words fae oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)
Back for their second bite of the cherry with Reiði, you’d be hard-pressed to find a date in Black Foxxes’ diary where there isn’t something going on. The industrious Exeter three-piece have toured relentlessly since the release of their 2016 debut, I’m Not Well, which was a dark and stormy cocktail of a record and incredibly raw at places, with frontman and guitarist Mark Holley describing his battles with mental health and Crohn’s disease with poignancy, style, and riffs.
Reiði is a certain evolution in Black Foxxes’ sound, pushing their creative boundaries further, but doesn’t stray too far from their alt-rock blueprints. However, where I’m Not Well was dark, Reiði feels like dawn breaking on a new day. Breathe opens the album, and feels like it’s the band trying to move on from the themes in I’m Not Well, with Mark repeating “I wanna set myself free” in the build-up to a beautiful bridge/outro in a beautiful mix of raging guitar and strings. It’s a perfect album opener and really gives you a positive feeling throughout the rest of the album.
Following on from that is a single you should have definitely given your ears to over recent weeks, with Manic In Me feeling dancey, upbeat and anthemic. Definitely one to look out for when they hit the road, with the chorus of “You are the weather, I am the manic in me” bound to get people up and moving. Sæla (Icelandic for ‘blessed’, don’t cha know!) is also another bouncy single that first indicated a shift in the weather for Black Foxxes. It’s a really upbeat track and a definite highlight of the album; it’s just one of those that always gets you bopping along. We are all wilder people!
The absolute highlight of this album is up for debate, as there are two prime cuts from this prime cut of a record. Oh, It Had To Be You is absolutely fucking sublime. The intro with the haunting, echo-y piano making away for heavy stabs is brilliant. If one track proves that Black Foxxes have evolved their sound and knocked it up a gear, Oh, It Had To Be You mixes the melancholy of I’m Not Well, the beefed-up sound of Reiði and the production values of a band that mean business with the underlying strings. Lyrically as well, it’s gone to the next level, with “Neon, light show, filling up the sky it paints the moon’s glow” running over you like fine silk, but it’s Mark shouting “Liar, liar, liar watch it as she moves me.” towards the end of the song, making way for stabbing, screaming guitar that really lights up this song. Jesus Christ, that song, that song, Jesus Christ.
However, stepping into the ring to challenge Oh, It Had To Be You is Flowers. Flowers are pretty & serene. This song is everything but. Reiði is Icelandic for ‘rage’, and Flowers captures that word perfectly. “I am rage. I am a castaway. I am unusable.” shoot through you like needles, before an explosive ending sees Mark scream “I am rage” and “Yeah I’m on the edge”. If Reiði had a theme, it would be “surprise party, but a surprise party where you get powerslammed through a table”. The serene, delicately picked intros lure you into the lovely flower garden, only for the black clouds to form, and heavy riffs burst through the sky like thunder and lightning. Argue it amongst yourselves, but both of these songs are the best of the best. Reiði is a perfect album, but these two are that little bit more perfect…
It feels like a bit of a disservice to talk up the shouty parts rather than the well written, poignant lyrics, but the rage you feel when “Come call me erasable” is just yelled over and over in JOY leaves an indelible mark on your soul. In equal parts, Reiði delivers both joy, bliss, and rage in devastating spoonfuls. Same with Take Me Home; there’s a lot of beauty in this song, the soft, emotional feel to it, but it’s the repeated, strained chorus of “Take me home” over a weeping guitar. Largely though, the lyrics in this song are beautiful, yet devastating, with “Teach me to grow, my scars are undone, repairing myself as I let myself go” really hitting you in your heart.
The biggest differences in Black Foxxes’ sound come from The Big Wild and Am I Losing It. In the grand scheme of the big album, these feel more stripped back than the rest of the songs and are very catchy, which should hopefully serve as ‘appetisers’ for an introduction to the wider Foxxes feast.
As Breathe was the ideal opener for the album, Float On is the ideal track to close out and let the credits roll. As the feedback rings out from a dark, stormy track, you can’t help but feel that a note hasn’t been missed, a lyric hasn’t been left unsaid and there was any energy left over. Just two albums into their career, Black Foxxes have managed to capitalise on a strong debut, build on it and create a truly sublime piece of work. There’s no unsatisfied feeling and no sense that they should have zigged instead of zagging. A certain album of the year contender, Black Foxxes will no doubt be heading for the big time off the back of Reiði.