MARCH ALBUM OF THE MONTH
With promise of the lockdown paralysis easing, the spring sunshine may well usher in a new era of hope, as we all slowly start to rebuild our lives – and, for some, to contemplate the prospect of a world with gigs once again.
The end of February and March will see a run of fine album releases and the timing could not be better: Some big names are back with impressive releases and a number of established rising bands are also building up a head of steam. For March though, I’m going with a new band. Unknown Refuge formally mark their arrival on the scene with a debut album that captures the raw energy and excitement of a band starting out, developing their craft and hungry to make their mark.
A few people within the scene mentioned the band to me last year, but it was the listener reaction that cemented the band as playlist regulars for the second half of 2020. ‘From The Darkness’, ‘Shadows’ and ‘If The Gods Be Good’ each had a lengthy run on my Friday show, powered by weekly requests from the listeners – many who knew nothing about the band but liked the songs. The old-fashioned way, when it was always about which songs stood up on radio, without relying on the hype of social media, videos and visual packaging that has now become the norm.
On the back of regular airplay, I did a run of interviews with the band. The reason why a fleeting one-off ‘hello’ interview became a run was because of the band. Here was a group of young lads really enjoying the excitement of being a band of brothers, the pure pleasure of making music and being genuinely chuffed that people liked it. From this run of interviews – alongside the music playlistings – the band cemented its position in the hearts of many of my Friday listeners. And when it came to the year-end, the listeners reciprocated en masse, voting UnKnown Refuge into their Top 20 bands of 2020 from a shortlist of more than 170. Not bad for a band with no marketing muscle. The boys ran their own socials, they engaged directly with people and their music spoke for itself.
All this leads us into 2021 and, for us, is the material context which frames the tangible worth of this fine album release.
Known listener favourite ‘From The Darkness’ opens the album with intensity and purpose, which runs through the opening trilogy of songs. Track four ‘Battle Hymn’ is one of those songs that comes alive and somehow sounds better on radio and ‘Shadows’ is the long-standing fave that encapsulates the edge the band has got right on this album – songs that can reign supreme as singles yet they are also uncompromising; no softened edges for ‘radio appeal’ – the raw and honest essence of the songs remain and on their own terms.
‘Palace Walls’ is an album highlight for me, involving, brooding and unrelentingly intense. And a vocal that, like a light in a storm, shines through the heavy riffs and rhythms. Some of the material on this album reminds me of early Wagons (maybe ‘Fight The System’ era): The music is loud, heavy, raw and intense – and serious – but there is melody, urgency and anthem-like qualities in the songs that make them work on their own terms. And it’s music that even if you don’t personally like it, you’ll respect it.
Unknown Refuge make me feel old – but, in truth, that’s exactly what us ageing rockers need from the new generation of talent. These boys aren’t even 20 yet! From the interviews done to date, here is a young band enjoying the pure thrill of playing music together, having fun and enjoying every new day. They are also serious about making sensible decisions and staying in control and this is to be applauded. This is a band enjoying what they do but serious about plotting a path that is right for them and taking their time to make the right decisions.
As we re-emerge from Covid, the world won’t simply go back to how it was. The economic crunch that’s yet to come will create seismic change across all industry sectors – and the wellbeing impact of a year behind closed doors and the choices people will make going forward is yet to be known. What we can all take comfort from is music will be there to inspire us as we start to rebuild our lives – and my hunch is what’s ahead will mark a new era for guitar music. It’s a time for a new generation of bands to step forward and be the new chapter in this new era – new energy, new hunger and new ideas on how to put guitar music in front of new audiences using the channels, media and methods that are part of the under 25’s world. ‘From The Darkness’ marks a new band starting their musical journey, learning their craft and identity, but the underlying confidence that powers it gives me a feeling that Unknown Refuge could be one of a new crop of bands that will reinvigorate the rock scene in the post Covid world. And referencing the band’s album closer, this is but the start of a new journey – and not just for Unknown Refuge, but for the music scene in general.
‘From The Darkness’ is released 26th March 2021.
Pre-order it here: https://unknownrefugemerchandise.bigcartel.com/
Unknown Refuge are:
Alex Mancini – Vocal & Bass
Jack Tracey – Lead Guitar
Harry Skinner – Rhythm Guitar
Morgan Deveney – Drums