Track Review: Duke of Wolves- Hollow Eyes



Duke of Wolves



Hollow Eyes





Hollow Eyes is available at:

RELEASED: 16th January, 2016



London, U.K.


James Billinge


Whitehouse Studios, Reading


FILL next couple of days will see me focusing on a couple of acts...

that are brand-new and starting up.  My featured artists are in the stage of getting publicity photos sorted- it is a review when I will be duplicating the photos they have- and putting their biographies together.  The last few months has seen me investigate musicians that have already crafted a few tracks: Been out there for a while and been playing for a little while.  It is exciting to see a band/act at the very beginning: Seeing their first move put to record gives you an indication of just what they can achieve- and exactly how far they can go.  Before I talk about the London-based band, it is worth mentioning new bands and the Rock market- in addition to the growing number of musicians coming onto the scene.  With a cold and bitter winter upon us; so many people are looking to music to offer some warmth and comfort.  It is always difficult getting a hold of all the music coming through: We have to employ our best judgment whilst trying to be bold and adventurous.  One of the great things about music is the sheer range of sounds available at the moment.  Depending on your tastes and preferences there is going to be something out there for you.  I have been featuring a lot of solo acts recently so it is good to go back to bands and see what is happening.  Whilst I believe the solo market will be the most prosperous- when it comes to consistency and outright quality- some of the fantastic young bands coming through and capable of rubbing shoulders with the best of them.  When it comes to bands, there tends to be a narrower focus in terms of genres and sounds: The majority of bands tend to either play Alternative/Rock sounds; perhaps variations/sub-genres of Pop and Indie.  Some of the most interesting bands of the last few years- the likes of Everything Everything stand out- mix darker lyrical themes with bi-polar sonic blends and a huge adventurousness and colour.  I find a lot of young bands tend to get too rigid when it comes to their music: The emphasis is on riffs and noise rather than nuance and emotion.  If you look at the Rock market- which accounts for a large percentage of the new bands coming through- there is perhaps not the diversity and variation one would hope.  Luckily my featured artists are among the most nimble and ambitious Rock acts of the moment.  Whilst they have some clear influences under their belt- the likes of Queens of the Stone Age and Rage Against the Machine- they do not wear it indelibly on their sleeves.  What the guys have is a solid bond and an incredibly tight sound: They will be one of the most hotly-tipped bands in London this year.  Before continuing, let me introduce you to Duke of Wolves:

Ben (Drums&Backing Vocals)

Jim (Lead Vocals&Rhythm Guitar)

Orlando (Lead Guitar&Backing Vocals)

Sara (Bass Guitar&Backing Vocals)

