Back in the early 2000s screaming burst into the mainstream; labels like Drive-Thru Records made a name for themselves signing bands with dual identities – a screaming vocalist for the verses and a clean vocalist for the choruses. Over time this trend gave birth to bands like Alexisonfire whose songs had loose structure, build upon hard-rock riffs with a whiff of metal all overlain with a mix of clean melodic singing and screaming. What set these bands apart was the clean vocals that dominated their sound, breaking up the otherwise relentless screaming we’d become used to. Enter WARS: a British band operating in very much the same territory. As their contemporaries such as We Are The Ocean and Deaf Havana either disbanded or ditched their screaming vocalist, in many ways WARS feel like genre survivors.
Between their debut album arriving back in 2016 and now, they’ve released just one four track EP so you’d hardly call them prolific, but that’s certainly one way of keeping the sound alive. It means, however, that ‘A Hundred Shivers’ has to prove they’re still relevant. WARS are late to the party, but did they bring a bottle?
Luckily, this is a wiser, more comfortable version of WARS. Their 2018 EP ‘As Within / So Without’ was something of a creative highpoint, and many of the lessons they learned on it are reflected here. In the band’s early work it could often feel like everyone was wrestling for control, only to be barged out of the way by the clean vocalist. There’s something quite amusing in a band called WARS struggling to make a record that feels democratic but to their credit they have largely overcome the issue. Here the songs are approached in a streamlined, more traditional framework, which you could say takes its cue from Alexisonfire’s ‘Crisis’ as these songs operate in a similar way. In doing so, they lose some of their early work’s scope but these songs are all the more accessible for it. It’s a firmer expression of the band’s sound, wicked little guitar licks flow fast and there’s a fire behind the songs, with each having the potential to be a winner. Indeed, often the clean vocals are carefully integrated and don’t overpower the song’s subtleties or aggression and the results are slick and weighty. However, they remain dominant and so strongest songs are those leaning hard one way or the other, either intense or melodic, leaving the album at its weakest when it straddles the middle ground.
At its best ‘A Hell Behind My Eyes’ is everything the band do well in one package, it bites hard and quickly pushes itself to be the band’s defining song and they have never sounded better. Similarly ‘High Art, Low Culture’ is layered around an enticing and slick riff that’s the most daring in their catalogue. Elsewhere on ‘A Fog Of Feeling’ and ‘Only Monsters’ there is a propulsive bounce that really helps the overall momentum. Despite ‘A Fragile Thing’ being one of the band’s catchiest songs, however, it leaves Rob Vicar’s screams largely redundant, a trait shared by ‘Murmurs’ which would also benefit from a little more grit. This is a similar problem that We Are The Ocean faced and, like that band, when the balance is off the songs can feel a little flaccid.
Lyrically, the album broaches existentialism, it’s a bold and effective choice, especially as the songs are divided into four thematic chapters. It’s ambitious on paper (think how well it works for example on Silverstein’s ‘This Is How The Wind Shifts’) but here you quickly realise the chapters don’t flow sequentially, and the songs are allocated seemingly at random, making it at best an illusion, at worst a marketing ploy. You struggle to notice it, even after being primed, making it one of many ideas you wish they had explored a little more deeply.
Containing what is comfortably the band’s strongest material ‘A Hundred Shivers’ is a bottle of prosecco; it bubbles and fizzes and if you’re not too fussy it’s easy to mistake for champagne.