New Model Army is a band that has stood the test of time and has, in more than one way, blazed the trail for many contemporary rock acts, and artists in general. Justin Sullivan envisioned the band 36 years ago and it initially operated as a trio out of Bradford, UK with bass player Stuart Morrow and drummer Phil Tompkins. It later expanded to become a five-piece outfit with Sullivan on vocals, Marshall Gill on guitar, Ceri Monger on bass and drummer Michael Dean. During their three decades in the industry the band has lived through its share of ups and downs but one of the best bets they made early on was to work as an independent band. They made this decision back in the mid-1990s, when getting signed was all the rage. But the ability to control their creative output from A to Z is one of the main reasons for NMA’s longevity.
Another wise move they made in the band’s infancy was to refuse to be cocooned into any one musical genre. It was a risky move in a world where you need to declare your allegiance in order to fans of a particular kind of music. But Sullivan and his crew chose to craft a sound for themselves out of punk rock, political rock, Northern soul and folk rock, effectively putting a sledgehammer through any efforts at classification. Nonetheless NMA has managed to amass a huge following with their records selling by the millions despite not having a top 20 single anywhere. They have attracted the attention of some of the most renowned producers including the same Bob Clearwater who made some of Bruce Springsteen’s biggest hits. And the same Glyn Johns who worked with such legendary acts as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and The Rolling stones.
Few groups formed in the 80s have been as consistent or as prolific as the New Model Army; since their 1984 debut ‘Vengeance’, they have recorded 12 albums. However, according to Sullivan, the group experienced a creative renaissance with their 2013 release ‘Between Dog and Wolf’. Released on their own Attack Attack label and Co-produced by legendary producer Joe Barresi, the album was well received by critics and fans, who pushed it into UK Top 40 territory. Spurred by the positive response, NMA released a live version of Between Dog and Wolf titled ‘Between Wine and Blood’, which also contained a few new tracks. They also began work on their next project that they would later christen ‘Winter’. Speaking about the new project, Sullivan said, “I think ‘Winter’ has a really strong identity. It is very much the sound of people in difficult places – something that so many of us can relate to at the moment, on a lot of different levels. It is a much more of a band album than ‘Between Dog and Wolf’ and we made a deliberate choice in mixing it to sound more aggressive and a little less polished.”
And that grit is in evidence from ‘Beginning’, the album opener. A jagged riff introduces the song and continues in solitude until it’s joined by Sullivan’s gentle tenor, exhorting listeners to “hold on to the beginning”. Tribal drumming and rhythm guitars rise up out of the woodwork, and further on a piano meanders in. But things melt into a clamorous climax as the lead guitar snarls furiously and the drummer loses his mind. The fury rages on in ‘Burn the Castle’ where emotions and instruments are left to rise to boiling point before suddenly dissipating. ‘Winter’ starts with quiet strumming on a box guitar before ascending into a passionate despair that stretches Sullivan’s voice into places you didn’t know it could go. Then strings scream in from nowhere, creating a mystical soundscape that peters out into an eerie silence. Listening to this number feels a touch like watching one of those Disney fairytale movies, your eyes roving through impossibly green forests. The cinematic aura is retained in ‘Part The Waters’, which features parade-like drumming and choral vocal harmonies.
You want to find out how the rest of the LP sounds when it drops on August 26, so pre-order it here. In the process you’ll also get to hear ‘Devil’, another single.
Miami Based, Internationally Known