Before we start talking about the new Black Foxxes album, it’s important to know that its title – ‘Reiði’- is the Icelandic word for rage. Following the success of 2016’s ‘I’m Not Well’, the Exeter three-piece played many major festivals and toured relentlessly. After finishing the promotion schedule, Mark Holley was itching to get out and explore more as he found it hard to adapt back to ‘normal’ life. Having struggled with mental health and anxiety for many years, Mark made the decision to head to Iceland and it’s the beauty of this country that inspired the more expansive and dynamic elements found on this record.
The melodic guitars on the opening ‘Breathe’ provide a thrilling introduction to this bigger Black Foxxes sound. Mark sings about setting himself free and how a feeling that burns evolves into a fever that turns. This is followed by the recent brace of singles that you’ll surely have had on repeat over the past few weeks – ‘Manic in Me’ sounds like a Reading Festival anthem-in waiting; while ‘Saela’ finds Mark urging to make a break from his youth and home comforts: ‘Prisoned by the walls in my room. God, I need to move out soon. It’s why I feel so young’. Reminding us of early Manics, you can feel Mark’s pain when he sings ‘I would suffer. It burns like sulphur’.
From ‘Saela’s ‘We are wilderpeople’ to the title of ‘The Big Wild’ (a more melodic and straightforward Black Foxxes song than ever before) and ‘Am I Losing It’s ‘Will it get better by the morning chorus’, the theme of nature is prominent throughout the record, showing how important the great outdoors and taking moments to breathe and look around can be to mental health. ‘Oh, It Had to Be You’ is a personal piece with the sparse nature in its intro adding extra emphasis on Mark’s words: ‘I want to live alone inside my head’. It’s a powerful insight into how anxiety can affect your outlook and this angst is accompanied by some ferocious drumming when the song picks up the pace. ‘JOY’ is an in-your-face blast of grunge that asks questions about life: ‘Why is my skin cracked?’ ’Why does it change from day to day?’; ‘I feel weak, counting on some sleep’. There’s defiance in Mark’s voice when he demands ‘Don’t call me erasable’.
There’s a synth-led opening on the more traditional indie-pop rock of ‘Am I Losing It’. It’s an important and honest piece that finishes with Mark singing: ‘I wonder about the willow keeping like a graveside silhouette beside me’. ‘Take Me Home’ is another slower song with gorgeous, anthemic guitar hooks that complement the themes in the lyrics perfectly: ‘We climbed a peak, searching for stars’. However, this is followed up by talk of being alone and feeling safe. Following this is the album closer, ‘Float On’. This slow-burning and sensitive 5 minutes is another showcase of the way Black Foxxes have evolved on this album. While Mark sings about darkness and waiting for his body to break, his bandmates Ant Thornton and Tristan Jane bring a rhythmic vigour that results in a powerful eruption of sound.
The final song’s repeated statement of ‘Now I understand rage, a feeling that is never subdued’ sums up the ferocious nature of this record. It’s one that reaches out and veers into directions you’d have never expected after ‘I’m Not Well’ – and is all the better for it. Tackling important themes and subjects, there’s an energy, drive and honesty throughout this vital record.