Bristolian quartet Phoxjaw personify the term 'maverick' – they’re utterly unorthodox, unbranded by norms and refuse to comply with typical genre conventions. Whilst many emerging bands rely heavily on the maps and blueprints drawn-up by their respective influencers, Phoxjaw have burnt such maps with arcane magic and have forged their own path through the lands. This is something the two hit combo that was their Goodbye Dinosaur and A Playground For Sad Adults EPs demonstrated, but in retrospective, such releases merely laid the groundwork for what is set to come next. Released July 3rd via Hassle, their long play debut Royal Swan is a deeply mercurial, unsettling and yet thoroughly enthralling barrage of undefinable post-hardcore diabolism.
Much like the aforementioned introductory debuts, Royal Swan emits an aura of mysticism. However, such an atmosphere has been amplified to a strikingly palpable degree here. Recorded in relative isolation at Devil’s Bridge deep within the ancient Welsh heartland, Phoxjaw have summoned the strange pagan power of the past and infused it within their work, an amalgamation that results in a record that’s musically cutting edge but carrying the ancient dances of those whom came before us. This somewhat sacred if not profaning aura bolsters the off-kilter, far left-field and detached dynamism that lies central to their work.
This may seem far fetched – especially for a band that has spent the last several years physically honing their craft in spit-and-sawdust venues across the land, but it’s evident. Granted, this is not immediately apparent as it’s something that’s summoned over the course of the record, but their focus on elaborating their volcanic alt-metal is demonstrated immediately. The fortified introduction of ‘Charging Pale Horses’ leads into ‘Trophies In The Attic’ in a manner that’s unassuming at first, but as the lethargic vocals of Danny Garland pace across serrated riffs prior to imploding into an inhuman breakdown, it’s clear that Phoxjaw have removed any barriers holding them back from exploring the more incendiary themes in their work.
Leading singles ‘Triple AAA’ and ‘Half House’ may be the most radio friendly tracks present here but ‘You Don’t Drink A Unicorn’s Blood’ is where that pagan atmosphere creeps in slowly. Those theatrical and sensibilities from their past are reintroduced but exaggerated in a way that feels maniacal and deranged, especially with petrol fuelled horns being dissonantly introduced into the seizing walls of noise that chapter this record.
Similarly, ‘Infinite Badness’ see’s the band mutilate brit-rock and post-hardcore with traumatising fervour and ‘Teething’- a track featuring shimmering overpowered leads dipping their toes into the waters of delierious shoegaze – contains a level of possessed and paranormal danceability. Within such tracks, scratched, steel polished riffs thrash with possessed vitality beneath a solid bedrock of overdrawn leads making for compelling and utterly unprecedented polyrhythms.
Yet this all is feels fairly standard when compared to the final third of the album. From the At The Drive-In meets Black Peaks meets Blair Witch Project progression of ‘An Owl Is A Cat With Wings’ onwards, Royal Swan unfolds like a post-hardcore ballet of pure mania. Easily the most idiosyncratic and incomparable track present is ‘Bats For Bleeding'. Featuring prominent ghastly organ pipework courtesy of William Blair of 80’s psychonauts Apple Mosaic (Whom the band met by chance in the pub) the track is a cobwebbed draped sleazing waltz driven by the reanimated David Bowie vocals of guitarist Aaron Share. It's bizarre, totally unpredictable and the most wonderfully outlandish track Phoxjaw have ever bought to life.
As the plague-sored indie swirls of ‘Royal Swan’ itself bring the record to a close, in theory, this should be verging on comical excessiveness. There's simply so much contrastive content here. But Phoxjaw execute such bizarre endeavours with tact and skilful finesse. It’s overbearing, especially with the cabin-fevered claustrophobia of the recording process further intensifying the maniacal sonic narrative, but it’s also irresistibly engaging, rewarding and possessively enthralling.
There wasn’t much on the market in a similar vein to Phoxjaw before this release and with Royal Swan it’s unlikely there will be anything comparable released for quite some time. Much like the album art indicates, Royal Swan is a monstrous, unworldly, gilded beast of an experience and something that’s abound to go down in scene legend for it's sheer contemporary and unapologetic nature alone. We're living through strange times indeed, and this release mirrors such violent surrealism in a fashion utterly unparalleled and brilliant.