Most of you could be forgiven for not noticing Nine Black Alps’ departure from the proverbial radar after bursting onto the scene and hitting the ground running in 2005. Much was promised for the Manchester four-piece, following scintillating live sets of unadulterated energy and a relatively successful, critically acclaimed debut album. 7 years on and 3 record labels later, Nine Black Alps return to the forefront with their 4th full length effort, this time signed with independent Leeds-based label Brew Records.
Sirens, in a nutshell, is the fast-paced riff-laden grunge-fest that has endeared the band to their cult following over the past 7 years. The album wastes no time exploding into opening track Be My Girl, continuing the band’s theme of opening an album with a simple, full-bodied riff complemented by an equally simple but subtle lick. In truth, the band’s trademark is showcased in the first 3 tracks, before the excellent but darker, melodic Phosphorescence seems to put the album’s previous tracks into perspective. Sam Forrest’s development as a songwriter is presented in flashes throughout the album, with the album’s 2nd track, Don’t Forget to Breathe, undoubtedly its highlight. Arguably the only track that seems complete is the only track that approaches anywhere near the brink, exuding a fuzzy riff meatier than Butch Butcher’s fridge and a final chorus that departs ever so slightly from the token format of so many of their tracks. Forrest imploring “Don’t forget to act satisfied” in the final chorus, almost as an afterthought, really does do something his band have failed to do in the past, and brings a song closer to the brink than he has managed to before.
Throughout Sirens however, it seems as if its best bits are crammed into the first 15 minutes of the album, before it begins to lose its penetration. Following the brash, sub-2-minute Living in a Dream, the album fails to live up to its early promise. Although it threatens to revive itself with another of the albums highlights, Penny Cinderella, another track that shows that Nine Black Alps do have a darker side than what has been conveyed in the past, tracks such as Hand Me Down give an impression that the album has been rushed, and that some elaboration on the solid foundations laid could make this a much better record.
From the point of view of a big fan of the band, and from someone who has followed their progress closely, it is frustrating to see that the band still seem unwilling to experiment in a contemporary music scene that demands a departure from the norm. Maybe the band arrived 20 years too late, and alongside the likes of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Bush, their success could be a lot more widespread… Or maybe, the grunge-by-numbers motif simply sounds more sincere when recorded with early 90s equipment for that unmastered tone of sobriety that was the trademark of Nevermind, Dirt and Sixteen Stone.
All in all, it’s another case of good but could do better for the Manchester four-piece. It’s without doubt hugely frustrating for a genuine fan of what Nine Black Alps’ music is about, but their unwillingness to bring a song back from the brink, and in some cases to even give a track a sense of completion, means that this album does not live up to the promise that the first few tracks showcase. The overall sense that some tracks are merely filling up space on the album puts it in an altogether lower league than debut effort Everything Is, and I can’t help but feel that this band are running out of chances to live up to the potential they undoubtedly have in abundance. Sirens is a fourth reminder that these boys have all the attributes required, but the school report still reads ‘must try harder’! Sirens scores a frustrating 55%.