The band name alone summons a blend of ferocity and regal-ness: A hard-hitting sound backed with class and a sense of dignity.  Knowing Jim Lawton- the band’s lead and singer- and his previous work with Crystal Seagulls (a fantastic young band that sadly called it quits a while ago); I know just how seriously Lawton takes music.  His new band of brothers (and sister) are a hot proposition that are surely going to be going on to big things.  At the moment there is a little mystique to the band.  Their social media pages contain a couple of photos and a bit of contact information- the official photo-shoots and depth will come soon enough.  Whilst it is hard to put too many photos into this review- a bit of creative license needed alas- it is fantastic seeing a band that are working hard early on.  Their debut single is out there whilst the guys have set up a Twitter and SoundCloud account.  So many acts are quite lazy and naïve off the blocks: They tend to think they can take time and not worry about such concerns- they pay a heavy price for their ignorance.  The band sector is the most populous and in-demand in all of music.  I can see the attraction of forming a group and making music: That bond and excitement tied with the possibilities of what is to come is a tantilising draw.  What I tend to find is so many young musicians just rush onto the scene.  Thinking a speedy release will be met with acclaim and fandom- regardless of what the songs sound like- not enough attention and originality is being put into music.  What you are left with is a scene with variable quality and some rather insincere and average bands.  If the best bands out there have shown anything it is what can be accomplished within well-worn genres.  Although Indie sounds account for a lot of music’s output; there is so much potential to produce something fantastic and different.  Duke of Wolves are a band that mix Indie and Rock ideas: They have a lot of energy and commitment coming through.  From the earliest notes you can tell how much music means to them.  One of the most urgent and passionate bands coming through, it will be exciting to see what lies ahead for the quartet.  With the end-of-year polls favouring solo talents- the polls that give their tips for the year ahead- the bands out there have to step things up.  Whilst I have bemoaned the insistence (of bands of the moment) to play very close to established artists- Foo Fighters are one of the most popular- there are some artists that are original and capable of something unique.  Duke of Wolves bring their shared musical experiences to the new venture: The players have such a connection and relationship; I can see them performing live quite a lot this year.  Although Hollow Eyes is the debut single from them, it will surely lead to an E.P. sometime in 2016.  London is one of the most fertile and prosperous band centres at the moment: The new acts coming out of the capital are demonstrating a hell of a lot of intensity and versatility; so much range and excitement.  London is growing by the year- when it comes to their music output- and Duke of Wolves are going to attract a lot of support.  The group will want to remain level-headed at the moment; they have a huge potential and chance to go pretty far.  Due to the sheer weight of bands emerging right now- by the week you get a huge wave of them emerging- it is really difficult to find which ones are worth long-term following.  Duke of Wolves will be a tantilsing band to follow and are showing a huge amount of early promise- their debut cut is one of the sharpest and most compelling tracks I have heard in a while.

When it comes to the Duke of Wolves gang, you have a band that is just starting their music careers off.  Although the various players have been in other acts- and bring their shared experiences to the table- Hollow Eyes is their first shared endeavor.  In terms of their influences and heroes, the below are key musicians:

Led Zep, QOTSA, The Beatles, Rage Against The Machine; Muse, Wolfmother, Cream, The Kinks

As you can see from this list, the London band tends to favour their sounds on the heavier side of things.  What you get from them is a bit of ‘60s/’70s Hard-Rock- the likes of Led Zeppelin come through at times- tied with the of-the-moment guts and grit of Wolfmother.  That said, Duke of Wolves have a subtleness and melody to their music.  Unlike Wolfmother- who tend to be harder and heavier- our guys have gentler sensibilities and a desire to mix sensitivity and restraint with outright attack and emotion.  Having a love of ‘60s legends and modern-day Rock acts; you get a little bit of each- the acts listed above- in their debut single.  It will be interesting to see how their future songs take shape.  I can see more subtle and emotive tracks taking shape.  Being familiar with Lawton’s work with Crystal Seagulls; as a songwriter he is capable of producing epic songs of emotion and heartache- that concentrate on lyrics and vocal power rather than riffs- in addition to big stadium-sized singalongs.  The musical talent within Duke of Wolves is evident so I would imagine any future E.P. will have a lot of range and variation.  Of course the band themselves will reveal more in time- they are focusing on promoting their debut cut- but they have the potential to create something spectacular.  Given their influences and individual talents; you just know future cuts are not going to stand still- not just replicates of Hollow Eyes.  Too many bands find a particular ‘sound’- that is predictable and unoriginal- and do not show any motivation and original ideas.  The London four-piece have a lot of ideas and colours in their palette: Expect to see some terrific tracks forthcoming from them this year.

