Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Skarlett Riot's 'Sentience' - EP Review

While Scunthorpe's own rockers Skarlett Riot might not play the sort of music that I usually go for, I have to say that I have become quite a fan of theirs over the past couple of years. Despite being familiar with the name for a few years, it was not until seeing them supporting Edguy in 2014 that I finally heard them. I must admit however, I was not initially impressed. I found their music a little too influenced by all things 'emo' for my tastes, and wrongly dismissed them. The band's debut album Tear Me Down was released in 2013, and definitely showcases a band-in-progress. The elements of what were to come are visible, but the strength in songwriting was lacking. Since seeing them in 2014, I saw them twice the following year (once with Gus G. and once with Kamelot) and these times they really impressed me. The We are the Brave EP was released last year too, and this release saw the band come into their own. Everything that was good about Tear Me Down was amplified here, and the songwriting was much improved. The five songs on the EP are all excellent, and show a band that is confident in their own abilities. The step up in quality from Tear Me Down is staggering, and the two shows I saw in 2015 made me a Skarlett Riot fan. Just over a year later, the band have followed We are the Brave up with another EP, this time titled Sentience. Apparently a new, full length album is in the works and that this is a little taster of things to come. If the eventual album is as good as the new songs presented here, then we are in for something special as Sentience is on a par with We are the Brave and is packed full of quality hard rock songs with that special Skarlett Riot edge. Frontwoman Skarlett's voice does have a slight pop-punk twinge, but when put against the backdrop the band create - especially Danny Oglesby's guitar riffs - it sounds great. Sentience is definitely in the same vein as We are the Brave, but is a little heavier overall and packs more of a punch. While I would say that the songs are not as instantly memorable and catchy as those on the previous EP, these new songs have a little more depth. Both EPs show different sides to the band's songwriting, and if the new album contains a mix of the two styles then it will be something special!

Kicking off with the lead single Voices, the EP opens up with a catchy guitar refrain that soon transforms into a heavier section, with some tight double bass drumming from Luke Oglesby. The song is really well written, with a more restrained verse that really brings out the best in Skarlett's voice and sees her use some of her lower register for added power. The song ramps up as it progresses too, and really explodes when the chorus takes over. It is one of the most instantly memorable moments on the EP and is packed full of melody. Skarlett Riot have never been about virtuoso playing, and soloing is rare. Instead we have an excellent breakdown section, with some more captivating vocals before a final go-round of that soaring chorus. Scream at Me is one of the most in-your-face songs the band have written yet, and opens with a really strong riff that sets the tone for the rest of the song. The energy never lets up throughout, and the chorus really packs a punch and sees Skarlett hitting some pretty high notes with ease. The spoken-word breakdown section is a little too much like Paramore for my liking, but the instrumental section that follows it is great. There are a few great riffs packed in together, and it shows that you do not have to shred to make an instrumental break interesting. Empty Inside is next and is my favourite song form the EP, and quite possibly my favourite song from the band yet. Again, the song opens powerfully but the verses are definitely deliberately sparse with a slightly moody feel. While this changes throughout, it gets the song off to a solid start, and makes the chorus seem much more powerful as a result. The melodies in the chorus are irresistible, with the use of subtle vocal harmonies to give it a huge sound. The breakdown is also really enjoyable, with more excellent vocals and a heavy riff that soon leads back into the chorus. Feel is my least favourite of the five offered here, but it is still a solidly enjoyable tune. Skarlett's vocals are at her best here, especially during the strange chorus. The range she displays throughout is very impressive, and shows she has come a long way as a vocalist since the band's beginnings. The song lacks the energy of the rest of the album, which is why it is my least favourite, but you cannot help but be moved by the vocal display, and the rare guitar solo is perfectly executed. For me, Skarlett Riot are at their best when they are really rocking out and they get back to that on the final song The Wounded. The opening riff is probably the best on the album, and the booming bass of Martin Shepherd dominates the song. The verses have a great staccato feel with bursts of double bass drumming that punctuate the slightly metalcore-style verse lead guitar line. The song comes alive with the chorus however, which is less overt than usual, but has real class about it. The vocal melodies in it remind me a little of modern Kamelot, so maybe the band picked up a few tips when they supported them last year! Overall, Sentience is a fantastic release from a band that are improving all the time and seem ready to break into the next level. If the upcoming album is as good as the two recent EPs, the we are in for a real treat!

The self-released EP was released on 29th April 2016. Below is the band's promotional video for Voices.

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