Ever since their inception nine years back, UK band the Heavy have made a name for themselves amongst diehards for their straddling the line between bombastic rock, soul, and blues in a singular package. Despite a lack of mainstream name recognition, their innovative, throwback style has, arguably rightfully, gained them a bevy of attention from the commercial scene, which has cultivated most prominently in recent times with features on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Kingsman: The Secret Service, as well as such television shows as The Vampire Diaries and Community. Following their first taste of big-time success, the band has come back around with their first full-length album release in four years, as well as their fourth one overall. While the band once again feels as though they’ve solidified their sound to a point that the innovation comes in the form of their overall presence as opposed to their straight-shooter album releases, Hurt & the Merciless brings yet another collection of their trademark blistering, guitar-heavy and soulful rock-and-roll to a potentially larger listening ensemble than had been achieved previously.
Right out of the gate, Hurt and the Merciless pulls zero punches with a gruntled guitar riff married to a hefty horn section, showcasing Kelvin Swaby’s traditional, sensual renegade-style vocal delivery across a gritty instrumental called “Since You Been Gone”. Follow-up track “What Happened to Love?” brings the band back into their garage rock-settled influences along the lines of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, prominently featuring a call-and-respond vocal ensemble between a bombastic Swaby and a sweeping gospel chorus over the song’s chorus. A clap-along, sing-along bridge makes it one of the most infectious tracks featured on the album, as it cedes into the 1960s flair of “Not the One”, featuring a louder horn section and a more brooding overall ensemble.
A few songs in, however, and it becomes more or less incredibly obvious that this album isn’t seeking to innovate in any way, shape, or form. Luckily for the Heavy, though, Swaby and company have never come across as the type of band that needed to, since, as previously mentioned, their mere presence at this point feels like an innovation of the overarching rock industry in and of itself. Some bands — like alternative sweethearts Weezer, for instance — are best loved and seemingly at their best when they meld themselves well to a signature sound that comes across as nonpareil in an otherwise cut-and-dry market.
As much as this idea is definitely indicative of the Heavy as well, with yet another series of sweltering rock-and-roll numbers, the band has become predictable, if not also very enjoyable. As with Great Vengeance and Furious Fire, The House That Dirt Built, and The Glorious Dead before it, The Heavy do just enough to secure themselves another sonic hit in their own right with Hurt and the Merciless. By all means, this is top-notch modern rock music like only they know how to make. At the same time, those looking for something of an innovation on the band’s prior sound should know what they’re getting from the band (and that isn’t it). What it is, though, is yet another great installment from a band that we’ve come to know and love along the way; just because it isn’t much different doesn’t mean the Heavy should be shooting for their very own Raditude anytime soon.
Besides, where the Heavy do manage to succeed in expanding their musical presence comes in the form of their lyrical heft. Despite the catchy, sing-along nature of Hurt and the Merciless and its big, booming choruses, it really comes across as a much darker album than its predecessors. Devised mostly out of feelings of pain in the band’s booming reaction to such themes as divorce and overarching heartbreak, it gives a raw look at the members of the band themselves between the lines, and viewing it from these goggles, the overall arrangements garner a whole other layer to take into consideration when listening to the album. The Heavy is a band that doesn’t need to change in terms of its sonic makeup, but finding a new set of thematic imagery to rely upon gives longtime fans just enough new to chew on to set it apart from previous efforts. Likewise, those searching for a new rock band that may be giving the band their first nod will find that Hurt and the Merciless is nothing short of solid.