A crunchy and buzzing riff heralds in Hollow Eyes.  With an evocative and motorcycle-revving sound to it, you get caught up in that energy and youthfulness.  Raw and edgy- whilst being disciplined and restrained to an extent- the early stages tee the song up and get the explosions started.  After that early guitar riff-age there is a militaristic percussion drum-roll: An insatiable and scatter-gun pummel that adds another layer of urgency and masculinity.  That brutal and late-night danger feeling to the introduction recalls a mix of early-days Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age.  There is definitely an ear of the U.S. legends- a blend of Grunge and Stoner-Rock- and you get a mix of Bleach (Nirvana) and Songs for the Deaf (Queens’).  That chug and hard sledgehammer attack gets the senses captivated and ensures the opening moments are not easily forgotten.  When our lead comes to the microphone, his voice is in determined and unsympathetic mood.  When delivering the opening line- “Tell me what you want to hear”- that is a sense of fatigue and annoyance to the tones.  Maybe he is in the midst of a relationship with an odd power struggle.  Perhaps the girl has tried to call the shots or is being somewhat difficult- our man a puppet that has to jump to the beat of her drum.  The guys create a claws-out and D.I.Y. sound that recall the Sub Pop days of Nirvana- whilst retaining a very unique take and flavor to their music.  It seems like our lead is not wanted and excessive baggage- he wonders if his subject wants him here- and ever-more you get ideals of love and relations-on-the-rocks.  Unlike Nirvana’s debut there is an emphasis on structure and song-form- in addition to memorability and vitality.  In a Rock scene that shows a few acts with proper guts and intelligence- as opposed to a mass that seem devoid of both- Duke of Wolves do not simply throw together riffs in the hope that something sticks.   You can tell throughout- even in the earliest stages- a lot of attention has been paid to the composition and vocals.  Whilst the lyrics are quite broad and universal- detailing love and the struggle to find connection with someone- you get a distinct songbook that shows a very personal anxiety.  Our man is looking at his girl and searching for truth: Those hollow eyes seem empty and rather lifeless as the hero tries to discover meaning and emotion.  It is intriguing what inspired the song and its particular angle.  It is clear this bond has been fractured- probably to the point of no return- but maybe there is some hope of some consolation and connection at least.

