With a young band’s first album, we might normally be talking about finding feet. Not here - because Mason Hill’s maiden outing is an assertive, super-charged affair that sees the Glasgow fivesome already shod with their rock stormtrooper boots.
Against the Wall sets out its agenda with the bravado of the multiplex-ready blockbuster hell bent on blowing budget-starved indie flicks out of the water.
It’s really that emphatic.
That’s not to say we’re in the realms of broad-brush cliché: it’s just that this hungry outfit, formed in 2013, have spent long enough on their training to know their own sound inside-out and back-to-front. Since their 2015 debut EP they’ve continued to add layer upon layer of muscle to the point where they’re earning comparisons to giants like Shinedown and Alterbridge. And these are fair appraisals – if you add youthful energy and a truckload of steroids, that is.
You have to admire the ambition here: it would have been all too easy for a group of good-looking lads with an ear for a tune to plump for the lighter, commercial end of modern rock. But they’ve stuck to the plan and kept things wholeheartedly weighty. Yes, there are mellow verses here and there but they only ever lead one way – to serious, big-guns choruses, every one of them guaranteed cheese-free.
Cinescape-style lift-off is achieved via intro track Reborn (also reprised as the album’s outro), which thumps its way into the bloodstream, only hinting at the drama to come. And what drama: there’s the relentless drive of the title track, the shifting rhythmic sands of current single Broken Son, the hard-nosed appeal of DNA and the out-and-out passion of Find My Way just for starters. These are not songs about shagging and partying. Rather, we navigate large-scale emotional themes: frustration, self-development, independence and affirmation are the order of the day from a band who’ve probably been through the whole shebang in their journey to get to where they are now.
But underneath the angst, the sheer joy is always palpable. Frontman Scott Taylor – who apparently gave up dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer for rock n’ roll – puts his athletic lungs to storming use while James Bird, his old school friend, adds the genius fret licks a la his hero, Zakk Wylde. Further bulk is added by second guitar from Marc Montgomery and the bullet-proof rhythm section of Matthew Ward (bass) and Craig McFetridge (drums). There is no ‘I’ in band and these guys prove it.
And just when you think they might have peaked too early, along come the real standouts. Former single Hold On is where the riffs crank up to max and the whole thing explodes in glorious surround-sound, while Out of Reach, with its gentler beginning and complex construction, cements the Alterbridge likeness. But maybe the real climax is just before the credits roll: Where I Belong boasts some stunning, soulful guitar work that harks back to Slash’s epic set pieces on Estranged and November Rain.
No stumbling blocks. No schoolboy errors.
A more sure-footed debut would be hard to find.
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