Album Review: Black Honey - 'Black Honey'


It feels like a lifetime has flown by since Brighton indie rockers Black Honey first strode into the UK’s ever-growing new music scene in 2014. Since then, they’ve released a handful of EP’s and rose to the very top of many people’s expectations to be the next great female-led band. It seems remarkable that, for all the attention they have gathered, and for all the brilliance of their early music, we are only getting treated to their self-titled debut album this week, an album which meets the ever-growing hype of one of Britain’s next great bands.

Fronted by the enigmatic Izzy B Phillips (vocals, guitar), Black Honey have a leader capable of driving them to new heights. Throughout the record there is a no doubt as to who is the captain leading the charge for the band, and there are plentiful moments in which her vocals blend perfectly with the instrumentation of bandmates Chris Ostler (guitar), Tommy Taylor (bass), Tom Dewhurst (drums). Opening track ‘I Only Hurt The Ones I Love‘ is a stalking single, confrontational in delivery with Izzy B looking for vengeance in lyrics that are honest and reflect on past retreats. Whilst prowling guitars blend with a subtle, yet thumping drum beat, the track is an ideal opener in that it lures you into wanting to hear more from the band.

Having accompanied fellow Brighton band Royal Blood on their previous arena tour, there’s no doubt that Black Honey’s debut album was deeply influenced by their time on the road with the rock duo. The cabaret glamour of ‘Into The Nightmare‘ was co-written with Royal Blood, and its punchy, no nonsense approach does resemble the duo’s second record. A dirty rock and roll track with no lack in attitude, Izzy B’s haunting sultry vocals caress with devilish bravado whilst a chirping bass groove digs deep into inside your head. Whilst a sublime guitar solo meets the cravings of guitar rock fanatics, the single showcases a sinister side to the album. ‘Whatever Happened To You’, is another track noticeably influenced by Royal Blood and 90’s grunge music. Erupting immediately with frenzied guitars, it is another offering of heavy, no-nonsense rock. Small pockets of serenity are soon plugged with the impeding buzz of the guitars and Izzy B’s sprawling vocals.

Whilst there are tracks that make you grin with mischief, Black Honey are at their best when they engage in the theatrics of music. They have never been a band to shy away and the theatrics of their live shows and music videos prove to highlight a quartet of people with a serious creative streak. The glitz and glamour of ‘Midnight‘ is rife with confidence and attitude, strutting from beginning to end like John Travolta on a dancefloor. A true celebration of the night, the funk-rock thriller-meets-cinematic-disco anthem takes a step back on lyrical prowess with simple, yet amusing conversational quips (“Red lipstick, pleased to meet ya / Yeah, give me tequila”). Whilst the verses are unapologetically pop-based and prove addictive to the ear, the chorus further borrows from the pop world, maintaining enough simplicity to make it a certified dance floor anthem. Ending with a blissful electronic bridge, it is hard to imagine a single person not dancing to this track. 

With a catalogue of EP’s already under their belt, it’s a surprise to see Black Honey only opting for one single from their earlier days as a band. ‘Hello Today’ appears on the album as a surefire crowdpleaser. Perhaps the strongest single from the last few years, it highlights everything great about the band. Short and sweet, the chaotic nature of the track doesn’t fade at any point. With hints of Stone Roses in the percussion line, Izzy B’s commanding vocals are reminiscent of Wolf Alice pre-debut album. The single only goes to show that when it comes to thunderous rock anthems, Black Honey know what they are doing.

The comfort zone is a wonderful place at times, but the Brighton group do venture outside of it at times, to varying degrees of success. ‘Blue Romance’ is a piece of enchanting new-wave pop and a necessary break from the band’s normal sprawling rock. Longing in romanticism and laced with woozy, Lana Del Rey styled vocals, it’s a delicate offering with subtle hints to cult icons like James Dean amongst others. ‘Dig‘, is a nod to the band’s ability of harmonisation, as the group strip back on instrumentation, bar the slight roar of guitar which unexpectedly cascades through the middle of the track. It’s one of the more surprising moments on the record, with a new, subtle texture to the band, one of vulnerability. With no instruments to hide behind, the track exposes the band vocally and lyrically, but not in a negative way. Instead, the innocence of four musicians choosing to go out of their comfort zone projects a warmth to the record that you can only admire ‘Just Calling’ delves further into the hidden sense of pain and anguish of singer Izzy B, as lyrics “I’m just trying to get back / I’ve been wasting my whole life,” are brutally reflective of a darkened past, whilst the track’s intriguing synth offering, adds a new dynamism to the band.

There are, however, moments in which the band’s risks simply don’t pay off. The shuffling ‘Bad Friends‘ delves into the electronic spectrum but there’s an overt feeling that the track is overproduced, to the extent that the familiar edge to Black Honey has been smoothed to such a proportion that you can’t recognise the artist anymore. ‘Crowded City’ simply lacks substance, blending too much into the ever-growing indie landfill. It feels too much like an album filler, in the sense that it’s just too ‘nice’ and lacks a bite or the spark that many of the other album tracks possess. ‘Baby’’s opening chords almost hint at the possibility of an Oasis-esque acoustic classic, but as the track develops, you can’t help but feel just a little disappointed, with what seemed to promise to be something else. Obviously, you can’t judge a track solely on the opening few bars, but on hearing the introduction, there is a sense of heightened anticipation that this could be a serene yet resolute acoustic moment on the record. This anticipation then gets swiftly brushed aside by a slightly simplistic rock beat and a lacklustre guitar line.

One of the highlights of the record, album-closer ‘Wasting Time’ however, casts away any doubts that Black Honey can’t be inventive. An emphatic finale filled with drum rolls, rain effects and enchanting vocals from Izzy B that continue until a dramatic climax, the single is every bit as adventurous as you want the band to be. It delves into unchartered territory and offers plenty of new avenues for the band to explore down in the future.

Listening to the album and in reflection, you can’t help but admire what Black Honey have tried to do. Having left out past singles and crowd-pleasers like ‘Madonna’, ‘All My Pride’, ‘Somebody Better’ and ‘Corrine’, the group were opting for something different than just a straightforward indie rock record. Instead, they’ve created a diverse album full of blistering rock, charisma, charm and theatrics which carries subtle hints of darkness underneath. Whilst not all risks succeeded, their status as one of Britain’s most original indie bands is preserved, and with a huge tour in the coming months, the theatrical experience that is Black Honey can only get bigger.

Black Honey tour the UK in October and play Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms on Tuesday 23rd October with PINS and Russo supporting.

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