The vocal melody has an endless drive that mixes funkiness with attitude: A hypnotic and energetic projection that will have crowds singing along for sure.  At every stage the band do not relent their crusade and musical warfare.  The percussion snaps into life and reaches fever-pitch- one of the most intense performances I have heard- whilst the bass drives the song and ensures every instrument comes together beautifully.  Behind those crunching and easy-on-the-eye riffs you have a commending vocal performance that perfectly mixed emotions- that tiredness and annoyance spars with panache and clarity- and does the song full justice.  A lot of bands lack completion and total authority- either the drumming is too insipid or the guitars too predictable- but Duke of Wolves have that powerhouse built and cemented.  Given the strength of the percussion- recalling the sort of intensity Dave Grohl brings to music- you have a perfect backbone that propels the vocals and song forward.  Whilst the percussion hisses, swaggers and attacks; the guitars blend some beautiful little avenues and ideas.  The riffs do not remain static and stolid instead they slither and move to give the song emotional reverence and story development.  Whilst our hero keeps asking questions of his girl- what is behind her eyes and where are the two headed- that is that implacable need for truth and commitment.  A lot of love songs- that deal with break-up and drifting apart- are needlessly accusatory and self-aggrandising.  Those songs see the lead play the victim and tread into cliché territory.  What you get on Hollow Eyes is a front-man that has had enough but still has a sympathetic side to him.  Not devoid of comfort and heart, there is that stunning mixture of accusation and redemption.  Whilst blood pours from his soul- the lyrics become more evocative and striking as time progresses- our lead is joined on vocals by his band members.  Creating huge drama and atmosphere, you get caught in the whirlpool that is being whipped.  A lot of bands- that play similar sounds- lack any potential beyond the two-minute mark: Much more competent and able when keeping things short and punchy.  Duke of Wolves are a band (on the evidence here anyway) that are capable of short-time attack but effortless when letting the song run.  Brimming with musical and lyrical ideas; the guys are having a great time but keeping things serious.  Before the next verse rolls into view, the percussion provides another nice little side-step- a terrific roll and rumble that punctuates the verses- whilst bass and guitar weld-together to create something electrifying and nerve-shredding.  Into the next verse, our hero wonders whether he is being strung along.  Determined to get clarification- not wanting to let this relationship die needlessly- you get more outright accusation and blame coming into things.  It seems the ‘heroine’ has been having her cake and eating it- or just not properly invested in the relationship- and our lead has had enough of it.  Not keen to be a doormat or do-as-I-say dog there is a definite imbalance in the relationship.  Hollow Eyes is certainly a catchy song that prides itself on its melodic and accessible sides- as much it does those savage riffs and Grunge-inspired dirtiness.  Too many bands either try to create a genuine grubby sound: One that recalls the ‘90s heydays whilst giving it a modern relevance and plenty of potential.  I find acts that go for Grunge/Rock of the ‘90s either stray too close to certain acts- Soundgarden, Nirvana or Pearl Jam- or they are too undisciplined and unfocused.  On the other side of things, many acts are far too polished and mainstream: They are trying to predict what critics want them to sound like and fit into the chart-friendly crowd.  Duke of Wolves have messy emotions among assured and disciplined performances: A beautiful mix of nightmarish dissolving and heart-on-sleeve emotions.  If this is how the band are going to develop they have a very bright future ahead of them- ensure they keep that originality dominant over evoking older sounds.   Those looking to pick apart the song- to see beneath the notes and lyrics- will be fascinated by the range of sounds and ideas the band toss into the pot.  The guitars are endlessly mobile and busy: Not intent on standing still you get some delicious riffs that keep the song fascinating and vibrant.  Lawton is a strong leader who has a voice with plenty of potential to it.  Knowing him from the Crystal Seagulls days he has retained some of that sound- the crisp falsetto and gutsy power- whilst bringing in fresh tones and a new vitality.  Here our man is sharper and more primal- whereas Crystal Seagulls were perhaps a little more radio-friendly- but has not completely departed from his previous band.  It is great to hear a consistent singer who has a voice that makes every emotion sound compelling.  Hollow Eyes deals with a popular currency- the themes will seem familiar to most- given a different perspective and relevance.   Killer riffs remind me of Songs for the Deaf-era Queens of the Stone Age: There are Black Sabbath-esque drugginess and the raw youthfulness of debut-album Nirvana.  Unlike Queens of the Stone Age, the riffs are not two/three-note presentations; like Queens’ Hollow Eyes skews Rock clichés and adapts the worst excesses of the scene (sticking too close with other acts) and perfectly unites iciness and detachment with the desires of the heart.  The guitars effortless unify Stone Age heaviness and primeval lunges with something educated and informative.  Hollow Eyes flows and mutates without losing its focus and heartbeat: Never rif-heavy this is a solid band performance that does not see the lead needlessly dominant.  Although Lawton’s voice and guitar adds a huge amount of force to the song, the entire band has their chance to shine in the spotlight.  Towards the final stages you get more pyrotechnic riffs and licks; some stunning guitar explosions and snaking, biting bass notes.  Kudos must be given to that vocal- in spite of my previous words- as it really grows and stuns into the final exchanges.  Semi-operatic and wracked, it is a huge performance that gives the listener chills.  Able to keep his voice whispered and seductive, Lawton can bring it to the point of orgasm without losing a step- few singers have that ability and talent.  Before the song is done the band throw everything into the mix to ensure the composition goes down swinging.

