Drones – ‘Our Hell Is Right Here’

By Ian Kenworthy

Maybe you like your punk with the power of hardcore. Maybe you like your vocals rich with barbed hooks and sing-a-along choruses. Maybe you like inspirational lyrics that lodge in your brain. May-be you are tired of waiting for Rise Against to get their act together. Maybe Drones are the band for you.

The band’s 2018 debut ‘Exiles’ was a ferocious slice of politically charged punk rock, its anger and urgency only matched by its striking melodies and with second album ‘Our Hell Is Right Here’ they’re picking up where they left off, roaring out of St. Albans with a message pinned to their sleeves. This time the focus has shifted but the intensity has not. You definitely need to hear this record.

For the most part, the band assaults you in three-minute bursts; each song is catchy, and it’s easy to get swept along by the powerful guitar sound, especially as guitarists Tom Thain and Tim Kramer throw in string screeches and stylish licks. Big meaty riffs are their forte, though, and songs like ‘Please Vacate The Planet’ and ‘Manipulate’ kick like a shot of espresso while on ‘Warning Signs’ the riffs are slower but no less crushing. You also get some really effective build-ups and pay-offs, such as the mid-verse pauses and outro to ‘Josephine’ where the guitars pause as the eye of a storm passes over, only for them to come rushing back.  The short, sharp ‘Lost In Translation’ adds variety by unleashing a ferocious mix of riffs, bass solos and thrashing drums, and as with their previous record, the band is at their best when Mitchell Thomas gets to let loose on his drum kit, giving the songs a propulsive energy, a contribution that cannot be understated.

Lois McDougall (Ex-Fallow Fields), is a surprising and talented singer. In a scene defined more by its timbre and aggression, her voice offers a rich and fluid warmth. Her powerful melodies are more than a match for the vicious hardcore-influenced music and her ability to unleash a barrage of hooks is what gives the band their edge. This is most obvious on songs like ‘Live & Let Live’ and ‘Manipulate’ where her vocals twist through a series of sharp hooks before exploding into a powerful chorus, and on the title track where McDougall is joined by Ren Aldridge of Petrol Girls, the collaboration adds a harsh bite to what is already a searing statement of intent.

A breather arrives after five songs in the form of acoustic interlude ‘Listen’, which offers a stripped-back acoustic musing that makes the best of McDougall’s voice and feels pleasingly intimate. There’s a reason slow songs usually fall toward an album’s end, however, and it does disrupt the pace – while the track is an important inclusion you can almost hear the band agonising over where to put it in the running order. Wisely they follow it up with ‘Learn’ which sets off like a sprinter leaving the starting blocks and quickly replenishes the momentum, maintaining the album’s integrity.

As with their previous record, guitarist Tim Kramer handled production duties and it works very much in the band’s favour. Not only does he understand their soul, but in ‘Our Hell is Right Here’, he’s captured it perfectly. You can feel it in the chunky guitar sound, reminiscent of ‘Sufferer and The Witness’ era Rise Against, and in the warm vocal tones that enhance the emotional content. Despite being recorded in separate sessions throughout 2020, the album has a consistent overall sound. The song ‘VOID’ deviates from this by adding a layer of synths, but it is tasteful, in-keeping and doesn’t undermine the album’s raw edge.

McDougall grappled with a series of personal challenges in 2019 and this is the biggest influence on her lyrics and the album as a whole. While ‘Exiles’ distanced itself from its emotion behind a veneer of partisan metaphor, here the political slant is all but abandoned in favour of a deep introspection. This is a double-edged sword as it gives the album a very different feel to its predecessor and ironically, because it is difficult to read these lyrics in more than one way, it makes them less engaging. However, the confessional style has a considerable emotional weight, more than making up for its relative lack of depth. This works extremely well on songs like ‘Josephine’ where the words fly thick and fast, pummelling you with a sense of loss while ‘Listen’ tempers a morose chorus with the refrain ‘if you feel like dying, you’re not alone’.  In contrast, songs like ‘Learn’ with its blunt refrain of “I still hate myself” can be quite abrasive if you’re down, but at the same time you can’t deny the lyrics bite deeply. It isn’t all doom and gloom, though, there is also plenty of levity, especially ‘Live & Let Live’ which feels upbeat and optimistic.

It is curious that ‘Epitaph’ was chosen as a single as the song ends abruptly with neither the lyrics nor music offering a resolution. It feels strangely morose compared to the other songs here where the introspection is used as a rallying cry.

‘Our Hell Is Right Here’ is a strong record from Drones. It is a little colder and a little harsher than their debut but its use of big hooks and fearsome guitars drive its raw lyrical themes making it arguably better. Passionate and powerful, it’s a blistering hardcore rollercoaster. If you like your punk catchy and abrasive, put it at the top of your list.

IAN KENWORTHY

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