I never gained much out of the short period of time that I took guitar lessons. The information that my teacher gave me disappeared in almost an instant and chord progression abilities still amount to little more than a joke. This is all irrelevant, but during those weeks, my teacher let me listen to lots of bands that I was yet to experience and opened new doors into lesser known alt rock territory. And the best offering I got out of this new music is when I was lent a copy of the "aptly-titled" The Big Roar, the debut album from Northern Welsh trio, The Joy Formidable. I was taught that while this band were more sought after in indie circles, there's more about the album that belongs in an early nineties world of distortion friendly shoegaze territory, verging on breaking into the grunge phenomenon. To be honest, the description couldn't be more perfect and neither could that album have been.
While I sadly never took any knowledge of playing an instrument, I instead gained knowledge of a true phenomenon in British rock, and it's time for Ritzy Bryan and co. to roar once again with their second album Wolf's Law. Naturally, much anticipation and high expectation has been aimed towards this album and dear God in heaven, does the band stand and deliver. Everything about this album is about stepping up, from challenging the perception they gained on The Big Roar as the underground indie band with heavy riffs to a band that can use that same aesthetic, but exchange the quirky indie kid attitude for a bolder attitude, made for penning down anthems and actually crafting rock music that could be described as "epic", surely the antithesis to all fellow indie bands.
And you can tell this is the bands goal when the album opens in the most unexpected of ways. This Ladder is Ours opens on a minute worth of beautifully crafted orchestral backdrops. The band's embracing of classical based material is executed with such an honesty that it really feels like the opening has been made for a real blockbuster. Of course, the orchestra is then literally executed as the band let rip into soaring indie rock and roll melodies delivered with the heaviness that means they could easily tour with Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age instead of just... The Pigeon Detectives or Two Door Cinema Club (Reading & Leeds 2011, anyone?)
Of course, with simple talk of the use of orchestras and big riffs, I'm just making it sound like the band have just gone and completely abandoned being an indie band just to go and be Within Temptation or something, which couldn't be more wrong. That slick garage aesthetic is still around across Wolf's Law. Cholla is blasted out with a bombastic garage rock blast that you could hear on a Hives album, while Tendons plays out with the effortless coolness and fuzz-soaked basslines from Rhydian Dafydd that fit perfectly in The Kills' body of work. But even then, the delicately crafted textures that are fitted into the songs make the most basic indie numbers sound like they want to reach higher grounds than tiny clubs and scene magazines.
No, this is an album that instead demands to excite, inspire and trigger a real emotional response from all those that listen. And this desire comes out in many ways. The band made a promise that this album would feature great guitar work, and I dare you to listen to Maw Maw Song and claim that they didn't deliver. They made a song that has a chorus and features a schizophrenic guitar solo from Bryan that sounds like the best moments of Muse, Queen and Black Sabbath combined, and the extremity only passes on to the almighty heaviness plunged onto the guitars of The Leopard and the Lung, which combines moments of monolith riffs over backdrops of silky strings and pianos taken straight from silent movie soundtracks.
And it's in moments of musical passages like those two where the real out-pour of emotion just works on this album. They are essentially the sounds of beauty recorded and when you hear it, you'll know it and you won't be sure how to describe it. Bryan does a perfect job of it as well, with her completely identifiable vocal style that while maintaining a sweet delicacy, can so easily turn scathing when you least expect it on Bats or can become more angelic to the extent that Forest Serenade is lest singing, more siren-calls. And when these two emotional sources make the ultimate union, you will realise it when you listen to The Turnaround that fits melodies around an orchestral backdrop inspired by the kind that made much of the balladry of the 1950's so timeless. And as the song builds up higher and higher, including following a minute and a half long break in music that returns us to Ritzy's lone piano ballad, we get to the moment where the entire band joins in on full force and the result is a piece of music that words cannot describe the beauty of, and only the term, "A piece of music that eliminates all hatred in the world" is able to come out of my mouth. And I used a similar expression when I talked about Harmonicraft by Torche, and regular ROARF readers ought to know how highly I think of that album.
It would be too easy to say that we've found this year's Harmonicraft when we're less than 20 days into 2013, but honestly when you hear some of the moments on Wolf's Law, it's difficult to think of anything other than the fact that The Joy Formidable have truly nailed it here. There's the effortless coolness of the best of indie rock to be found, but the ethics of that music is served up with a higher passion and beauty that makes progressive music such a celebrated cause in the search for music that just pours out the sound of total love. And some of the guitar work will just leave jaws fully unhinged man. It's musical grandeur and wonder that has no barriers nor requirement for an acquired taste. It's an album that gives beauty, spectacular soundscapes and hope to everyone. It's the first essential album of the year and the first real contender for the year's finest. I guess I do have something to give my hopeless guitar lessons thanks for.
The Joy Formidable's Wolf's Law is out 21st January via Atlantic. The band will tour the UK from 22 January - March.