The annals of music are filled with cautionary tales of bands who showed so much promise but soon faded out to nothing but distant memories. After an attention-grabbing start, of late it had looked like that scenario might become true of Crows too. Upon emerging in 2015, they quickly solidified their reputation as one of the most exciting new live bands in the UK, putting on a series of wild-eyed, chaotic gigs that left you bruised but, ultimately, bewitched. A single and two EPs reinforced their power, but then there was nothing but a concerning break in service.
The north Londoners’ long, long-awaited debut album ‘Silver Tongues’ reintroduces the four-piece, reminding us why Crows were so exciting when they first bludgeoned their way into our lives – it’s in their knack for writing lurching, dark, and frenetic pit-openers such as ‘Hang Me High’ and ‘Crawling’. But it’s the second half of the record that shows how they’ve grown in the interim, bringing surprising shifts and dynamic dives into enthralling new territory.
‘Chain Of Being’, a song about relying on religion as a crutch, is bright and expansive; dizzying, soaring, sky-blue atmospherics woven into its uncluttered core. ‘First Light // False Face’ clocks in at nearly eight minutes long and morphs from quiet, vulnerable soundscape punctuated by heaving sighs and frontman James Cox dropping his voice sinisterly low to something akin to a Jesus & Mary Chain track lacquered in gold. This segues seamlessly into album closer ‘Dysphoria’, which draws out Steve Goddard’s droning guitar wall of noise, reinforces it with bassist Jith Amarasinghe and drummer Sam Lister’s precise, crunching rhythm section, and moulds it into something emotional and glowing.
Crows have always been a band who do things differently, and they prove this once again on ‘Silver Tongues’. The album was recorded in near-total silence, a way to build the songs’ sense of atmosphere, but also put their inhibitions over what they’ve described as a “personal record” in the shadows. Cox, meanwhile, recorded his vocals on stage to an empty room at London’s MOTH Club in an effort to bring some of the theatre of his live performance to the tracks. It worked: each song sparkles with life, whether he’s glowering and ominous or sadly lamenting.
Lyrically, the band set themselves apart from others, too, taking you on a journey through the curious crevices of Cox’s mind. Much of the album was inspired by research wormholes he found himself down, exploring things such as Dante’s Divine Comedy (the grinding ‘Empyrean’) and the snakeskin trade, as told from the perspective of a snake (‘Hang Me High’). ‘Crawling’ focuses on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, building itself into a tightly wound coil that springs apart with the singer’s wails of “Leave her in the ground”, while ‘Tired And Failed’ and ‘Dysphoria’ deal with feelings of personal discontent. The former finds Cox sighing “I’m a coward, I’m a shadow / Of who I once could call myself”, before he’s calling himself out as “second rate, inferior” on the latter.
This album proves that he – and by extension Crows – are neither of those things. It might have been a long time coming, but ‘Silver Tongues’ picks up exactly where they left off: back on top as one of Britain’s most thrilling rising bands.