‘Reiði’ – the Icelandic word for rage – is a fitting title for the second full length record to come from Exeter’s Black Foxxes. Born from a restless need to push creative boundaries, and a fear of stagnation in all its forms, the follow-up to their acclaimed 2016 debut album ‘I’m Not Well’ sees the three-piece pushing the vicious bite that fuels their band to new highs, and experimenting with menacing shade and uplifting light alike.
Crashing back into daily life with a jolting bump – after the whirlwind of touring their debut – Black Foxxes’ Mark Holley was itching for a new challenge, and some all important time to reflect. “Once we get back from tour, it’s a completely different lifestyle,” the frontman explains, speaking of returning to the South West after a gruelling stretch of time on the road, “especially down here in the middle of nowhere. I have this need and burst to go and explore, or else I just get depressed and anxious. I’m basically singing about that [on ‘Reiði’].”
Explore he did. Setting off for Iceland, where he would go on to write the foundations of ‘Reiði’, Holley found the solitude he needed to begin crafting Black Foxxes’ second record. A country he has always been fascinated by, Iceland became such an influence on the band’s chief lyricist, in fact, that its language eventually helped to title the album, and his penchant for discovery is present on almost every song. The blistering ‘Manic In Me’ sees Holley insistent that “I’ve gotta get get out of here,” while the angular – and by Black Foxxes’ standards, surprisingly light – ‘The Big Wild’ heads for sprawling canyons without a second glance back towards the suffocating city.
Exploring varying dynamics – the subtler touch of the album’s first half in particular – proved central to Black Foxxes’ considered approach second time around. “The way we’ve laid it out, it’s not a concept album at all,” Holley agrees, “but the first half is very light and the second is a lot darker. With our first record everything felt dynamically very similar,” the frontman reasons. “We’re very proud of what we did with it, but it was a barrage of aggression I was letting out. Being out in Iceland and stuff just opened my eyes to different dynamics. We don’t want to be one of those bands that just stays in one genre. We want to be one of those bands where people go, ‘oh, what are Black Foxxes doing for this record?’ We want to surprise people with new things.”
United in their aim – to experiment as much as possible with the core of Black Foxxes – the trio found themselves creatively liberated, with nothing whatsoever out of bounds. Teaming up once again with their trusted producer Adrian Bushby (“we wanted to continue that journey with Ade, and evolve to that second step with him,” comment the band) the group were able to expand upon ‘I’m Not Well’ with a trusted fourth voice back by their sides. Packing off to VADA studios – a stately home cum-recording studio in the blissful surroundings of rural Warwickshire – Black Foxxes felt empowered to push the boundaries as much as humanely possible, weaving in warm peals of brass, static-laced stutters of radio fuzz, and jagged experimentation along the way. It’s also as laceratingly honest as their celebrated debut; a quality that the band will always hold above everything else.
“Neil Young is my favourite songwriter in the world, and as many phenomenal songs as there are, he had to write some shit ones to get there. That’s a good songwriter, imperfect,” says Holley, who, as well as encouraging an open dialogue about his personal experience of anxiety disorder, recently recorded a documentary with BBC Newsbeat about touring as a musician with Crohn’s disease. “We all had that same outlook,” he adds of the band as a whole, “and I wanted to reflect that with everything I do. So, with the Crohn’s documentary, talking about anxiety, all of that, it’s just about being honest”.
Black Foxxes’ fearlessness and honesty is palpable across the entirety of ‘Reiði’. The pressure-bottled essence of a band that refuses to stop surging forward, rage is combusted into productive energy by the end of the record. “Now I understand rage,” goes the final track ‘Float On’ – the full-circle conclusion of this brilliantly formed burst of anger. Unpredictable and more adventurous than ever, ‘Reiði is surely the kind of album which will leave fans guessing at Black Foxxes’ next move, and stands up as the definitive sound of a band that refuses to be pinned down.
El Hunt 2017