I intend to keep it”). For the short and cacophonic chorus Thom’s delivery becomes a dark, metal growl as he starkly spits “I’m a chump, sixth month’s still dreaming, bad dreams”. This is perhaps the heaviest moment on the record, but it bleeds into the perhaps the most pop punk for the bridge. The slowed down tempo also gives the air of finality to what is a really phenomenal EP.
Gnarwolves have always been more than a party punk or skate punk band. They might write about drugs and parties, but there has always been a strong element of commentary and reflection in their work. Adolescene is the record that sees this commentary take centre stage and is the bands most mature and complex work, both sonically and lyrically. It would have been easy for Gnarwolves to go straight into a more pop-punk version of their self-titled and go for the next level of success, which they no doubt deserve, but instead they’ve crafted what it is probably their most artistically accomplished record to date, and for that they should be commended.