While we could easily start this review of The Drowns debut album discussing the disparity between looks (the album cover – which is terrible) and content (the music on the album), let’s just start with this endorsement: no matter how much praise Under Tension receives, it deserves more. There are plenty of flaws in the packaging, but the music is absolutely peerless in its quality. From beginning to end and front to back, Under Tension never relents as it serves up a great platter of melodic hardcore for listeners and, in the end, they won’t be able to deny that they’ve been left satiated and satisfied.
As soon as the stylus on a record player catches the groove in the A-side of Under Tension and “Black Lung” begins to play, listeners will learn PRECISELY what they’re going to get from The Drowns, and how it’s going to present. There, the band uses little (if any at all) in the way of effects but pours more adrenaline and hand-to-string on their performance in order to make up the difference.The results are fantastic; singer Aaron Rev feeds off the raw and uneffected power of the song’s instrumental performance and arrives in his own sympathetic rhythm (which sounds more than a little like what one would expect from Spike Slawson), the band proceeds to effortlessly melt faces. As is evidenced by the song’s three minute and fifteen second runtime, it will take listeners no time at all to pile in with The Drowns and be ready for everything the band may offer.
After “Black Lung” sets the stage for Under Tension, “Them Rats” answers its predecessor’s energy by shifting gears and driving in a ska-infused direction, “Wolves on the Throne” throws listeners for a loop with a really streety performance and a much leaner, thinner vocal and “One More Pint” just powers through mercilessly (don’t lines which talk about living by the hammer and dying by the pen about say it all here?) to close the side. It might seem unbelievable to those who haven’t yet experienced The Drowns’ presence and power, but the band really does present a remarkable experience through Under Tension‘s A-side; track by track, one gets the impression that the band has been living for this moment and are just ready to explode – and each cut has been so carefully and lovingly refined that they are absolutely the best the band has got to date. In the end when the needle lifts, listeners will find themselves looking up with eyes gleeming; the A-side of Under Tension is fantastic, and listeners will only be hoping for more of the same as they flip the record over.
As much as its A-side establishes Under Tension as a force and blitzkriegs listeners’ senses with a series of great cuts, the album’s B-side clobbers its way through in a similar manner but also stands out from its counterpart. Here, while “Demons” opens the side with a slightly more fine vocal performance, “Wastin’ Time” gets back to the bar to tell another tale of hard love lost (“That first time I saw you makin’ eyes at me/ Girl I thought I was in a dream, you left me speechless/ You curse like a sailor with a bad attitude/ I never knew girls existed like you outside of Temptations tunes”) and “Cue The Violins” makes it big with some wry one-liners (“She’s a pistol with a loaded gun”) before Rev gargles with some more gravel to fantastic effect on “Harder They Come” and the perfectly over-sped “The Unknown,” before closing out the album with the “end of the night and sweeping the floors after last call” anthem “Battery Street.” There, the way the band is EQ’ed with Rev’s vocal makes the song feel really, really loose, but the vocal melody feels so indie-romantic that it feels like a cousin to The Gaslight Anthem and leaves listeners with a warm, full belly, as it fades, and will have listeners ready to reset the table for repeated helpings after their first.
So, standing back from it, there’s no validity for any argument against the quality listeners will be able to find on Under Tension. Granted, the album isn’t perfect – but it is a solid place to start as it gives listeners its heart and a ground floor as well as implying so future possibilities recessed in the finer points of each cut. Because of that, Under Tension will win some fans and have them lined up for when The Drowns’ next release appears.