In the four years since their last album release, New Model Army went through a tumultuous period, having had their manager pass away, their studio burning down (with the rest of their gear being stolen, no less) and their bassist, Nelson, leaving the band. The group was, in many ways, forced to start over. New bassist, Ceri Monger, who at age 26 wasn't even born when the band first formed, has breathed new life into the group with his groove-oriented playing and the band decided to take a new approach musically as well. Drenched in lush keyboards and tribal drums, the band's latest album, Between Dog And Wolf, delivers on the promise of being very different from their previous releases.
Handclaps and tribal drums open the album's lead track, "Horsemen." Tension builds throughout, with voices and instruments added in each verse, until heavy guitars and drums kick in midway through the song. Justin Sullivan delivers a strong vocal on this distinctive opener. Monger's bass features heavily on "I Need More Time," an edgy track with a heavy bottom end that showcases strong drumming from Michael Dean. Sullivan's unique vocals match the track's intensity throughout. "Pull The Sun" is a soulful number, with more strong bass from Monger and lush orchestration.
The band moves into more traditional rock territory on the politically tinged rocker, "Tomorrow Came," and on "Lean Back And Fall," with its jangly guitars that recall rock's golden age. "Stormclouds" lives up to its name with its muted power chords and heavy drums, building in intensity leading to a double bass drum finale.
On the more experimental side, "Qasr El Nil Bridge" has an Eastern motif, with tabla drums and chant-like vocals. Mandolins and melodic backing vocals help make this an exciting hybrid of Eastern and Western music. The title track includes backward guitars over chiming bells and features a strong performance from the band. The song does a good job of mixing the edgy with a sing-along chorus.
If there is a downside to Between Dog And Wolf, it's the album's near overuse of the tribal drums. While the band was going for, and achieved, something different, some of the songs have a similarity to them. Since many bands have made entire careers out of writing songs that sound the same, however, the band can be given somewhat of a pass here.
After more than 30 years, New Model Army is still playing like it has something to prove. A new start, a new bassist and a new sound have certainly helped fuel this creativity and help to make Between Dog And Wolf an interesting listen.