Third time’s a charm: How Palm Reader’s latest album has set them on the path to hardcore superstardom
If hardcore bands were featured as signs of the zodiac, then 2018 is certainly the year of Palm Reader. Having released their third full length Braille to critical acclaim, the success of the album has yielded the band support slots and tours with some of the scene’s most prestigious and varied acts: touring with mathcore act Rolo Tomassi, noise metal veterans Will Haven, and most recently, supporting hardcore royalty Glassjaw at their sole UK non-festival appearance in London. Catching the attention of such a variety of successful bands is comparable to the impact Code Orange had on the music world last year, supporting the likes of Meshuggah, System Of A Down and Gojira. Yes the band aren’t at the level of supporting SOAD in an arena yet, but seeing as they’ve progressed from empty pubs to nationwide tours with established acts, anything could be possible.
Of course, this isn’t to say Palm Reader haven’t been grinding away at their craft until Braille. The band have been gigging constantly since their formation in 2011, and a string of bad luck coupled with the lack of critical attention their releases deserved would have been enough to cause a less determined band to throw in the towel. Fortunately, the band’s tenacity is unrivalled and their musicianship is ever improving. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of what makes Braille such an accomplishment, let’s take a look at the history of Palm Reader, and what led to the quintet’s most mature and accomplished record to date.
Five years ago saw the release of Palm Reader’s debut album, Bad Weather. As with many debut full lengths from hardcore acts, the album is bursting with anger and aggression, grabbing the listener by the throat and screaming into their face. Following their self-released and self-titled EP the year earlier, the band signed to Small Town Records to release their first full album. Seeing as the label was responsible for putting out While She Sleeps’ astounding debut EP, one would think this would lead to the band exploding onto the scene and becoming an established name. Despite Bad Weather being met with a glowing reception, such praise failed to translate into increased stardom. The band themselves have considered the timing an issue, seeing as the album was unveiled at a time when the hype surrounding U.K. hardcore had waned (Architects’ Hollow Crown was four years old, Frank Carter had left Gallows, The Ghost Of A Thousand and Dead Swans had split up). Similarly, studio preparation – or lack thereof – may have contributed, as drummer Dan Olds joined mere weeks before recording began, resulting in a rushed learning/writing period. Yes the album received positive reviews, but could a more solid and structured pre-production process have resulted in the album being a milestone in U.K. hardcore?
With the band’s second album, Beside The Ones We Love, Palm Reader sought to learn from the mistakes of their past. Having a stable line-up, the hardcore outfit had more time to write and perfect their material, and after spending a year together as a band playing countless gigs, the chemistry bred a more refined sound. Choosing to work with producer Lewis Johns again, the sophomore release could be seen as a ‘second attempt’; the same people involved, but with an altered writing process. Listening to the album, it’s clear to see an improvement in the compositions. Not only does the sound suggest a greater mix of inspirations (the band have said touring and seeing different acts helped shape the sound of the album), but is more accomplished in its results. Multiple comparisons to The Dillinger Escape Plan were made after the release of Beside The Ones We Love due to the aggressive, math-tinged flavour of the record. Doom elements shine through during the mid-section of the album, taking influence from post-metal visionaries Cult Of Luna. Such a blend of styles attracted the attention of In At The Deep End Records, a Nottingham based label famed for the release of debut albums from Gallows and Architects, as well as early releases from the likes of Sylosis and Suicide Silence, suggesting the band might follow be on the cusp of a critical breakthrough. As with many sophomore albums, there was concern from audiences that Palm Reader would fail to deliver a record as strong as the debut, but said fears were put to rest upon the release. Beside The Ones We Love was near universally seen as an improvement on Bad Weather, showing the band were not simply going over old ground with slight updates, but were branching out into new territory and incorporating new sounds. But still, the band struggled to reach the status of the hardcore elite.
