NO:IR – Are We Really Alive? EP
Release Date: 18/06/2021
Running Time: 22:19
Review by Steven Hooke
We live in blessed times when we can look at a fresh-faced nu metal act like NO:IR and use the term “throwback”. The bastard child of groove metal, alt rock and hip hop simultaneously defined a generation, whilst aggravating another at the turn of the millennium as frosted tips, JNCO jeans, and Juggalo-adjacent face paint dominated the charts, both in the underground and in the mainstream.
There had been a steady revival in the early 2010’s with the likes of Emmure, Of Mice & Men, Cane Hill and Suicide Silence incorporating more nu metal into their sound, yet they would always shy away from the “nu metal” label, due to how “un-cool” it was still perceived. But then, Sheffield goliaths Bring Me the Horizon released “That’s The Spirit”, and 90’s kids rejoiced in now seeing nu metal in the main again, with Code Orange, Stray From the Path, Poppy and Vein among those making it officially “cool” again, allowing for a nu generation to break through.
Enter NO:IR, a Bristol-based five-piece who have cannonballed straight into the re-emerging scene with a steady stream of singles dating back to 2019. Combining nu metal with even more hip hop, some sprinklings of emo, and its old friend rap metal, NO:IR do indeed offer a throwback sound to the likes of Linkin Park, Incubus, Papa Roach and even some forgotten gems from the failed UK nu metal revival attempt in TRC and The One Hundred. In their attempts, they are able to bring back all the best parts of the soundtrack to my school runs, but also, several parts that brought down the genre in the first place.
Let’s start with the positives, this EP is crammed with excellent choruses. Harkening back to the likes of Linkin Park’s “Meteora”, vocalist Evvi Davies possesses the envy-inducing vocal prowess to hit powerful, yet melodic vocal melodies, whilst retaining the slightest of rasps that keeps the passages grounded in its rock/metal surroundings. ‘Phantom’ and ‘I Need U (Like I Need A Hole In My Head)’ are both notable examples of this and they do it in their own unique way. To go back to the “Meteora” example, ‘Phantom’ has an ‘Easier To Run’ feel, longer, more drawn-out notes to allow for a more dramatic and emotional performance, whilst ‘I Need U (Like I Need A Hole In My Head)’ has a more ‘Hit The Floor’ feel, with more energy and a higher intensity to shake up the listener (shoutout to drummer George Farley especially for his role in that).
The guitar work at times is also really special. When Sonny Gazzard and Alex Roberts delve into the heavy end of the spectrum – seen particularly in ‘Spineless’ – they do pull out some sharp riffs á la Twelve Foot Ninja, and then follow up nicely with the more melodic-but still crunchy chorus riffs spoken about previously in ‘Phantom’, probably the best written song on the release.
The band as a whole do a pretty decent job in writing a nu metal ballad in ‘Hollow’. Incorporating more dark pop and hip hop elements, that leads a steady progression into another brilliant chorus, the song is a far-cry from the standard fair of the song style set all those years ago (*cuts to ‘Nam flashbacks of ‘It’s Been A While’ by Staind*).
On the other side of the coin, NO:IR are almost too committed to bringing back the past as several of nu metal’s worst tropes can be seen and heard on “Are We Really Alive?”. ‘Demons’ opens with a near-monologue rap from Davies that lacks a natural flow and vocal stability to allow it to stand on its own. This is in fact made worse, when in the verses, he is able to nail a much more naturally-flowing-sounding rap that almost provides its own beat when isolated from the instrumentation. It’s frustrating hearing an idea like that to add a different dynamic to a release, used on perhaps the worst choice of lyric on the song.
This is also a nu-metal EP with barely a passing glimmer at a loud and proud bass guitar. Now this may come under the ‘modernisation’ of the genre, but outside a floaty bassline on ‘Phantom’, Jake Gazzard doesn’t really have the right kind of impact on a release of this ilk. There are some moments of pure metal stomp on the likes of ‘Hollow’, ‘Spineless’, ‘Phantom’, and even the ending breakdown of ‘I Need U (Like I Need a Hole in My Head)’, but no real satisfying *durnk* from a nu metal bass guitar.
And again, with this being a nu metal EP, it would be so easy to go two-footed on the lyrics (David Draiman should be arrested for his sins against the English language) but that is part of the fun of the genre. It’s often bloody bonkers. That being said, there’s a song called ‘I Need U (Like I Need A Hole In My Head)”. Just, no. To all of it.
Overall, at their first full attempt, NO:IR haven’t done a bad job at all, despite the criticisms. There’s plenty of ideas and techniques that they should lean on in the future, such as guitar work, general songwriting of the heavier parts, and genuinely creative ideas (but maybe just aimed in a different direction). They’ve got the chance to right some wrongs from their forefathers as a cross-generational, modernised nostalgia act going forward if they want to be. They’re still young, as is the revival they’re a part of.
Or they can continue what they’re doing and succeed in spite of me. More power to them.
01. If This Is Living…
05. I Need U (Like I Need A Hole In My Head)
Evvi Davies – Vocals
Sonny Gazzard – Guitar
Alex Roberts – Guitar
Jake Gazzard – Bass
George Farley – Drums
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