Congratulations must be given to the band that has come in with a debut single that marks them as future warriors.  Not many bands come in this strong; it is testament to their bond and shared talents that make Hollow Eyes a blinder.  The production throughout is professional and polished ensuring the vocals and lyrics can be clearly heard.  That said, the production is raw and bare enough to ensure the song’s subjects/highlights- those anxious and angry lyrics; the stunningly inventive and hard-hitting composition- are given a proper platform to shine.  Ensuring the lyrics is never clichéd and predictable, you have a song that deals with common issues- the battles of love and deceitfulness- but gives it nee inspiration and angles.  The song succeeds- among many other reasons- in no small part because of the band themselves.  Duke of Wolves are newbies yet seem like they have been performing for years.  Ben is a drummer who has the power and arm strength of Dave Grohl- few bands has such an assured and mesmeric sticks-man behind them- whilst creating plenty of personality and original intent.  Savage and pummeling slams mix with neat drum fills and more restrained moments.  An exceptional performance that keeps the song flowing and attacking; those drumming skills will be put to good use throughout further recordings.  Orlando’s lead guitar is another star that burns with eye-melting intensity.  Snarling and teeth-showing venom blends with psychedelic swagger and Grunge-influenced filth- a gamut of emotions, colours and ideas throughout the song.  He puts the listener into the mix and provides a thrilling sense of drama and magic throughout the track.  Sara’s bass ensures Hollow Eyes remains solid and focused throughout.  Never vague and slight, she manages to put melody, rhythm and rebellion into her notes whilst keeping all the instruments and elements together perfectly.  Bass players are often under-rated and under-noticed: It is hard to ignore the influence and discipline Sara shows throughout.  It would be nice to see that bass out-front on future releases: Get some nice solos and runs mixing with drum and guitar solos.  Jim (Lawton) leads from the front with determination and power throughout.  One of the most agile and impressive voices in Rock; his rhythm guitar has its own wonder and electricity to it.  Presenting a song that will connect with a lot of listeners, it is crucial the vocal is clear and ready for the challenge: Not only is the vocal endlessly gripping it has that original feeling and plenty of nuances.  Able to effortlessly scream into the abyss whilst demurring into pure and romantic territory- it is another key weapon that Duke of Wolves with exploit across their forthcoming songs.  The entire band is tight and well-rehearsed to ensure Hollow Eyes stands up to repeated batterings and investigation.  A song that will get the crowds singing and united, they should be very proud of their first step.  One of the most impressive debuts I have heard in a long time, the London quartet bring in the best elements of Queens of the Stone Age, Nirvana, Cream and Led Zeppelin- those magisterial riffs and unbeatable anthems- there is plenty of original content and ideas to stand them out from the crowds.  With so many great bands bubbling under the surface, I am confident 2016 will see Duke of Wolves do sterling business.  I cannot wait to see if future songs will bring in witticism and humour- to counterbalance the ragged and accusatory songs- and see the guys go into softer territory- perhaps a calmer moment of reflection.  Such is their potential and ability you wouldn’t rule anything out: A bona fide Rock act that are going to be ruling the airwaves before you know it.

Hollow Eyes is a statement of intent from a hot young band that has a lot more to say.  The bands coming through at the moment vary in term of quality: We have some amazing propositions among the indeterminate swathe of so-so acts.  With an air of U.S. legends- Rage Against the Machine, Queens of the Stone Age and Nirvana- you have a debut cut that evokes fond memories and plenty of quality.  The band have their own style and way of working: You should not be too ready to compare them with other bands.  What you have from the London troupe is so much energy and commitment.  Incredibly tight musicians, you just know they can go onto some great things.  It is perhaps too easy for me to stand on the outside and make proclamations and predictions.  I know how hard and fraught the music industry can be- the reality of making music and finding success- so Duke of Wolves will keep their feet on the ground.  The debut song- and those infantile stages- are vital to get cemented and right.  If you are wasteful and insincere early on then you will struggle to make any impressions and footprints.  Given the mass of musicians coming through, there are no excuses to produce something samey, unoriginal and tepid.  Duke of Wolves know how music can go- Lawton’s band Crystal Seagulls sadly disbanded; they produced some fantastically consistent music- but I can hear so much potential in the young band.  Given the winter we have- where harsh weather and the passing of some legends have scarred us- we all need to discover music and let it heal the wounds.  London has always worked hard to produce some of the world’s greatest musicians.  In the early part of 2015, the capital started to slow down: Dominance was relinquished and other towns/cities started to make way.  Yorkshire and the north started to take some market share from London and show its prowess.  I am not sure what has happened there- maybe just a bad period- but London is starting to recapture that magic and authority.  So many terrific solo acts are coming through here; each with their own voice and way of working.  The lack of quality bands coming through- not just in London but everywhere- started to worry me last year.  There are always going to be a lot of terrific bands coming through- impossible not to given the sheer number of musicians starting out- but the quality was not as high as it should have been.  What I find is too many bands lack that necessary nuance and grit: The genuine passion and force to stick in the mind coupled with the compulsion to revisit them again.  With the likes of Foo Fighters managing to inspire still; so many young acts replicate them and lazily toss-off some third-rate tribute songs.  Lacking necessary uniqueness and personality, what you have is a scene where you have to dig deep to find the better acts.  I mentioned earlier the fact acts like Everything Everything have managed to work wonders within the Indie mould.  Their album Get to Heaven was awash with darker and anxious themes; tied with swaggering and anthemic compositions, you have an album that gave a necessary kick to the scene- was a shame it missed out the Mercury Prize win.  So many new bands tend to be rigid when it comes to their instrumentation and themes.