While Beside The Ones We Love was seen as a step up from their previous output, criticism was directed at the influences apparent on the record. Reviews drew attention to the similarities to The Dillinger Escape Plan, with critics suggesting the band were a tribute act, and that Palm Reader were simply a collage of the bands that have inspired them. Despite the detractors being part of the minority, the Dillinger comparisons were frequent enough to become noteworthy, and may have contributed to the band’s delayed rise to hardcore heavyweights.
After completing their tour cycle in promotion of Beside The Ones We Love, Palm Reader took two months off from all things band related. During this period, the band relocated from Woking to Nottingham, living together under one roof. Once again, the five-piece acknowledged the weaknesses of their previous recording process. Yes they were comfortable as a unit when composing their previous album, but when laying the groundwork for their third record, the band were eager to take their time and be confident that the material composed was to the best of their ability. The band sought to expand the eclecticism of their sound with their new material, including spacey, post-rock textures, as well as extended sections of clean singing (a feature that had yet to be fully explored in Palm Reader’s material). Instrumental interlude tracks were devised, featuring the use of piano and keyboards; guitarist Andy Gillan states that his piano ability isn’t sufficient to perform live, but the inclusion on the studio recordings indicates a more experimental approach to songwriting. The band stuck with producer Lewis Johns, suggesting a self-awareness that whatever failings the previous albums may have suffered could have been a result of their actions (lack of preparation etc), rather than the production. Equally, the band themselves have referred to Johns as an integral part of Palm Reader, helping the band achieve their full potential and understanding what a song needs (or even doesn’t need) before being shared with the world.
With the release of lead single ‘Swarm’, which also serves as the album’s opener, it was clear the band had started a new chapter in their career. Despite sharing the immediate intensity of ‘I Watched the Fire Chase my Tongue’ (the opening track of their previous album), the sound is altogether more melodic, featuring an organic transition from harsh to clean vocals on the chorus, unlike the multitude of metalcore acts who employ the ‘light and shade’ juxtaposition throughout all their material. This trend continues throughout the album, with vocalist Josh McKeown switching seamlessly between cleans and screams, even over the reverb heavy, clean guitars of second single ‘Inertia’. The release of said song as the second single serves as a statement of the band’s new direction; while the band have by no means abandoned their hardcore sound, Braille evokes the sound of a band maturing, similar to the likes of Deftones or Thrice. Seeing as hardcore is a style of music often dismissed for being ‘too angst-ridden’, Palm Reader have shown great insight to oppose the stereotypes of the genre, and therefore potentially entice those who are apprehensive regarding more extreme music. Despite this, Braille still features some of Palm Reader’s heaviest moments to date; the climax of ‘The Turn’ ramps up the raw power after the mellow combo of ‘Inertia’ and ‘Breach’, and album finale ‘A Lover, A Shadow’ features a hypnotically heavy closing riff that could have easily been penned by Gojira.
Justifiably so, the album as received critical acclaim, with Palm Reader getting the attention they finally deserve. The music has evolved from a bunch of guys fusing their influences to create solid hardcore tracks into a sound that is truly unique, and audiences have embraced the greater artistic merit with open arms (or open ears). No longer are they a ‘cool underground band’, but an established name in the hardcore scene, consistently delivering a powerful live performance to the converted (or those who are soon to be). With their current set list featuring songs mostly from Braille and very few (if any) tracks from Bad Weather, it is evident that Palm Reader see this record as turning point in the band’s career. Much like Neurosis no longer playing tracks from their early hardcore albums, the band have become a new animal. Of course the passion is still exploding out of the tracks, but angry, pissed off hardcore is no longer what the band represents. The non-stop touring, both headlining and supporting the previously mentioned prestigious names, as well as preparation for the next record, indicate that the band are not slowing down, nor are they taking the success of Braille for granted. It wasn’t until album number three that Deftones made it big with their signature sound; who knows, maybe Palm Reader will follow a similar trajectory and become the band who redefine hardcore.