Land of hope and glory?
"Left" marks the start of a bold new chapter in the H.O.T.S. story. Two years on from the release of their critically lauded debut album and the tragic death of founding member Jimmi Lawrence the Chichester six-piece return here with an album that vindicates all those who kept the faith and believed they were capable of true greatness. Where "The Lost Riots" seethed moodily, spitting out the vitriolic ("The Red, The White, The Black, The Blue"), the anthemic ("Enemies / Friends") and the doleful ("Black Dollar Bills") its follow up raises the bar and then some.
The widescreen post-rock that defined the band's debut album has been filtered and refined here to the extent that "Left" is an altogether leaner and more combative beast. The lead track from recent limited edition E.P. "Blood Meridian" is one example of this refreshing back to basics approach. The excesses of the past have been cast aside in favour of a sharper more succinct approach that at times recalls prime Joy Division if they'd been given a post-rock makeover. The strident guitar work of Theaker, Hibbert and Herlihy comes to the fore throughout, none more so than on forthcoming single "Sing It Out" the band's most straightforward indie rock song to date. The undeniable stand-out moment arrives around the half-way mark though in the form of "Bonfires", its jagged, taut guitars cutting a swathe through the muscular rhythm section like a hot knife through butter. Vocalist Sam Herlihy sounds reinvigorated throughout, singing with a new found urgency and passion that teeters on the edge of sheer desperation.
Older fans will be pleased to note that the band still retain the ability to craft epic piano led ballads of sublime quality to match their new found economic rock. The pick of these comes in the form of "The Good Fight", the heartfelt title track "Left" and the sumptuous "January". These particular numbers offer a welcome counter-balance to the raging angst of "Industry". H.O.T.S. come out fighting on this particular number, seemingly hell bent on putting the world to rights, a barrage of squalling guitars and violins coalescing to explosive effect with Herlihy's most direct set of lyrics thus far ("why won't someone tell me why my government doesn't hear all the warnings?"). It's thrilling stuff that reminds you of the raw visceral power of rock 'n' roll. The album ends on a fitting high with the achingly gorgeous but surprisingly plaintive, six minute plus "The Church Choir".
"Left" is an album that should hopefully silence the band's detractors while establishing H.O.T.S. as the pre-eminent masters of sky-scraping rock music. It's a rare occurrence in these superficial, trend obsessed times to encounter an album that nourishes both the heart and the soul, "Left" should therefore be treasured all the more because it manages to do both with consummate ease.