This is a test. Do I like Hawk Eyes more than I dislike Richard O’Brien? I mean, I’m not fussed about his hosting ‘The Crystal Maze’ or anything, in that I can take it or leave it, but I can never forgive him the creation of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ for reasons that are personal and painful and go back to my late teens. This means that even if I can’t forgive or forget, I should probably at least move on now I’m in my mid-forties.
What has this decades-long grudge by a now-bald man in skinny jeans against a bald man in skinny jeans have to do with one of Leeds’ finest purveyors of big riffy rock tunes? A band who have, it seems, achieved a degree of international success by stealth, touring Europe as support for System of a Down and playing some big festivals, as well as opening for massive acts including Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden and Metallica. Not bad for a band who emerged from the dingy DIY scene and who took six years slugging away on the underground circuit before their first album. Back then, they went by the name Chickenhawk, the name which appears on the cover of my copy of Modern Bodies, an album which in hindsight only hinted at their ambition and potential.
Did the name change represent a selling-out? Perhaps. Or, more kindly, it represented a realisation of self-imposed limitations. Over the course of almost another decade and two further albums, they’ve expanded their range considerably. Which brings us to album number four, ‘Advice’, which features Richard O’Brien on ‘Smokes’.
‘Advice’ sees the band further extend their range, and their ability to blend big riff-centric guitars with strong melody. ‘Royal Trouble’ kicks things off strongly, with heavy hints of the big proggy but monstrously riffy style of early Amplifier in evidence
‘Follow Me’ veers and lurches all over, from the darkly atmospheric Nine Inch Nailsy brooding mid-section via ball-busting riffery propelled by explosive drumming to a colossal stadium-sized chorus and a frilly solo thrown in for good measure. It’s al going on, and if ‘Advice’ is their most overtly accessible album to date, it’s accessible in the way Therapy? and Faith No More did accessible. For all the tuuuuuunes, there’s a subversion and singularity on display here.
‘New Greek Fire’ achieves something I’d have thought impossible: a funk-edged hard rock tune that doesn’t suck. And maybe that’s the measure. If Hawk Eyes can pull this off, I can forgive them even Richard O’Brien. In fairness, ‘Smokes’ is a solid tune, and ‘Advice’ is a more than solid album.
It's not so much that Hawk Eyes deliver constant reinvention, so much as each album re-establishes their tireless quest for freshness and that each release expands their musical palette.