Concentrating on love and relationship issues- without giving the subjects much consideration- they go for easy riffs and something rather predictable.  I think this year will see a resurgence; more terrific bands emerge.  Rock is certainly not dead- although it is ailing and in need of medication- it just needs its participants to step their game up and think horizontally.  Duke of Wolves knows what it takes to make a mark and have made an impressive early stride.  The guys have some clear influences- you can hear elements of U.S. and U.K. acts in their single- but do not wear it as a suit of armour.  What they do is adapt the Cream-cum-Queens of Stone Age dynamics for their own end: Injecting plenty of personality punch into the cocktail, you have a band that mix familiar with original.  The passion and intensity blends seamlessly with the emotional and introspective.  London has plenty of great music venues so expect Duke of Wolves to feature all across town.  Hollow Eyes is a song for the masses: One that get the voices rallying and the feet hopping; it is a blast of brilliance that is not going to be a one-off.  Whether the quartet have already begun work on an E.P. - such a pushy reviewer me!-I am not sure.  It will be exciting to see what 2016 holds for the London act; it is going to be a busy one that is guaranteed!  Before signing-off, I wanted to mention the bands coming through at the moment- comparing them to the solo market.  Whilst there is more speculation and excitement leveled to the solo artists of 2016; that is not to say the bands should be overlooked altogether.  The mainstream’s best are few and far between- there is a definite weakening at the moment- so we have to look to the underground to see who will ascend to the gilded ranks of critical attention.  Last year there were some awesome bands coming through that excited me: This year is not going to be a disappointment at all.  It is tricky assessing new bands as their earliest cuts might not necessarily reflect what they will sound like down the line.  Acts evolve and change all the time so it is hard to predict what will come next for Duke of Wolves.  The band have come in hard with a debut cut that recalls some idols and influences- the riffs of Queens of the Stone Age are in there- yet there is nothing too obvious about the London band.  They take those influences on board but ensure their music has plenty of originality and personal direction.  Hollow Eyes is an assured and intense debut that has already garnered praise and acclaim across social media.  Whether the gang chooses to expand their social media output- more photos and information among Facebook and Twitter- that will come in time I am sure.  You cannot deny how much the band wants to succeed and play: The tight and impassioned performances are the result of four musicians with love of what they do.  If they do release more songs in the coming months, they will probably not be that close to Hollow Eyes.  I know there will be softer and more intimate numbers among the hard-and-heavy riffs.  If Rock as a whole seems to be near the point of death- perhaps an exaggeration but there is a slacking of quality- then the likes of Duke of Wolves show it has the potential to…


RECOVER and keep on burning bright.


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