Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Temperance Movement's 'White Bear' - Album Review

When The Temperance Movement burst onto the scene in 2013 when they released their self-titled debut album (which I reviewed here) that climbed into the UK Top 20 and made the band rather popular. While an EP called Pride had been released the previous year, it was the hype surrounding the album - and their excellent live reputation - that made the band an instant success. Since The Temperance Movement was released, the band have pretty much been on the road constantly. The hard working band has been all over the world, including a lengthy US trek with label-mates Blackberry Smoke which I am sure helped to boost their popularity overseas considerably. Three years on, and the band have just released their second album, which I am sure will help to build on the good work they have already done. Their first album was apparently recorded in just four days, working live like many of the best old classic albums were recorded. That led to a very loose album, that captured the band's live, blues-based swagger perfectly. Traces of bands like the Faces, The Black Crowes, and The Quireboys could be found in their sound; and The Temperance Movement were the next in line when it came to British blues rock. The band's second album, White Bear, took a little longer to record, but the results are similar. Overall, the style of White Bear is very similar to The Temperance Movement, and the second album seems like a perfect continuation of the first. That is not to say that there are not subtle differences however. While the debut album had a brash, in-your-face, feel - helped by the live recording process - the second feels a little more calculated and produced. While there is not a lot studio trickery going on here, there has certainly been more thought put into the production, with studio effects used here and there to change the band's sound. Frontman Phil Campbell uses a more diverse range of vocal styles here. While his trademark gravelly style is prevalent as you would expect, he also uses his quieter, 'ballad' voice (as he did previously), but he also sings in a more melodic style in places, which transforms the sound of the band. The band's line-up on White Bear is the same as previously. Campbell is joined by guitarists Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer, bassist Nick Fyffe, and drummer Damon Wilson. After the album's completion however, Potashnick announced he was leaving the band. He has been replaced on tour, and for all future activities by Matt White.

Opener Three Bulleits (not really sure what is going on with the spelling there..) recalls the bluesy sound of the band's first album perfectly, and sets the listener at ease right away. Palm-muted guitar rhythms and a melodic bassline drive the song, and the big, strident chorus is an instant hook with some excellent wordless vocal sections. Songs like this recall the best of The Black Crowes, and show that the band have a love of the classics, despite looking like, and being marketed to, the modern young trendy crowd. There is even a short guitar solo, something that was not used that much on the first album. Campbell uses the melodic side of his vocals on the uplifting Get Yourself Free which has a slight gospel feel in places, and instantly sticks out as a song that will be amazing to hear live. The Eagles-like vocal melodies in the verses have something of Don Henley's unique phrasing about them, before the band really rocks out during the soaring chorus. Squealing slide guitar and huge harmony vocals characterise this section of the song, and it is an immediate standout. A Pleasant Peace I Feel opens with a rolling bass melody, before Potashnick and Sayer join with some delicate, twinkling guitar melodies that fit nicely over the bass notes. Campbell's deliver is very understated here, with his voice barely being raised above a murmured whisper, but this works really well - especially when the band ramps up and the big, rocking comes in which seems him unleash his usual gritty howl. There is even a guitar melody here that sounds a lot like Coheed and Cambria's You Got Spirit, Kid which throws me every time! Modern Massacre is a slab of pure, dirty blues rock with a riff that sounds like something from an early ZZ Top album. It is a very short song, but it packs a real punch with it's driving energy and raw, live feel. Again, this song recalls the sound of the band's debut album perfectly, and would fit there perfectly. It is brash, with big dirty guitar chords, and a short solo that sees the guitar screaming. The chorus is a real headbanging moment, and probably the most energetic moment on the album. Battle Lines opens with some real bluesy guitar, which seems Campbell matching it note for note which sounds excellent. It soon becomes another strong rock track however, with a tasty staccato drum beat from Wilson that gives the song a slightly funky feel; something that is accentuated by Campbell's strange vocal melody. There is a good guitar solo here too, which shows the band have some chops - something that was not really displayed previously.

After a couple of big rocking songs, the album's title track is a little more laid back. The verses are very understated, with some gentle guitar patterns accompany Campbell's voice perfectly. Things do pick up during the chorus, as big ringing power chords are the order of the day, but it still manages to feel quite laid back and relaxed. There is a really strange guitar solo, with some ringing notes that are not unlike something Trent Reznor might like the sound off, but it seems to work quite well. The songs fades out with a strange hollow-sounding drum beat that slowly fades into the distance. A country-sounding bit of guitar opens Oh Lorraine, but that is soon replaced by one of the most infectious verses I have heard in a while. Campbell's gravelly voice and Wilson's drums sit nicely together, and it almost sounds a little like hip-hop but with that bluesy touch. The country guitar riff then forms the basis of the chorus, and this fails to live up to the excitement of the strange verses. Towards the end however the band seem to jam out a little bit, with a lovely bass run from Fyffe that the band seems to thrive on as they all play together well. Magnify is another song that sounds like something that could have been on the band's first album, although with added lead guitar. It sounds a little like a more chilled out version of Midnight Black, with a guitar and vocal pattern that is quite similar to that song. This is another song that sticks out as a highlight of the album, as it just sums up the band's sound and ethos perfectly. The addition of more prominent lead guitar to the sound has improved songs like this, and gives them more a classic rock bite. The Sun and the Moon Roll Around too Soon is a bit of real old-school blues, and it comes as a bit of a surprise but sounds fresh. The opening sounds like a modern version of something that would have been written in the 1930s, and the song that is build around this riff also has a real old-school vibe. It does rock, but with a really organic feel with some really warm-sounding rock guitar sounds. After a mostly pretty rocking album, the album's closing number I Hope I'm not Losing my Mind is a really beautiful ballad that actually really hits the spot and is the perfect way to the end the album. Campbell almost sounds like a totally different singer here, which shows his diversity and that he is not a one-trick pony. It is a very simple song, with a very slow drum beat, and very little going on musically, but that seems to work pretty well. Overall, White Bear is a very good second album from The Temperance Movement. While I think their debut album packs more of a punch, White Bear shows the band branching out in new directions and helping to keep their sound fresh. I imagine this will be a big success for them.

The album was released on 15th January 2015 via Earache Records. Below is the album preview that contains samples of all the songs featured on the album.

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